SEE NAPLES AND DIE: Wanderings In Italy’s Most Colourful City

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I’d been looking forward to re-visiting the city of Naples for a long time. The last time I was there was very briefly with my family almost 20 years ago in the late 1990s on the way to the Amalfi coast. The thing that I remember most from that trip was not the beautifully pristine holiday brochure perfect Amalfi coast itself. Rather what I remember most vividly from that trip was Naples train station and the streets surrounding it. Seedy, dishevelled, dirty, loud and downright dicey are some of the adjectives that spring to my mind when I look back on it now. I remember walking through the station and trying to break away from my family to read a guitar magazine on one of the vendor stands. My dad immediately pulled me back towards the family and gave me a stern look as if to say, ‘Don’t even think about wondering around here by yourself’. For my parents were on a mission to get the hell out of this station as fast as it was humanly possible like trying to escape from a building about to collapse.

From the holy Umbrian town of Assisi located in the very heart of Italy, I board a discount Flixbus, which via Rome will take me to Napoli. Six hours later I arrive in the bus station. We approach the bus terminal along a road going through a neglected part of the city. The buildings are dilapidated and lathed with aggressive graffiti. Hardly anybody is walking the streets. When I exit the bus, I make my way towards Garibaldi metro station bypassing the train station. On my way to the metro line I walk through a modern shopping mall. My initial impressions this time of the area are more sanguine as much of the filth and grime I witnessed at the train station all those years ago appears surprisingly absent. I am quite disappointed.

I take the metro to Toledo station. When I exit the station onto Via Toledo I arrive on a busy pedestrian thoroughfare. My accommodation is located a few streets away from the station. From Via Toledo I walk through one of the adjacent side streets. This area is also known as the Spanish Quarter. I haven’t been to this part of the city before. The side streets I trudge off the main boulevard is like walking through a tightly connected open neighbourhood where everybody appears to knows one another. Tall crumbling buildings. Endless washing lines. Cheap hole-in-the-wall pizzerias. Buzzing scooters. Madonna and Bambini shrines. People laughing. People shouting. People arguing. What more could I want? This is my place. I am in heaven here.

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My temporary neighbourhood in the heart of the Spanish Quarter

My accommodation is located in one of those buildings on the first floor. My room is humongous. It could almost count for a studio flat with a tiny balcony overlooking one of the narrow streets. I rest for a while but soon develop impatient feet and an uncontrollable urge to dive head first into this unruly soup enfolding me. The Spanish Quarter of Naples is like a PG certificate Parharganj retaining all the positive attributes of Delhi’s notorious tourist ghetto district. Thankfully the air quality is better here and there are no aggressive hawkers relentlessly on my trail. When I venture back out I hit a nearby pizzeria and order a margherita pizza to take away for only 3 euros. It is cooked in an enormous dome shaped stone oven. On the counter there is a photograph of Diego Maradona. I already like this place.

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My local pizzeria where a traditional Margharita pizza done Napoli style will only set you back a few euros

A few minutes later my pizza is bunged into a takeaway box served to me piping hot. I walk with it back onto via Toledo and try to find somewhere to sit down. I spot a side street with a row of granite seats. Unfortunately, its occupied by shifty looking folk so I keep searching. Finally, on Piazza della Carita I find a spot to sit down. I fold my pizza in half before I munch away at it. The taste is different to other pizzas I’ve eaten across Italy. I notice that the dough is chewier. The ingredients also taste fresher and the basil topping is the cherry on the Napoli cake. I wolf it down like an uncouth savage. If I were eating this thing on one of the park benches by the Houses of Parliament I would have most certainly got some funny looks. But here in downtown Napoli nobody gives a toss.

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Piazza della Carita off Via Toledo 

Being a Sunday the Via Toledo is full of local families and couples wondering on their evening passegiatta. I walk past an old Baroque church where a gaggle of Bukowski bums are strewn across the steps. Close to the piazza is a small open-air market selling everything from candies and literature classics in Italian to handbags, purses and religious paraphernalia. Further down the via Toledo a vender is selling plastic swords which glow in multi colours. Towards the end of the street there is a large opulent neo-classical style shopping mall called Galeria Umberto. Its very similar to Leadenhall market in the City of London. All the time, I see and hear scooters and motorbikes on every street I walk down whether it’s a main boulevard or some dingy narrow alleyway. The last time I encountered as many scooters and motorbikes was when I was in Hanoi five years ago.

