Finding “Love of the Voyage”

Posted by on Sep 26, 2016 in Blog | 0 comments

 

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During a visit to Sicily with my sister, I wandered away from the streets of Trapani on a windy summer day. I felt called near the sea where I found a collection of boats tied beneath the harbor wall.

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My heart leapt to discover the treasure of this view. I couldn’t stop smiling. I had envisioned painting boats for years.

 

 

 

 

I climbed onto the jetty as a mist of sea jumped to greet me.

I probably took over a hundred photos from this view and then sat in joy for quite some time.

 

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In the midst of creating this piece, I processed what it felt like to paint in LA again after months of being overseas. There is no way around transitions, they are part of the journey in life. I chose this composition with it’s memories of joy to keep me company.

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I can’t say this was an easy piece to create all the way through.  I got lost in the water and a bit lost in myself. I wasn’t painting the same as I did before I left for Italy, nor when I was there. I had to assimilate shifts in thinking which at times felt awkward. I felt frustrated to not know my way forward.

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It was when I remembered to enjoy the not knowing in the process, to love the voyage, that I found my way with this work. We can’t know the answers before we know them. Even then, outcomes cannot be controlled. Maybe every day is a transition– a chance to get happy and choose to find joy in the unknown.

love-of-voyage-harkerLove of the Voyage, by Brooke Harker  46″ x 68″ medium: ink, oil & acrylic on canvas

 

Story of “A Vicenza Lifetime”

Posted by on Jun 1, 2016 in Blog | 0 comments

 

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A Vicenza Lifetime is the first painting finished of Italy since my return from the 2015 residency on a farm south of Rome. This painting is inspired by two people whose selflessness touched my heart and supported me in the creation of one of the biggest adventures of my life so far. Here is a bit of our story:

The opportunity to paint in Italy came at a time when I craved a change of scenery more than I wanted certainty in surroundings.  I said yes to living on the remote farm of the curator Alfio Borghese without knowing how much of the details or logistics would work out to create a solo exhibit in another land.

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vicenza-3I’d lived a summer in Italy before, in my early twenties, working with children on a US Army base in the northern city of Vicenza (about an hour from Venice). I had learned a few basic Italian phrases and traveled the country on weekends. Yet this was to be a completely different experience than one of a college student accompanied by other English speakers on a trip overseas. I would be on my own to figure out how to communicate with Italians and get work done in an unfamiliar setting, with a relatively short timeline compared to how many months I normally spent to create a painting. This was both a terrifying and invigorating concept.

The thought of living in another culture without knowing the language fascinated me since childhood.  At six years old, I started collecting Barbie dolls from around the world and imagined connecting with interesting people on international travels. international-barbie-montag Around the same time, I met a little girl in school with long blonde hair who wore a white and red checkered dress.  I had no idea then that she would travel to as many countries as I had dolls on my shelf, take breathtaking photos of the world, and that she and her future husband would be a very dear part of my journey.  I kinda think it would’ve been cool if I knew something about our future then. Like a child fortune teller with valuable information to share at slumber parties, I could’ve told her how she would be married to an officer in the US Army who she’d met while teaching English in Korea. She’d be a professional photographer, I’d be a professional artist, and we’d meet up in Rome.

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I wasn’t a fortune teller in second grade however, and life is better discovered as it unfolds. It amazes me though that each person contains an adventure in them that only time uncovers. Yet the seed of what makes them special is always there.

Erika and I collaborated on many creative projects in childhood that usually involved us dressing up in costumes for class reports and finding reasons to serve food to our classmates.  The genes of being a thoughtful hostess resided in her then naturally as she came from kind parents who always organized wonderful gatherings with the best snack selections.

It had been nearly two decades since Erika and I lost contact post junior high when we found each other again through Facebook. She became a cheerleader for my paintings, and I became a fan of her photography. It amazed me to see the places she traveled to and the beautiful life she had created.   I marveled at how she gracefully walked the path of a military spouse, which isn’t an easy path.  Her ability to embrace other cultures and relish in life’s details from the local food and wine, to conversations in other languages probably helped her thrive all these years. Erika lived with her husband Steve for six years in Vicenza, the very place I had first spent a summer in Italy.

