A Venetian Fairytale

Having visited Italy at least twice a year for work over the last decade Alan and Susan returned after a three year interlude whilst working on commissions in Oman to studying in Florence, where Alan participated in a challenging portraiture course at the renowned Charles H. Cecil studio.

Fast forward a year later and Alan and Susan found themselves back in their beloved Venice for 5 nights, this time with Susan’s mother and sister coming along for the adventure too. While they stayed in the beautiful Carnival Palace hotel, Alan and Susan were overjoyed to stay with dear family friend Nai who had taken Susan under her wing when she was in her early twenties and lived in Venice with her two children Louise and Oliver for several years.

 

Portrait of Nai, by Alan Reed
Portrait of Nai, by Alan Reed

Keen to continue to develop his new skills in portraiture, Alan asked our friend Nai Fasano if she would sit for him while he painted her. What better way to preserve the memory of their dear old friend than with a portrait? Scanning through his trusty Italian pocket sketchbooks today, it’s clear to see how much Alan’s confidence had grown since his first tentative classes learning the art of portraiture and the sight-size method just a year previously.

Having forged an internationally-successful career as a watercolourist, working with oils and swapping figures in the distance of his cityscapes for the finer details of a person’s hair, skin and facial features was undoubtedly a new challenge.

 

Giardini della Biennale
A sketch of Giardini della Biennale

During their trip to Venice in September 2012 the family visited some of the city’s best known landmarks: an afternoon at the Palazzo Venier dei Leoni, where 20th century modern art devotee Peggy Guggenheim lived, now the location of her museum, an unfinished 18th century palace on the Grand Canal in the Dorsoduro sestiere of Venice.

They enjoyed a stroll through the Giardini della Biennale (Biennale’s Gardens), supper at the Gam-Gam Restaurant in the Jewish Quarter and coffee beneath the beautiful architecture of  before pausing at a rather special, significant place for both Alan and Susan…

A sketchbook painting to gather reference of Susan sitting in St Marks
A sketchbook painting to gather reference of Susan sitting in St Marks

Hanging proudly on their staircase at home in Northumberland, Alan’s portrait of Susan sitting inside St Mark’s speaks louder than perhaps any of the other pieces of artwork in the house. It was here Susan found her salvation – a beautiful, completely unexpected moment where she felt the presence of God and thus began her rebirth as a Christian. As always, Alan would sketch fervently, often painting on location come rain or shine to gather reference for his popular Italian Collection – a series of original paintings and prints of Italy.

 

 

Girl in the Red Coat
Girl in the Red Coat, Venice.

On this particular trip Alan took reference of St Mark’s Square on a rainy winter’s day and decided to add his granddaughter Emily, in a vivid red coat into the crowd of people scurrying across the piazza keen to escape the impending snow shower, similar to a painting he had completed of Newcastle’s iconic Grey Street. Unintentionally reminiscent of the 1973 Donald Sutherland film “Don’t Look Now”, in which a married couple grieving the recent death of their daughter, often pictured in a red coat visit Venice, “Girl in the Red Coat” went on to become one of Alan’s most popular giclee prints after the original had sold.

Venice in the Rain by Alan Reed
Venice in the Rain by Alan Reed
A sketchbook painting on-location in Venice by Alan
A sketchbook painting on-location in Venice by Alan

 

A beautiful balance of inspiring architecture, reflection, gaining reference for future paintings and a chance to enjoy a trip away with family, Alan and Susan were about to embark on a brand new adventure that brought the business and Italy closer than ever.