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Via Toledo

On the way back to my guesthouse I search for a small alimentari to buy a large bottle of water. I have little success. Whenever I do find a place that’s open its either an ice cream parlour or tourist eatery, which sells small bottles of water for about two euros a pop. I finally get rewarded down a small alleyway corner close to my guesthouse. There in a small Bangladeshi owned grocery shop where I locate a large two litre bottle of water for just one euro.

The next day I head over to Toledo metro station to take a train over to Garibaldi where the central train station of Napoli is located. I wanted to relive my experience from 20 years ago. When I arrive at the station its almost unrecognisable to the one I have those flashbacks of all those years ago. I am surprised to discover a rather modern and funky contemporary looking station redesigned by some hip architect du jour. And with security camaras! Wow!! And there was me thinking I was going to get a taste of Caracas. Even the main piazza Garibaldi outside has some trendy structure around it to make it look all modern and up with the times. I am kind of reminded of the old port area of Marseille which has a modern and hip structure to clean up the rough and tumble image of the city. But you can only fool people so much. Head down any of the narrow streets directly adjacent to it and it’s the same as it ever was. And, fortunately, this is true for Napoli. I head down one of these streets and in almost no time I arrive at a run-down piazza where there’s a small unkempt market of African vendors selling unfolded rags of second-hand clothes. What I was hoping to find is finally here. It’s thankfully midday. At night I would think twice about walking around this part of town. Even the wayward wonderer that is I has at least a modicum of common sense.

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Market stalls near Piazza Garibaldi

By this rough and tumble piazza, there is a small castle like façade marking the gateway to the Quartiere Pendino. This part of the city is arguably the most busted and down at heel. Yet it’s a tantalising area to explore. I develop mental images of the La Goute d’Or district in Paris nestled within the triangle of Barbes Rouchechouart, Chateau Rouge and La Chapelle metro stations.

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Photos from the Quartiere Pendino

As well as people from different parts of Africa there’s a huge south Asian community. I spot a handful of Napoli Indian Bangla eateries. There are many outside fruit and vegetable vendors where a kilo of lemons or tomatoes can be picked up at rock bottom prices. Yet it’s the site of the seafood vendors that tickle my imagination. It is raw sight with no refined presentation. Freshly caught seafood – bosh – in white plastic water filled containers or on large crushed ice slopes ready to be bought. Here one could be mistaken for being in one of the gritty streets of Victorian London or Canaletto era Venice. Sacks of muscles, clams and mountains of prawns and mini squids are all waiting for overworked chefs to transform into a sumptuous linguini alla vongole dish.

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A fish stall in the Quartiere Pendino

Leaving the Quartiere Pendino district en route towards Via Dei Tribunali in the centro historico district I spot a pizzeria and order a Capriccioso pizza – the full monty. It doesn’t disappoint, just like the pizza I had last night at my local in the Spanish quarter. Via Dei Tribanali is the heart of the historic centre of Naples. Its less off the beaten piste than Quartiere Pendino but it’s also a true slice of raw Napoli nonetheless. There are many old churches around here. My first stop here is the Quardreria e Cappella del Pio Monte della Misericordia.

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On Via Dei Tribunali in the historic centre 

Inside the chapel at the main alter is an enormous oil painting by Caravaggio entitled Le Opere di Misericordia. There are also paintings by other Baroque era Italian artists such as Luca Giordano, Battistello and Fabrizio Santafede. Giordano’s Deposizione painting features Christ being….. Sadly it is difficult to fully scrutinize Caravaggio’s painting. It is located too far away and the electric light around it obscures parts of the painting.

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Caravaggio (1571 – 1610) – Le Opera di Misericordia

The 7 euro entry fee is worth it though since the price also includes entry to a separate Pinacoteca art gallery on the grounds of the Pio Monte della Misericordia. There are several paintings on display by the 18th century Italian painter Francesco De Mura. He is a very skilled realist painter from the same tradition of Caravaggio who came before him. There is humanity and emotion exuding from his paintings, most notably his Cristo alla Colonna (1760) and San Paolo Eremita che adora la Croce (1760) paintings. Yet its not on the same visceral scale.

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Cesare Fracanzano (1605-52) – Miracolo di in indemoniato

The 17th century Baroque painter Cesare Fracanzano’s Miracolo di un indemoniato painting gets closer to core of what made Caravaggio such a powerful painter of the human condition. In another corner of the pinacoteca are a number of donated works of art by a group of international contemporary artists. One of the leading figures of the Italian Arte Porvera movement, Jannis Kounellis, is featured as are two other important Italian artists of the Transavangardia movement of the late 70s/early 80s; Francesco Clemente and Sandro Chia. The 1970s conceptual artist Joseph Kosuth is in there as is the Austrian sculptor and conceptual artist Franz West. Anish Kapoor has a recent work from 2011 appearing on initial glance to be formed from bee’s wax or caramel but is most likely to be resin solution.

