Posted by: jeanne | August 31, 2014

what, another residency?

i have to be frank.  i’m skeptical about this one; it seems too ideal.

so i get back from my almost six weeks in iceland, and i’m in the middle of working thru my trip-related tasks – thank you gifts, blog posts, photo management, new ideas written down or done up into scarves, depending, reworked versions of old proposals, new projects.

and jim says – by crackey, i’d like to go to venice for an art residency.

now, jim is never happier than when he’s downstairs with a paintbrush in his hand.  he leaves all the traipsing around to me, who is more than glad to take it on.  but i guess he did some thinking while i was off in iceland, because now he says to me – i’ve been painting carnival pictures for almost a decade, and here we are watching venetian murder mysteries (in german).  i don’t want to be a tourist.  i want to spend weeks and weeks drawing and painting, absorbing the environment and culture and history and art.

i look at him like, duh.  i know, i reply gently.  that’s why i do residencies.  so i don’t have to rush thru anything.  so i can concentrate on my own creative process.  so i can soak up enough material for years of paintings, entire series of novels, a range of evocative silkwear – everything.

exactly, he exclaims, fire in his eyes.  let’s go to venice and stay.

this is music to my ears.  this is romance of the highest order.  this is like saying ‘bill me later’ to your dreams.  so, tho this distracts from the tasks i’m already involved in, i start the process.

i pulled up some comparative airfares to see what it’s going to cost to get there – $1300 something.  that was the easy part.

then i found all the art residencies.   there are only a few.  several aren’t still running, perhaps, but are still listed.  one is living space only, and two have studio space attached.  they concentrate on printing, which i have some experience and jim is a past master.  these last two charge fees for their residencies, and they’re not cheap.  i used to bitch about residencies that charge fees, and only go to the free ones.  it is truly helpful when an art residency realizes that you still have the bills at home to pay and can’t really afford rent on your art residency on top of that.  but on the other hand, when you run a self financed residency, an ad hoc residency, an unofficial residency, which is what you do when all the residencies are full or the place isn’t organized enough to have one or they don’t like your work and won’t ask you to stay – then you have to find a cheap place to stay on your own, and it has to be big enough so that you can do your work.  i have held unofficial residencies in spare bedrooms of friends’ houses.  i move in for a month, push the furniture to the wall, set up my studio, and crank out paintings on whatever theme presents itself.  it’s the same as an organized residency, except you’re the director.  it works if you work it.  in this case, i began to look at alternatives.  the conference center that lets rooms long term.  student housing.  apartment subleasing.  hotels and hostels.

at first jim was all like hesitant about the timing.  i told him there wouldn’t be any room at a residency soon; we would have to wait until next year at the earliest.  he was okay with that.  at first he was thinking he’d be okay going for a month.

mind you, this is jim who doesn’t want to go visit friends in tennessee – the next state – because who’s going to walk the dogs.  and here he is never minding the dogs.  we’ll give them away, his attitude suggests.  let’s just go.

then he’s thinking maybe more than a month.  okay, i respond, dubiously.  two months.  we can do two months.  my mind is racing with all the things that need arranging if we’re going to go off together for two months.  the dogs, the regular bills, the things that could go wrong.  trying to figure out just what he is imagining, just what will make him happy.  a squalid, cramped hole with no light and no space to work, OR a penthouse with terraces and loads of light, with a dedicated studio area and a garden.  hmmm.

because if it were just me, i’d be going back to iceland.  i’ve got lots of irons in the fire there, and will be going back there to do public art projects just as long as there are public art projects to do.  it’s a great place; i love it perhaps more than i love ireland.  there are more fairies there.  venice would be high up on my list of places i’ve never been, but so would india and new zealand.  but jim isn’t interested in places without museums he wants to go to and paintings he wants to stand under and study.  we’ve talked about this for years.  we’ve always wanted to go to venice, but i usually go somewhere where i know people and can stay at their house, and that’s all the travelling i’ve done since before i met jim.  he woke up one morning and wanted to go jaunting off to somewhere he’s never been, just to check out the light.

the difference in my approach is that i’m never thinking about money when i think of where i want to go.  if i think about what it’s going to cost, it will never happen. at the same time, i squirrel away spare change until i have it all paid for before i go.  but jim was thinking about money, only 180 degrees from my point of view.  he was thinking that the paintings he did in venice, and came home to do after being in venice, would make enough money to pay for our trip.  bill me later.

so then he mused that he’d like to go for a long time, say six months.  he began talking about renting out our house (which we couldn’t do except as a rustic relic of gentler times without a lot of refurbishment and new appliances).  six to nine months, so we’d be renting to a visiting academic or scientist.  why not a year?  i cautiously suggested that maybe we wanted to retire there, and he glowered at me.  i was relieved to find a limit, i must say.  do i get the same fire in my eyes when i think of going somewhere?  my ex would probably say yes.

but jim is full steam ahead. and until i find out that the visa requirements are onerous and decide that we can only stay for 90 days so we don’t need a visa, i spent the whole day looking up visa requirements, and looking up long term rentals, and looking up blog posts about expats living in italy, and look up dozens of apartment with confusing photos and glossy poorly-translated descriptions of premises, all of which cost twice what seems reasonable, some of which are giving daily rates for 180 days.  but then, it’s venice, and like iceland all they have is the tourists, so i can’t blame them for soaking them until they float.  but as an artist, i am not a tourist.  i live as much like a native as i possibly can, without speaking the language or understanding the customs.  i shop at the same grocery stores, in other words.