The Light

Sitting on the sunny piazza in Marostica
Sitting on the sunny piazza in Marostica

It was a surreal moment as Alan sat surrounded by some of his closest family members and friends sipping coffee in the bright sun in the Piazza degli Scacchi in Marostica as his painting of Marostica on the exhibition posters stared back at him ten times over…

It was the 17th of November 2005, two days before Alan would launch his very first overseas exhibition in Italy and here they were, sitting beneath a number of promotional posters advertising the exhibition to the locals of Marostica in Italy’s Veneto region. “The Light” was a long a time coming considering how much time artist Alan and his wife Susan had spent gathering reference around Italy for his ever-expanding popular collection of Italian paintings and unlike the ancient oil paintings that tourists and locals alike were used to seeing hung in galleries, or the fly-by-night souvenir paintings sold for pennies at local markets – Alan’s lively, unique watercolour paintings of some of Italy’s most loved locations and some hidden gems proved popular with the Italians. Carefully loading around 40 paintings onto a private courier, Alan, Susan and their parents flew to Bergamo to meet them, joined by friend’s Loretta, Hilary, Carrol and Franco, Cath and Mike.

Alan Reed The Light Exhibition poster
Alan Reed The Light Exhibition poster

Much of their first day in Marostica was spent hanging paintings with the help of Alan’s father.

Within the town of Marostica there are two medieval castles, an upper Castle known as Castello Superiore and a lower castle known as Castello Inferiore. In front of the old Castello Inferiore and its ancient library is a prominent chess board.

Every even year during the month of September a game of chess is played using live pieces.

The custom began after the First World War where members of the local chess club began playing chess in the main square and decided to play a game of chess using people as the game pieces. After the Second World War, comedy writer Mario Mirko Vucetich wrote a play in which two noblemen fell in love with the beautiful daughter of a local lord. They challenged each other to a duel to win the hand of their beloved – only to be stopped by the Lord of Marostica who did not wish to see them duel and so forbade the encounter. Instead, it was decreed that the two rivals would play a game of chess and the winner would win his daughter’s hand in marriage and the loser would marry her younger sister.

Alan Reed outside The Light exhibition
Alan Reed outside The Light exhibition

With such a rich history and artistic background, the lower castle was a popular place to host events and exhibitions and so with the help of publisher and exhibition curator Alberto Brazzale whom they had met in Rome not long ago the space was booked to run from the 19th of November 2005 until the 6th of December.

The Commune di Marostica were too incredibly helpful to the couple promoting and facilitating the exhibition – one lady in particular named Francesca did an excellent job of promoting The Light on Alan and Susan’s behalf whilst they were back in England running the busy Alan Reed art gallery in Ponteland.

Although Marostica was not on the tourist track, the couple’s friends Paul and his wife lived nearby and they fell in love with the area. Sending across images of his work to Alberto across to Italy via CD (it was 2005 after all!) the exhibition began to come together.

FullSizeRender (6)
Invite to The Light, Marostica

The couple vividly remember how they rose early each morning with eager anticipation to introduce Alan Reed Art to a new audience.

Alan was to be interviewed by respected art critic Signora Maria Lucia Ferugatti on the afternoon of the 18th, the day before the exhibition opened.  Signora Ferugatti was impressed and wrote rave reviews about the exhibition for the local paper and regional news.  The opening date passed by in a wonderful blur of opening speeches, chatting to locals and listening to their stories about the history of the town, followed by a very welcome visit the next day by their dear friend Nai who had travelled by train all the way from Venice to Marostica to be there.

Lovers of Italy’s slow food movement, the group enjoyed a number of fantastic meals whilst in Marostica, and to this day Susan still recreates the divine polpette meatballs they ate at Osteria Madonnetta.

The exhibition was without doubt a high point in Alan’s career.  Now a fully-fledged international artist, light remains an incredibly important theme that weaves throughout his work.  From painting against fading light “on location”, to establishing a light source in the painting and creating highlights, contrasts and shadows using watercolour to bring the painting to life.

Demo in Marostica
Alan’s live painting demonstrations at The Light

Returning to Marostica on the 2nd of December, Alan did a series of live painting demonstrations at the exhibition which delighted visitors.

Crediting the whole event as a stimulating and thoroughly enjoyable experience getting to chat to the locals in Italian and introduce Alan’s work to them, there was just enough time to enjoy a wonderful supper at their hotel restaurant, Due Mori where they had been upgraded to a room that overlooked the castello beyond and also to their indispensable assistant Francesca’s family home for a home cooked meal.