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Francesco De Mura (1696 -1782) – Portrait from 1735

Back in the main area of the Pinacoteca, I find another painting by Francesco De Mura, which stops me in my tracks from 1735 of a portrait of a voluptuous female aristocrat. She radiates unhappiness, boredom and repression. There’s a feistiness inside of her which is wanting to explode, yet it will remain trapped. I think of the French painter Ingres’s Madame Moitessier portrait, which he made over a century later. Both exude a kind of Junoesque beauty and both look bored, yet Ingres’s subject appears less intense.

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Jusepe de Ribera (1591 – 1652) – Portrait of St Antonio Abate 

A portrait of St Antonio Abate by the Baroque Spanish master Jusepe de Ribera is in the collection. The portrait has an acute Caravaggio style realism and humanism to it. The old man’s face, beard, eyes and left hand is painted unadulteratedly in all their detail. There are no embellishments or mannerisms. Caravaggio’s chiaroscuro technique is executed very skilfully too.

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Giovanni Baglione – Sepoltura di Cristo

One of the highlights of the Pinacoteca’s collection come’s towards the end of my visit via a painting by Caravaggio contemporary Giovanni Baglione entitled Sepoltura di Cristo. In this painting Christ is painted in a seductive homo-erotic way. Muscular with toned olive skin, almost fully naked with an angelic face. A body and face so beautiful it’s impossible not to be moved by this painting. The people around him are full of sorrow too. It is a modern and human painting and the faces of the other figures look so contemporary they could be walking the streets this minute.

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Piazza Bellini

Back on Via Dei Trubunali I walk towards Piazza Bellini. There are several vendors selling all kinds of miscellaneous knick-knacks and souvenirs. Lots of Diego Maradona related items. In Napoli he almost has the same status as the patron city saint himself San Genarro – more on him in a bit. In the 80s Maradona played for Napoli and so he has a special place in the city’s heart. At another stand I spot a column of toilet paper rolls with the faces of politicians on each sheet. The Italian politicians Berlusconi, Renzi, Salvino and De Maio make the cut as do Trump, May, Macron, Merkal, Putin and Kim Jong Un.

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From one of the many of the souvenir stalls in the historic centre 

Piazza Bellini, located at the end of Via Dei Tribunali, features a statue of the 19th century Italian opera composer Vicenzo Bellini whom the piazza is named after. His statue is defaced with graffiti. By the piazza there are some vendors selling second-hand books. I spot several art books priced from just a euro yet all the text is in Italian. Nevertheless I locate a large series of A3 size booklets featuring large high quality colour photographs of works by different old master artists of the past. Corregio, Mantenga, Hugo Van der Goes, Parmagiano, Carpaccio and many more are here. Nearby I visit a couple of bric-a-brac shops selling random objects and artefacts such as figures of St Francis of Assisi, period cabinets, lamps and porcelain crockery. In one corner I spot a figure of an old saint or vagrant dressed in rags carrying a rusted metal tin.

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In a small antiques/bric a brac shop by Piazza Bellini

Most of the walls of the city are covered in graffiti and political and propaganda posters. I spot one small poster with the following slogan, ‘Napoli Non Si Vende!’ (Napoli’s not for sale). I walk aimlessly along the graffitied streets of the San Giuseppe quarter in an almost delirious state.

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Yours truly at Piazzeta Casanova near the historic centre 

When I do get off my cloud I make my way to Naples’ Duomo or main cathedral. It is an outstanding and impressive Gothic cathedral dating back to the early 13th century. Yet I’ve come to see the smaller basilica of Santa Restituta located adjacent to the main Duomo. It is also the oldest building in Naples dating back to 324 AD when it was constructed by Constantine. Inside there is a small baptistery with relics and mosaics going back to 5th century and early Christian times after Antiquity and the fall of the Roman Empire.