i’ve never been to venice.  i’ve only read all sorts of things about it.  i love maps, i love old buildings and twisty streets and things that are falling apart.  it’s just been low on my list because it’s tucked away and there are more exciting but less exotic cities and then there’s india and new zealand.  and antarctica.  but for jim, venice is one of the goals of his lifetime.  he did paris for a year when he was just out of art school.  he went with me to amsterdam a couple of times, to dublin.  we visited london for a weekend.  we’re planning lisbon, madrid, and barcelona soon.  he has absolutely no interest in going to iceland, or new zealand, because they don’t have the museums.  he would go to india for the temple sculpture (i would go for the textiles).  he’d like to go to vienna and petersburg.  i’d like to go to prague.

when we first thought about going, we didn’t think about the dogs.  the dogs will somehow miraculously take care of themselves.   we thought about going to an art residency and doing art every day, just like we do at home, but in someone else’s well equipped studio.  jim has a full size printing press, but it’s disassembled and in the storage room in the studio, and he doesn’t have room to set it up.  two of the residencies we’re looking at have wonderfully equipped studios.  one seems to be larger and more inclusive of techniques than the other one, but they’re both brilliant.  they house their residents in shared apartments, about which the information on the websites was vague.  i like a residency that shows floor plans (i like maps).

when we first thought about going, we didn’t think about the baby.  we’re kind of in charge of the grandbaby these days, and naturally assumed, when we thought about it finally, that we’d just tuck him under our arms and take him with us.  after all, i did that when his mom was that age, and older.  we travelled to residencies several times when she was 6 and 8.  it’s a great thing to do with kids.  you’ve just got to have the space to work, as you do if you’re by yourself, and something to do with the kid so you don’t have to watch them.  childcare.

when i thought about taking the grandbaby, it was in thinking about the residency accommodations.  shared apartment plus baby.  hmm.  so i fired off letters to the residencies asking about these and other topics of interest.  like, if you don’t want both of us as artists in residence, what’s your policy about having spouses along? (that’s okay, i don’t need a printing press to do my art.)

i started up conversations with the three residencies, and got quick, polite replies.  maybe there was some bemusement that crept in after a few rounds of emails, but nobody told me outright to go away.  i’m always hesitant about bombarding resident directors with stupid questions, altho i suppose most prospective residents have a bunch of things they want and need to know.  i never feel like i have a right to ask a bunch of questions until they’ve seen my application and told me come here or go away.  otoh, i have made good contacts with the directors and gotten a better feel for how well the residency would work for me by sending a flurry of communication back and forth before i get around to collecting work samples and updating my bio.  but somehow, it being italy, it seemed a more formal process, more dignified, and i didn’t feel as free to put my boots up as i might have in dublin or reykjavik.

one of them answered right back that a kid would totally disrupt things in the shared apartment, and that there was no way to let a kid loose in the art studios.  which i totally agree.  they strongly hinted that i should stop pestering them until they’ve seen my work.  so okay.

one of them answered  that it was fine to have a baby since the apartments are separate from each other.  they are small apartments, and they are live/work spaces, so whatever you can manage to do is great.  but when i mentioned staying for six months, they referred me to a local real estate people, because they’re not set up for people who want to retire to their residency program.  but i emailed them back this morning that the six month idea was off, and it was down to three months and would they be okay with that.  at this point i got the show me response from the director.  so okay.

just now the third one, the other one with print equipment, answered that kids are no problem, and long term is no problem.  so i’ve got an email back asking about the apartments and clarifying their price structure.  i’ll probably get an answer tomorrow.

in the meantime, i’ve downloaded the various permission forms i have to get the baby’s parents to sign and notarize, because i have to get him a passport, and renew jim’s.  they’ve got to be up to date on whatever shots are required, if any.  i’ve got to buy jim wellies and the baby a lightweight stroller as well as a rain suit and waterproof boots.

while we were dealing with the residencies, and it didn’t look like any of them were going to work out, we decided to investigate the do it yourself residency, and i started looking at apartments in earnest.  and contacting real estate agents in venice.  i have to look in all the boroughs (parishes??) of venice for housing, because i don’t know anything about the neighborhoods.  we don’t need to be near a studio, because we’ll be working from ‘home’.  we just have to have a comfortable home that doesn’t cost $10,000 a week.  so far i have come up with 2 bedroom apartments for $2000-4000 a month, which for three months is 6-12,000.

while we were deciding to look at do it yourself residencies, we thought maybe we could go right away instead of having to wait until 2016, when there will likely be space in a residency program.  we could go as soon as january, i estimated, and so it was set.  it’s unreasonable to assume a residency will be available around carnivale time or during the bienniale, because everybody wants to go then.  but there’s nothing saying we can’t pick our three months to cover carnivale 2015, which is february 7-17.  go in december, come back late february.  go in mid january, come back mid april.  go the beginning of february and come home the beginning of may.  it’s a question of weather, which steadily improves from freezing to nice, and how familiar we need to be before carnivale starts, and how much time afterward we want to get to know the city and follow up on ideas we got during the party.  oh yeah, and also what events are happening at home, like the baby’s birthday in early january which they might be upset if we took him off before then.  etc.

i’m starting to flag; i’m up out of bed to write this, just to entertain you with all the details.  like i said in the beginning, this is too good to be true, and so i’m waiting at every moment to be told never mind, while devoting quite a lot of energy to researching things we need to know.  like we can get a nonstop to rome, but it’s at least one stop if we fly in to venice.  and taking the train from rome costs just a tiny amount and takes less than four hours.  so a night in rome and the vatican museums, or a night in florence and the uffizzi and david.  hmm.

more as things develop.  i have several residency applications to construct, and more research to do.



  1. The various paths that bring travelers into moments together. This is inspiring! I was wanting to learn exactly how one does this… and the universe dropped you and this detailed blog into my lap!


    • and isn’t it a quantum universe…


      • all the strangest, harmonious occurrences on 3/14/15, pi day, 1 month after we met!


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