Alan Reed Art was moving in the right direction – and fast. Selling several originals, The Light was a collection of Alan’s paintings of Italy, London, Edinburgh and even Chicago and all showcased his lively style of working with watercolours to create light and darkness in his paintings.

Skating in MarosticaLimited edition Print

Leaving Marostica on the 6th of December after taking the exhibition down, there was just enough time to relax and soak up the scenery – including one particularly lovely scene of ice skaters on the piazza. Begging Alan to capture the scene for a future Christmas card, Skaters in Marostica later became one of Alan’s most popular Christmas card designs, and now you know the story of how and where it all began.

An Exciting Agenda

February 2004

Sitting in a quiet corner of Pani’s Cafe in the heart of Newcastle city centre Susan and Loretta are babbling away in broken Italian. Half English, half Italian phrases carry through the air to the kitchen, where a superb Italian feast is being prepped for the busy pre-theatre rush later that evening…

Having lived in Venice for several years in her early twenties, Susan was introduced to Loretta after a meal at Pani’s and the pair would often catch up over a coffee or bowl of pasta so Susan could practise her Italian. It was during one of these meetings that Loretta mentioned she knew a publisher in Italy who she would love to introduce Alan and Susan to, with a view to publishing a book of his work.

Sketching in Vicenza 2004
Sketching in Vicenza 2004

With their gallery on Main Street in Ponteland now well on its way to being well established, the couple were looking forward to the future of Alan Reed Art and decided to meet with the publisher, Alberto Brazzale in Rome in September 2004.

Meeting Alberto for the day at the hotel where they were staying in the Trastevere area, he talked confidently about his previous work and explained how he sought sponsorship from local companies and banks in Italy to publish his books. Giving Alan and Susan some exciting ideas to go home and discuss, Alberto also suggested some new locations Alan might like to visit and paint to add to his collection of Italian paintings.

One of Alberto’s suggestions was to visit Vicenza, a historic city in the Veneto region highly regarded for its Palladian architecture. Knowing very little about the area, Alan and Susan later met with old friend and pastor Paul and his wife who now lived there in the November of 2004.  It was a joyous trip for both parties as Susan was delighted to be reunited with old friends from the church congregation she was part of whilst living in Venice, and Alan sketched some new scenes for his Italian Collection of paintings. As the couple mulled the idea of creating a book about Alan’s Italian-inspired artwork, and possibly even hosting an exhibition in nearby Marostica, unbeknown to them, another idea was brewing. They just didn’t quite know it yet…

After their meeting with Alberto the pair were off to Umbria again! This time, they would be meeting their good friends Bob and Heather at Rome airport and heading two hours into the sunset to Umbria to stay with Chrissie and David at Casa San Gabriel.

Painting of Casa San Gabriel by Alan Reed
Painting of Casa San Gabriel by Alan Reed

Cultural heritage is not Umbria’s only selling point – this produce-laden province is beloved by Susan in particular for the wild boar and truffles of its woods that grow in abundance here. Umbria is rustic, rural, romantic Italy at its undiscovered finest, where sheep roam free in the unspoilt valleys and medieval villages and landmarks that dot the landscape.

Alan and Susan wasted no time in introducing Bob and Heather to the area – driving along its winding roads to the foot of the Sibillini Mountains and onto the wild and wonderful Piano Grande basin where lentils grow in abundance and a patchwork quilt of red, purple and blue wildflowers carpets the view below during the summer months. Unquestionably one of the most spectacular sights in the area, the scenery and the silence up here are exhilarating no matter what time of year you visit.

The foursome stood still, drinking in the view. For Alan, it was a wonderful opportunity to sketch and catalogue some of the world’s most far flung locations that would delight customers at the gallery. Despite their wonderfully rural location, Susan spotted a small caravan parked up in the distance serving sandwiches and light lunches. They decided to stop for lunch here and headed over to the mysterious caravan…. Greeted with wild boar sandwiches and a glass of wine, Alan, Susan, Bob and Heather enjoyed a fantastic lunch at the top of the Piano Grande basin – one they still vividly remember today.