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The Santa Restituta basilica – the oldest building in Naples dating back to 324 AD

 

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Inside the baptistery of the Basilica containing mosaics and relics dating as far back as the 5th century AD 

When I return to the Duomo I enter the Royal Chapel of the Treasure of St Januarius or San Genarro, dedicated to the patron saint of Naples himself. He is somewhat of a legendary figure who died in 305 AD. When his body was transferred to the cathedral two glass vials containing his dried blood liquefied. They are kept in a silver reliquary behind the alter. This ‘miracle’ has continued to repeat itself at least three times a year (on the first Saturday in May and on September 19th and December 16th). The liquefaction during a special mass on those days. To many San Gennaro is viewed as the saviour and protector of Naples and if the blood doesn’t liquefy on those auspicious dates, then catastrophic events are supposed to besiege the city.

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The Royal Chapel of the Treasure of San Genarro

The following day I walk to the end of Via Toledo on to Piazza Dante lined with an ornate, albeit crumbling, crescent of attractive Baroque era architecture as well as a prominent white statue of the great poet himself. It is a seedy area and by the statue there’s a banner advertising an organised demonstration of free health care for everyone.

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Piazza Dante

I re-enter the historic centre of Naples simply meandering and walking dreamily along the main thoroughfares and side streets. On one of the streets in this part of town, Via San Gregorio Armeno, I feel like I am walking through a corner of the old medina of Fez in Morocco even if its just for a fleeting moment. In this part of town I visit the classically Baroque church San Gregorio Armeno, which contains frescos by the Neapolitan Baroque era artist Luca Giordano. Inside it is a truly luxurious church with ornate and opulent walls, arches and ceilings. The Giordano frescoes crown it all.

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Via San Gregorio Armeno

 

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The Baroque style San Gregorio Armeno church with frescoes by Luca Giordano

I walk away from the historic centre and onto Via Forcella. This is classic unkempt Napoli where one can find outdoor vendors selling groceries for a fraction of the cost of those at established supermarkets and alimentaris. The concentration of tourists from the area around the historic centre has declined here and all that can be found are local Neapolitans going about their daily life. As I wonder through this part of town I look for a cheap and authentic pizzeria. By chance I stumble upon L’Antica Pizzeria ‘Da Michele’.

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Life goes on around Via Forcella 

Little did I know that this place is something of an institution and is heaving with locals and tourists who make the effort to get here. Originally established in 1870 this pizzeria specializes in one pizza and one pizza only; La Margherita. 4 euros will get you a ‘normal’ sized pizza. 4.50 a medium sized one and 5 a large one. The boys are hard at work at the back working like the most overworked Amazon worker on a hardcore treadmill. The difference here being that they live and breath the work. Its popularity means that this place is no secret and photographs adorn the walls of the proprietors with Italian politicians Matteo Renzi and Luigi De Maio as well as a photo of Julia Roberts eating at the establishment. I don’t fancy the long wait to eat inside so I order a pizza to go. I find a bench to sit nearby to it. Most of the pizza is covered in a thick film of olive oil. I let some of it drip onto the pavement so it doesn’t get on my clothes. The pizza is heavenly. It is so delicate it melts in my mouth. Moreover, all the ingredients taste and feel fresh and not processed. The best margherita pizza I have ever had period.

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Outside pizzeria ‘Da Michele’ – an institution in Naples

 

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The best margherita pizza I have ever had 

I revisit the historic centre for an idle wonder and decide to walk towards Piazza Garibaldi. I walk along the main boulevard Corso Umberto I via Piazza Bovio and Piazza Nicola Amore. Continuing on from Piazza Nicola Amore and getting nearer to Piazza Garibaldi, I walk past the dinghy side streets I became familiar with from yesterday morning. The kind of streets where Caravaggio would be fighting and quarrelling with those who had the temerity to rub him up the wrong way. Jim Morrison chose to crash in Paris, but he would have felt in his place on those streets. As would have the great precocious French poet Arthur Rimbaud. Their hatred of stultified, vacuous petit bourgeois society would have made this place a paradise for them. There’s something of the Petit Socco district of Tangiers here. When I reach the central station of Naples I decide to purchase a ticket to the ancient Greek civilisation of Paestum for the next day.

I conclude my time in Napoli with a visit to two of the most well-known sites in the city, the Museo Nazionale di Capodimonte and the National Archaeological museum. Even if you have just a passing interest in art and art history through the ages, they both contain a very rich collection of important and landmark paintings, sculptures and artefacts. One of the highlights are the works from the Farnese Collection, especially the classical sculptures in the National Archaeological museum. The Capodimonte museum is located in a grand red stately home like building on the outskirts of the city centre in a park on top of a hill with some awesome vistas over the city. The building is in fact called the Palazzo Reale di Capodimonte, which was once the royal residence of the Bourbon King Charles III. It dates back to 1738 and is today home to one of the best collections of art in Italy. I walk all the way to the museum. It is a long walk but sometimes I like to take a long walk through a city to discover corners of unexpected delights and nuances. Even when I travel from one part of the city to another by public transport to reach my desired destinations, I often feel that I miss things on the way. The process of the journey is sometimes just as important as the destination itself.