vicenza-harker-2I’m glad I had that time in Vicenza in my early 20s. I’d gotten to live out some of the stereotypical romantic experiences associated with going to Italy.  I was in a completely different place on this trip. I’d said goodbye to one of the most significant relationships of my life the day before I received the offer to paint in Italy. This trip was far beyond just a dream, it was an opportunity to be lifted from the depths of sorrow and create.  As the saying goes, when one door closes…well I kinda felt like I jumped out the window and had to learn to fly. The curator who invited me hardly spoke English, I hardly spoke Italian and we’d just met.  He offered me a place to stay on his farm near the town of Paliano. IMG_20150521_195518500I wasn’t sure how I would fund or accomplish the trip…yet every bit of my instincts told me to say yes to the opportunity. I remember a yoga teacher telling me once that if I wanted to do a handstand, the desire had to be greater than the fear.  Well I never really desired to do a handstand. I felt more comfortable being afraid of handstands.  I did desire this leap out of my comfort zone. The thought of staying within the familiar walls of my apartment in LA, accompanied by grief, terrified me more than any of the potential outcomes of going overseas and taking a chance on creating an art exhibit. I had to trust the unknown. In doing so, I began to experience miracles of generosity that assured me I was doing the right thing.  Then one of the greatest acts of synchronicity occurred, Erika’s husband got stationed in Rome to study at the US Embassy for the same months that I would be painting on a farm south of there! I felt like the skies had parted, and I had angels.

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Erika welcomed and anticipated my arrival in countless ways that put my mind at ease.  Steve, who had never met met me, received and hauled countless packages of supplies for me including a 45lb roll of canvas. They didn’t treat my arrival like it would be a casual meet up for coffee, have small talk with an old friend and part ways. Their hospitality went far beyond the average host who invites someone to stay in their home for a few days or a week.  After having had little contact with Erika for nearly 20 years they offered me a beautiful room with a balcony in Rome for months and asked for nothing in return.

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Steve said I could even have another room to paint in if I wanted.  I knew I would make far too much of a mess to paint inside, yet the offer touched me greatly. It impressed and delighted my heart to know that Erika had found a man to walk beside her who matched the thoughtfulness and integrity so characteristic of her. I felt so loved before I even got there.

When the plane touched down in Rome and the Williams picked me up at the airport, in some ways I felt like I’d gone home in being around Erika.  In the moments of walking next to her in the airport parking lot, it fascinated me to observe how the little blonde haired girl I’d known had grown into a beautiful woman who looked and sounded almost the same yet mature and sophisticated.  She’d kept the core of who I spent so much time with as a child in Iowa.

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This reunion slumber party in Rome also came with a cute little white dog, Siggy who had more stamps on his passport than the average American citizen. At that point, he had been to 26 different countries. I didn’t even know that dogs could have passports.

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We became instant friends.

 

 

 

rome-harker2For several days Erika helped me get set up in Rome. She taught me the best places to buy subway tickets before the crowds and away from scam artists.  She went with me to get an Italian sim card for my phone and showed me how Italians use plastic gloves to pick up produce in the grocery store. We mapped out and walked routes to art stores where I would get additional supplies and have twenty plus canvases built and stretched. All of these paintings would be created in three months time.

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Once I arrived with my Italian host on the farm, where I was to paint, I went looking for the bus stop.  I saw many buses pass each day…they just didn’t stop.

 

 

 

 

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The nearest bus stop would be six miles away with no shoulder as crazy Italian drivers sped by. I hadn’t rented a car since I would be painting most of the time. It’s very difficult to get an automatic rental car in Italy. Google maps had the location of the farm marked as another city all together. Calling a cab was impossible under those circumstances, plus the nearest towns were too small to have taxi services.  I later learned how to send a latitude and longitude coordinates via WhatsApp so that people could find me. Before then, Erika and Steve drove me on multiple occasions to and from the farm with groceries and supplies. This was a two hour drive for them round trip.

sketch-rome-harkerI quickly fell in love with painting on the farm.  I also struggled a bit to adapt to the culture. The apartment in Rome gave me a refuge to decompress and heed insight. Erika understood both the American culture of accomplishing tasks and reveled in the way Italians knew how to slow down and enjoy the simplest pleasures of life. It just wasn’t possible to live in Italy the way I had in Los Angeles.  Erika said, “In Italy you might have a list of twenty-eight things you want to get done in a day and you will probably only get two of them done, and one of them will be to take a shower.” Her words helped me begin to process the cultural differences and my experience with a little more humor.  I felt like I had joined a club of people who knew what it was like to live in Italy as an American, a totally different experience than one of a tourist. This was a far more intricately different culture than I had imagined.