Spending a week together touring the sights of Tuscany and the Umbrian Valley, a little over an hour’s drive from Casa San Gabriel took the group everywhere. From the pretty hilltop town of Cortona to chocolate and salami shops in Norcia and onwards to the peaceful mediaeval town of Gubbio on the slopes of Monte Ingino. Their base at Casa San Gabriel, nestled deep in the Umbrian Valley proved a perfect spot to stay – Chrissie and David were the perfect hosts and opened up their own home for dinner one evening on the terrace of their home with breathtaking views of the valley where Bob and Heather celebrated their 25 th wedding anniversary and Bob presented her with a beautiful ring to mark the occasion.

Shortly before their trip came to an end, the foursome discovered the crumbling ruins of an old church tucked away just a ten minutes walk from where they were staying. While Alan sat and sketched the ruins, Susan and Heather sat in the sun and chatted about how wonderful it would be to have the money and time to renovate the church and make it into something….

Chiesa del Carmine 2004
The ruins of Chiesa del Carmine 2004

The Chiesa del Carmine was renovated, not by Alan and Susan – or Bob and Heather, but by the landowner and is managed by none other than Chrisse and David who own Casa San Gabriel. Standing in the very same spot ten years later, in 2014, Alan and Susan thought back to that conversation with Bob and Heather and the concept of Reedart Painting Holidays in Italy was born

To Old Friends

There are people we meet throughout our lives that leave an inexplicable mark on us. These people shape us in wonderful ways and guide us through some of the darkest storms we face. Nai is one such person for Alan and Susan Reed. Almost like a second mother to Susan, and a delightfully enigmatic and wise lady, now in her eighties – this is the story of Nai.

 

Nai from her balcony in Dolomites
Nai from her balcony in Dolomites1983 

Navigating a new world with her two young children Louise and Oliver as a young twenty-something herself, Susan rented a small apartment at the top of Via Garibaldi for her young family after moving to Venice in 1983. A beautiful old building in the Castello District, it wasn’t long before Susan was introduced to the lady who lived in the apartment above – a hardworking Italian housewife and mother of two sons. Taking Susan under her wing almost immediately, Nai adored Louise and Oliver and helped Susan learn the language. It was the perfect friendship – Nai took Susan and the children to places across Italy they could only have dreamed of. Picnics in the park, to Dodges Palace – one of Venice’s gothic landmarks and across to Burano Island, famous for its lace and coloured houses – just to name a few.

Once the children settled in at nursery, Susan would spend many mornings accompanying Nai shopping in the hustle and bustle of Venice – to the barge on the canal where they would buy the most succulent fresh fruit and vegetables, to favourite lesser-known bakeries, and to the tabaccheria for her cigarettes “Esportazione” (the same brand that she had smoked since the war) before heading back to her house to cook lunch for Nai’s husband Mario.

Nai's Cigarettes
                          Nai’s Cigarettes
Alan's sketches from Nai's house
Alan’s sketches from Nai’s house

Nai’s home in Via Garibaldi was very much a traditional Venetian family home where much of the furniture belonged to older family members who lived there previously and kept in immaculate condition. Alan took great delight in sketching the various rooms and corridors of this old house during the couple’s visits many years later. Giving Susan a first-hand experience into the wonderful family values and Italian culture is something she’s never forgotten. Whether through watching Nai’s mother in law, the head of the household sewing intricate swatches of lace by hand for the family’s bedding and linen, or the unforgettable dishes Nai taught Susan to cook from scratch. From fresh artichoke hearts – “carciofi” floating in salted water and divine when cooked, to a simply delicious starter of zucchini and pasta, drizzled with fresh lemon juice, olive oil and parmesan. Wine was always enjoyed with every family meal, followed by a caffe corretto – espresso and Nai’s favourite tipple – a shot of grappa.