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The Museo Nazionale di Capodimonte

The Museo Nazionale di Capodimonte has a huge collection of Renaissance era paintings (including paintings by Simone Martini, Masaccio, Mantegna, Botticelli, Bellini, Correggio and Titian) as well as many paintings by Baroque and Napoli masters. Of those works, Artemisia Gentileschi’s Judith Slaying Holofernis (1612-13) and Caravaggio’s The Flagellation Of Christ are two distinct highlights.

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Caravaggio (1571 – 1610) – The Flagellation Of Christ

Caravaggio is well known for his brutal and gritty realism and knack for visceral and raw emotion in his work, but this painting is one of his strongest works if not his best. It’s a modern painting too. The two sinister and intimidating looking figures to the left and right of Jesus look like they could have been plucked from the set of The Football Factory.

Artemisia Gentileschi is unique for her time, since she was a female artist during an age when it was difficult to be accepted and validated. The Italian art historian Roberto Longhi called Gentileschi, ‘the only woman in Italy who ever knew about painting, coloring, drawing, and other fundamentals’. She was part of a generation of painters that came after Caravaggio and were inspired by his works. Her Judith Slaying Holofernis painting is disturbingly graphic and full of gore; the sword is halfway through Holofernis’s neck and the bed sheets are covered in blood. It’s realism and the chiaroscuro technique may be influenced by Caravaggio, yet not even Caravaggio’s most brutal paintings such as the ones featuring the severed heads of Goliath and John The Baptist reach this threshold of vivid violence.

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Artemisia Gentileschi (1593 – 1656) – Judith Slaying Holofernis (1612-13)

In this painting it is the woman who has the power over the man. Judith takes revenge on Holofernis for raping her. Today Holofernis could represent the disgraced Hollywood film producer Harvey Weinstein and Judith the sum of all the women accusing him of sexual assault. All their cathartic rage and pain is channelled and processed into the sword hacking away at the head of their tormentor. The museum also has a good selection of modern and contemporary art works. There’s a huge black relief installation by the Italian artist Alberto Burri as well as a room containing a work by Jannis Kounellis featuring an assortment of large terracotta vases. Elsewhere there are works by other important post WW2 Italian artists such as Giulio Paolini, Mario Merz, Michelangelo Pistoletto, Gino de Dominicis, and Mimmo Jodice.

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Alberto Burri (1915 – 95) – Grande Cretto Nero (1978)

 

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Jannis Kounellis (1936 – 2007) – Untitled (1989)

The National Archaeological museum is a vast sanctuary of classical artefacts. Some of tremendous significance. There is a sizable collection of Egyptian artefacts, Roman mosaics and many of erotic art artefacts from the Roman period. Of all the erotic art in the museum, the frescos and the sculpture of Pan having sexual intercourse with a goat are the most outstanding.

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Erotic frescos from the Roman period at the National Archaeological Museum 

 

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Erotic sculpture of Pan and a goat from the NAM 

Yet the most important part of the museum is arguably the classical sculptures from the Farnese collection. Many of the sculptures in this collection are Roman era copies of original sculptures made during the Classical Greek period.

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Venus Kallipygos sculpture at the NAM

 

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Artemis of Ephesus sculpture at the NAM

Of those works the refined and elegant Venus Kallipygos sculpture, the mixed-material  Artemis of Ephesus (an oddity of a sculpture for its time not sticking to the standard rules of classical sculpture) and the giant Farnese Bull are three highlights.

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The Farnese Bull sculpture at the NAM

The Farnese Bull is unique since it’s the largest piece of classical sculpture ever discovered. Yet what is interesting is that when the work was first discovered, all the pieces of the sculpture were fragmented, and it was only through extensive restoration that it was all re-connected back to its original form – quite a feat.

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Oscar Wilde and Bosie in Naples in 1897

Vedi Napoli e poi Muori indeed. It has been one hell of a banquet lapping up this raw pearl of a city. So much so I feel like I can die with a smile on my face. On my last evening in Naples, as I surf the net on my laptop, curiosity leads me to the great playwright, writer, poet and wit Oscar Wilde. I discover a few grainy black and white photograph from 1897 of Oscar with his on-off friend and lover, the poet Lord Alfred ‘Bosie’ Douglas, in this city. Having spent two years in prison on charges of homosexuality (this was Victorian Britain) brought to the fore by Bosie’s father, the Marquess of Queensbury, Oscar turns his back on Blighty. With his reputation in tatters he heads south. It is in Naples where he settles with Bosie for the latter part of 1897 before moving to Paris where he would remain until his death in 1900.