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I felt so thankful for this time together. I got to hear her stories and reflections as I went through my own transformation.  Despite my painting schedule and Erika’s busy travels to various countries for Steve’s work, we managed to fit in a trip to Vicenza. Although we shared this place in common, their bond far exceeded mine. They called this place home. I got to hear about the city from her perspective and see some of her favorite places.  I also got to go with Erika on two of her photoshoots and see her at work. (Consider getting your own photoshoot with her if you are an American getting engaged in Europe or for another special reason! Oscar Elnes Photography)  I felt so proud to see her in action. I mainly like to point the camera and push buttons…and she had so much knowledge.  There is something magical about witnessing a person’s childhood and then seeing who they turn into and how they contribute to the world.

I created A Vicenza Lifetime specifically for Erika and Steve. It was actually another collaboration for Erika and I since she took the photos of the bicycles that I added to the painting.

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Siggy also stars in the painting. This painting is the framework of a place they love, I trust that their memories will fill in the rest of the color.

 

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A Vicenza Lifetime arrived safely to it’s new home with the Williams family, in Belgium, a couple of weeks ago.  This painting only begins to express the  gratitude I feel for them.

 

 

 

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I wish that life showers Erika and Steve with the kind of good karma they deserve for being such caring, thoughtful, pure of heart people. They certainly have made my world a better place and have supported the future of many more paintings. Grazie mille amici!

 

 

 

 

Behind “Driving Fire”

Posted by on Feb 10, 2016 in Blog | 0 comments

Somewhere I heard the quote: “Go as far as you can see and you will see further.” These words became my guiding light while working on this painting. I started Driving Fire as the largest piece for my first solo exhibition in Italy.  The deep green viridian color called to me yet gave no other instructions.

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I chose a color that represents heart energy. The selection of Hollywood seemed a fit because it is a place where millions go to follow their dreams. It is a place of infinite possibilities and a place where many get disillusioned in the pursuit of doing what they love.

I took the photo inspiration for this work during an evening out with curator Alfio Borghese. It was on his remote farm near Paliano, Italy (south of Rome) that this painting took flight.

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At times this painting got tied to old wells, trees, farm machinery and various buildings around the property.

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I felt the most free and the most confused while making this painting.

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I really couldn’t see how the painting would possibly get finished in time for the opening.

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Whenever surprise guests showed up on the farm for long traditional Italian meals in the middle of the day, it always seemed to be this painting that I was working on.

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(a few of the above friends: art critic Paolo Mangiante, curator Alfio Borghese, art critic Paola Boschieri, & photographer Fabio de Paolis)

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I laughed a lot while making this painting because I was sure the scenarios that took place behind the scenes belonged in a movie.

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My loves, Virgola and Punto, the farm dogs that kept close to me during the residency usually took shelter next to this painting during frequent rain storms. Although I wished they wouldn’t since the oil was still wet, the threat of dog fur in the paint was the least of my worries. My head swam with thoughts completely the opposite of what I would advise others to think in creating a positive work environment. Then I remembered to change my thoughts.

I returned to the words: “Go as far as you can see and you will see further…”

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I remembered my father’s saying from his time in the US Marines: “adapt, improvise and overcome,” and that is exactly what I had to do. I could not control the outcome of the painting by thinking about what would happen if I never figured it out. Giving up would not finish the painting…and I always talk about painting with joy…where did the joy go? I had to think differently…I had to find the joy in the not knowing.

I began to see this painting as a parallel to life. I couldn’t see to the end of its creation, just like we can’t see through the course of our lives…moving forward is a matter of trust.

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Driving Fire refers to the deep passion in any person to move forward in the direction of whatever it is that they desire. This fire lives in all of us whether it rages or gets a little muffled. It’s not always safe, easy or fun this drive…but the alternative is less fun.  The end of a famous Winston Churchill quote says, “…it is the courage to continue that counts.” Sometimes continuing forward means finding a way to re-ignite the energies that drive us regardless of the circumstances and learning to trust along the way.

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Driving Fire by Brooke Harker
ink, oil & acrylic on canvas
59″ x 66″ (150cm x 169cm)
Purchase now: $8200 or 7100 Euros (ships from Italy)
Click here to contact a sales representative.

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(above: curator Alfio Borghese, artists Elena Sevi & Brooke Harker, art critic Marcello Carlino of Rome at the opening of “Una Prospettiva Eclettica” at Villa Comunale di Frosinone)

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