Nai's Grappa
Nai’s Grappa

A fiery spirit, grappa is fondly remembered as the liquid courage carried in Italian soldiers’ flasks in World War One to sanitise their drinking water, warm them up and lift their spirits. While its common name is “grappa”, the drink’s formal title is acquavite di vinaccia, derived from the Latin aqua vitae, or “water of life” – Nai remains a figurehead of her family even now in her 80s – perhaps thanks to, her water of life! Susan couldn’t have had a better teacher in Nai, and it’s no surprise that when she decided to return home to England after five incredible years, they remained close. Returning to Venice often and sometimes with with close friends such as John and Liz Wilthew in 2007, it was Nai who saved the couple time and money by purchasing tickets to the famous Teatro La Fenice, before welcoming the group to her home the next evening for a fabulous family meal – a perfect example of how fond Nai and Susan had become of each other.

________

Alan and Susan often stayed with Nai on their trips to Venice over the years, and one trip in particular to the Dolomites in 2006 remains sharp in their memories. Knowing the Dolomites like the back of her hand, Nai and her sister used to explore the mountains in the North Italian Alps every summer in their youth. The family owns a beautiful rustic chalet in the area, and so Nai invited Alan and Susan to come and stay with her one year.

Now in her 70s, Nai would fervently send the young couple off out into the mountain range for a days’ exploring – sharing invaluable tips of where the best place to catch the sunset was or stop for a picnic for lunch. As if by magic, the stony grey and white mountain range would light up a beautiful shade of pink before falling into darkness and giving way to a starry night sky, providing incredible scenes of inspiration for artist Alan. As is tradition in Italian culture, Alan and Susan would drive off in the morning to explore but return to Nai in the evening – calling her at ten to eight on the dot so she could put the pasta on as part of the meal for them to enjoy together as they arrived home. Alan recalls fondly being asked to make the coffee after dinner, a sure sign that he was officially one of the family.

Nai’s kindness and compassion has never wavered over the years, despite the thousands of miles that keep the old friends apart. Whenever Alan hosts an exhibition of his artwork, he dutifully sends Nai an invitation – which she fondly keeps in her bedside table as a way of keeping up with the couple’s news and adventures. Despite her husband Mario sadly passing away over 20 years ago, Nai remains a wonderfully independent lady. She leaves Venice for a month every August to enjoy the cooler weather in the Dolomites, or packs up her famous tiny suitcase (containing little more than a clean blouse and her essentials) and travels across Italy, often to Rome to stay with nuns and enjoy a simple meal while she soaks up the history of her beloved country. Susan’s much-loved personal tour guide, confidante and wise old friend; Nai has been an integral part of Susan’s adulthood, giving her a taste of the flavours of life and cementing her love of Italy which in turn has inspired the couple to create Reedart Italian painting holidays.

Susan Reed Pasta Recipe
                                               Susan’s Pasta Recipe

Susan’s winning pasta zucchini recipe – inspired by Nai’s original dish for you to try at home…

Ingredients:
175 grams of Orecchiette
2 Large Zucchini
Clove of garlic
Olive oil
Fresh Parmesan
Flat leaf parsley
½ lemon
Toasted pine nuts (optional)

Method:
Slice the zucchini as thinly as possible (I use the flat side of my grater) In a large frying pan heat the olive oil with the garlic left whole (just to add flavour) and fry the zucchini in small batches so they brown quickly, when cooked drain on kitchen paper to absorb the excess oil until they all are done. Discard the garlic sprinkle the zucchini with salt and freshly ground pepper and stir in with the cooked pasta and pine nuts. Serve, add a squeeze of lemon juice, freshly grated parmesan and finish with chopped parsley

The Merchant of Venice

After a chance meeting in local pub The Diamond in Ponteland, family members and friends could scarcely have predicted the adventures in store for Alan and Susan who married three years later. Having recently returned home from living abroad in Venice with her two young children and settling back into life in the North East, Susan longed to show Alan the sights, sounds and smells of her beloved Venice and introduce him to some of the lifelong friends the family made there.

It was June 1991 when the couple finally took that much-talked about trip. This would be Alan’s first trip to Venice and armed with little else than a conversation he’d had with an old colleague about the architecture and stories he’d read about this iconic city, it became one of the most memorable trips of the couple’s lifetime and the couple returned to Venice in August 1994 where Alan painted 14 “en plein air” watercolours which were part of the “A Tale of two Cities” exhibition in the Spring of 1995.