 

By Nicholas Peart

(c)All Rights Reserved 

 

Photographs From The District Of Exarcheia In Athens

Exarcheia is an interesting district to explore in the Greek capital. When I was based in Athens for a few weeks in November 2017, I went on a few strolls in this part of the city. It is a slice of alternative Athens. You can call it trendy or hipster, but this is a very raw and unpolished place. This is no Shoreditch or Brooklyn. Demonstrations frequently take place. In fact, when I was there, I witnessed one manifesting by the Polytechnic University entrance with piles of stolen chairs and bits of furniture piled on top of one another. I’ve read about the anarchists who populate this district. They can be found around Exarcheia’s main square. When I passed this square, I saw a bum with an unruly bush of greying curly hair lying on a knackered mattress wrapped up warm (Athens starts to get cold in November) and engrossed in a book. By his side there were several columns of battered paperbacks. I thought to myself, Is this guy some skid row Socrates? There’s a sense of sadness when I walk these streets felt via the consequences of the never ending economic hard times the country is going through. Amongst the abrasive graffiti permeating the streets are some genuine works of art. On one wall someone has created an enormous mural of a homeless person with the words, ‘dedicated to the poor and homeless here and around the globe’. Below is a roll of photographs I took from my explorations here. The best sensors though are natural. One’s eyes, ears and nose will never be able to replace an artificial lens, but these snaps shall suffice…

 

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Photographs and text by Nicholas Peart

(c)All Rights Reserved

Art And Living In The Digital World

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This is an essay I wrote towards the end of 2014 about being an artist and living in the context of our digital world. I have made a few changes since then but the general gist of the essay remains the same.

 

Today art can be split into two categories; “Pre-Internet” and “Post-Internet” art.

All the important and influential art movements are all of the Pre-Internet age. It seems to me that in this current Post-Internet age, there are no real lasting and meaningful art movements. There are of course many interesting artists today creating challenging and original works of art via digital media and who are very much in tune with the zeitgeist and more power to them. Yet there is something I long for which I feel is missing. And this is not strictly limited to artists and art. This applies to (and perhaps to a much greater degree) general living.

Before the internet the main media sources were television/video, the telephone, the radio and the printing press. The internet is all this and much much more. It enables us access to diverse and limitless quantities of information. In order to source information before the internet, most people went to libraries and even these institutions were no guarantee that you would find the specific information you were looking for. But with the internet almost all kinds of information can be accessed without having to travel to libraries or even spend valuable time and money employing people to find certain bits of information. Access to information has been truly democratised (assuming everyone has an internet connection) since the development and growth of the World Wide Web.

Today we have a whole plethora of internet related social media sites such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube etc. to communicate/express ourselves through. Before the internet, the only possible ways to communicate with one another apart from face to face, were via the telephone, fax, telegram or via mail (in the form of letter writing which save for a few dedicated souls is well and truly six feet underground as an art). The channels of far flung communication were limited. People were more in the woods with regards to what was happening globally.
People did not lose themselves or devote much of their time to living in “electronic virtual reality”. People actually spent much time reading books, spending their free time outside, having real relationships (we still have real relationships but these are decreasing and I believe in the wake of “hyper-immersive 3D virtual reality” more and more people will be cutting themselves off and almost be living at least half of their entire existence in this new type of virtual world. More and more people will even cease having sexual relationships since the stimulated virtual way will feel even better than the real thing).

Via the array of social media sites there are many different groups that artists join. Too many groups. A humongous vertigo-inducing fragmentation of different groups. In the context of today’s world, everything changes faster than before. This is a faster world. News travels faster. There is less mystery. Life is documented more than ever before. Through the internet, everyone can now express themselves. There are more artists today than before. Art or being an artist is not something that is taboo or contentious anymore. Things that may have been considered ‘renegade’ or less accepted in the past such as being an artist, a musician or traveling around the world are now accepted and quite conventional. To travel around the world for a year as part of a ‘gap year’ is now the done thing.

I think that to be a true artist (a most overused weird) in this current digital age is to leave no traces; no evidence of art or living. To disappear and be an eternal apparition.

Often I don’t have the guts or the humility to leave no traces. There is something intricately hardwired in me about having to ‘be somebody’. Yet as the great Indian sage Juddi Krishnamurti once said, ‘the moment we want to be someone we are no longer free’

 

By Nicholas Peart

Originally written on 27th December 2014

(All rights reserved)

 

Image source: http://www.blouinartinfo.com

My Favourite Paintings In The Louvre

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The Louvre *

 

The Louvre museum in Paris has one of the most impressive collections of paintings by European Old Masters in the world. Perhaps the only museum to really rival it in this field is the Prado in Madrid (the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam, the National Gallery in London and the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York are a few close contenders). But not only does it house an impressive collection of paintings and sculptures from that age, it also has a substantial collection of Egyptian, Greek, Roman, Islamic and other World artefacts through the ages.

In this post I am listing my favourite paintings from the enormous collection of paintings on display by Old French, Italian, Flemish and Spanish Masters

 

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Nicolas Poussin (1594 – 1665) – Saint John Baptising The People (1634-5) 

Many art writers and historians argue that Poussin was the first great French painter who changed the face of art in France and blazed a trail for all French artists who came after him. The art scene in France during his time was very staid (yet in a state of transition finally moving away from the traditional apprenticeship methods of working) and for this reason he spent most of his life in Rome. The American author Micheal Kimmelman goes as far as saying that Poussin was, ”the springboard for the greatest French artists from David to Matisse”

 

 

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Claude Lorrain (1600 or 1604/5 – 1682) – Port With Capitol (1636)

Claude was another great French painter who like Poussin spent most of his life in Italy. He was also a prominent landscape painter. As can be seen in the port painting, the landscape was the dominant subject. At the time, making the landscape the dominant feature of a painting as opposed to actual figures/subjects was seen as groundbreaking. Claude’s paintings were an enourmous influence on the dramatic abstract-like landscape paintings of the revolutionary British painter J.M.W.Turner.

 

 

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Adolphe-Joseph Monticelli (1824 – 1886) – The Diner 

Monticelli was a very individual painter with his own unique style. What is even more amazing is how ahead of his time he was regarding his unusual style. Like the other great French painter, Eugene Delacroix (whose oil sketches Monticelli highly admired), he predated the Impressionists by many years.

 

 

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Herman Naiwincx (1623-1670) – Baptism Of The Ethiopian Eunuch 

 

 

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Alexandre-Gabriel Decamps (1803-1860) –  A Begger Counting His Money (1833) 

 

 

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Jean-François Millet (1814-1875) – The Hay Trussers (1850-51)

Millet was a huge influence on Vincent Van Gogh and this painting, as well as being a landmark work of art, perfectly encapsulates what Van Gogh first set out to achieve when he established himself as an artist. Van Gogh had a strong desire to paint the rural folk and their way of life as can be seen in his early paintings such as The Potato Eaters and many of his early sketches.

 

 

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Jules Dupré (1811-1889) – Sunset After A Storm (1851)

 

 

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Eugène Delacroix (1798-1863) – Pietà (1837)

This is a gem of a painting by the great French painter Eugene Delacroix. What is amazing about this painting is, stylistically, how loose and free it is and one could argue that it is a strong example of proto-Impressionism since it predates the movement by four decades (give or take a few years). Furthermore, Delacroix was an enormous influence on that generation of artists. In fact many argue that he planted the seed for the Impressionist movement.

 

 

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Jaques-Louis David (1748-1825) – Death Of Maret (1794)

This painting is of the murdered leader of the French Revolution, Jean-Paul Marat, and is one of the most iconic images of its time.

 

 

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Jean-Honoré Fragonard (1732-1806) – Rinaldo In The Gardens Of Armida

 

 

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Cimabue (1240-1302) – The Madonna And Child In Majesty Surrounded By Angels

Cimabue was a revolutionary artist. Arguably the first of the major early Italian Renaissance artists and the first artist to break away from the traditional Italo-Byzantine style art of the time. The above painting is one of his series of famous Maestà paintings.

 

 

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Giotto di Bondone (1266/67 – 1337) – The Crucifixion

Giotto was a student of Cimabue and along with him a major artist of the early Italian Renaissance movement.