Reedart Holidays in Italy

While Alan’s family had strong Christian roots, Susan’s rebirth as a Christian was borne in St Mark’s Church whilst living in Venice, and a visit to this magnificent church tied the couple even closer together as Susan shared this chapter of her life with him. Introducing Alan to the friends and “family” Susan made whilst there, Alan quickly found himself falling in love with the Italian way of life. A true home from home for Susan, she happily wandered around the shops with the children, buying handmade sketchbooks and exploring the little back streets and lesser known piazzas whilst Alan painted the joys of Venice – soaking up every inch of the Grand Canal, the view from the vaporetti (the water buses of Venice) and everything in between.

(Image Credit: Alan Reed Art)

It was undoubtedly the beginning of something special, especially for Alan who compares their trip to Venice “like being on a stage set”. The pinch-me moment came when the week all-too-quickly drew to a close and Alan found himself overcome with emotion, already planning his next trip to the city that had stolen his heart after only a week. “I’ll definitely be back”, he thought and he was right. Venice, and indeed Italy has been a constant source of inspiration for Alan’s artwork throughout his career, his works of Venice have been featured in art galleries and various art books over the years – but none can compare to the feeling of pure excitement and exhilaration the young family felt as took their first trip together to a place filled with so many memories – giving Alan a wonderful sensory insight to the wonders of Venice that he in turn shares with us all through his artwork.

When to Visit Venice:
Venice is magnificent any time of the year, beautifully hot in the summer months before turning icy cold in winter. The sight of everyone wrapped up in their furs and the frost dazzling on the canal is unforgettable – while the iconic Venice Carnival which takes place in February is a must not miss.

Where to Go: Head to the Castello neighbourhood of Venice and you will find the “Giardini” (gardens) where is nice to wander in the shade to cool off. We often took the boat over to the Lido to sunbathe on the beach. I would make a large container full of home made lemonade to take with us to drink throughout the day, it was so refreshing made with about a dozen fresh lemons.

Where to Eat: An unusual restaurant in the Jewish part of Venice was Gam Gam which serves fantastic tasty food and very reasonably priced. We also highly recommend Osteria Enoteca near San Marco and Antico Forno, near Rialto for a nice pizza. Try Al Covo Restaurant and Osteria all’Alba near Rialto for cocktails.

“When I lived there, my old Venetian friend Nai used to take the children and I to the island of Burano famous for its lovely different coloured painted houses and the old ladies sitting in the doorways making lace. I could hardly wait for Alan to capture all its colours. We ate in a restaurant called Al Gatto Nero (The black Cat) and sat outside in the sun eating Fritto Misto with a bottle of white wine, a memory to treasure”  – Susan Reed

 

Reedart Holidays in Italy

“The moon shines bright. In such a night as this. When the sweet wind did gently kiss the trees and they did make no noise, in such a night…”
― William ShakespeareThe Merchant of Venice

Follow this link to view all of Alan’s Venetian paintings currently available for sale. 

The Adventure Begins…

“The world stood still around them as they sat together on the piazza of San Gimignano, a beautiful walled medieval hill town in Tuscany. Having spent the afternoon sampling wild boar salami, cheeses and other delicacies, and dipping in and out of the local papiro (paper) shops and boutiques, the pair sat together watching the world beyond in perfect harmony, Susan sipping a glass of wine while Alan painted the scene before them.”

Painting of San Gimignano

Their trips taken together span wedding anniversaries, births of grandchildren, picnics at Lake Garda and other international adventures to some of the world’s most beautiful and far-flung locations and they all have one thing in common: travelling the world with his wife Susan and family, painting often “on location” or, later from a misty memory or photograph has helped shape the distinctive style of one of the North East’s most admired artists, Alan Reed.

Join us in this brand new series of blog posts as we take a trip down memory lane and uncover the stories behind Alan Reed Art.

We leave for Venice in the morning…