 

 

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Lo Spagna (d. 1529) – St Jerome In The Desert (1531)

 

 

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Antonio Campi (1522-87) – The Mystery Of The Passion Of Christ

 

 

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Bartholomé Esteban Murillo (1617-82) – The Young Begger (1645-50)

This painting, for me, is striking for it’s gritty realism and social context. It was painted towards the end of Spain’s Siglo d’Oro (Golden Age) around the middle part of the 17th century when Spain had an enormous global empire. But what is clear is that, as evident by the acute poverty in the painting, it wasn’t a Golden Age for everyone. Much of Spain’s wealth accumulated from its former colonies was squandered on wars and in spite of its global clout at the time, the Spanish Crown filed for bankruptcy several times.

 

 

By Nicholas Peart

26th October 2016

(All rights reserved)

*image source: symmetrymagazine.org

Mona Lisa Madness At The Louvre

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Mona Lisa frenzy at the Louvre museum, Paris

 

I don’t think I’ve seen anything else quite like this in any other art museum I’ve been to around the world. The Mona Lisa by Leonardo Da Vinci is arguably the most iconic work of art in the world and the most well known. Perhaps the only other work by an old master with an iconic status almost equal to (but not quite of the same magnitude of) the Mona Lisa is The Girl With The Pearl Earing by the Dutch painter Johanes Vermeer.

It is actually quite rare that a random member of the general public knows the title of a work of art by a famous artist. Everyone has heard of Picasso but how many can name the title of one of his many works? The same for Andy Warhol, the same for Jackson Pollock, Damien Hirst etc.

I am quite fascinated by the monumental popularity of the Mona Lisa. The stampede to even just catch a glimpse of this painting is akin to trying to catch a glimpse of a famous rockstar doing a signing at some small record store. As much as I wanted to get up close to see the Mona Lisa, I eventually gave up. Instead I channelled my energies into immersing myself into the nearby epic painting entitled The Cornation Of The Virgin by the Italian master Tintoretto.

But why is the Mona Lisa the most iconic painting in the world? Firstly its provonence. Since it was completed in 1519, it has been in the hands of French kings and emperors before finally settling in the Louvre. The genesis though of its current global popularity can be traced back to an 1867 essay on Leonardo by the English essayist and art critic Walter Pater where he dissected and wrote very passionately and poetically about the Mona Lisa (or La Gionconda as it was known back then). Pater’s essay is not only one of the most famous essays on any single piece of art, at the time it was seen as quite groundbreaking especially since art criticism was a fairly new concept back then. Since then the painting has been caught in the crossfire of a series of high profile events. In 1911 it was stolen from the Louvre. Picasso and his friend the French poet Guillaume Appolinaire (who once demanded that the Louvre be ‘burnt down’) were seen as two potential suspects. Eventually the thief was revealed to be a Louvre employee at the time, Vincenzo Peruggia. In 1956, part of the painting was destroyed when someone hurled acid at it. Then it was vandalised again in 1974 when a woman sprayed red paint on it. The painting is now kept behind bullet proof glass as can be seen in the photo above this post.

The painting has also been appropriated by other artists. Most famously by the father of conceptual art, Marcel Duchamp, who added a mustache to the painting in his 1919 piece ‘L.H.O.O.Q’. Later famous artists like Salvador Dali and Andy Warhol have also appropriated the painting in their work.

The truth is that the Mona Lisa has the greatest legacy out of any other single work of art ever created hence the unprecedented fascination in it. This painting would go for a whopping sum of money if it were ever released on the open market at auction in either Sotherby’s or Christies. The record paid so far for a single work of art to date is $300 million in September 2015 for the painting ‘Interchange’ by the abstract expressionist painter Willem de Kooning. I predict that if the Mona Lisa were ever auctioned (perish the thought) it would breach the billion dollar mark. It is that important and as a financial ‘security’ or ‘instrument’; tremendously desirable.

As for me, I like Da Vinci’s work but I’ve always been more interested in his mind, his ideas and ways of working than the actual finished pieces of art. His sensitivity to nature and the world as well his acute understanding of the anatomy of the human body have always impressed me.

His thinking was incredibly ahead of his time. His dreaming and vision had no boundaries. I love his sketches. Some of his skeches contain many of his inventions – one looking like a modern day helicopter. Incredible to think that these were concocted over half a millennium ago.

 

by Nicholas Peart

22nd September 2016

(All rights reserved)

PAINTINGS (March – June 2016)

I’ve just returned back to London after having been away in South Africa for five months. For much of the last two months of my time over there, I travelled around large swathes of the country and many of my last blog posts detail my travel experiences over there.

Yet for the first few months of my time in South Africa I was based in the Western Cape, where I spent much of that time working on my latest series of paintings. Below I am enclosing images of the fruits of my creative labour (put your back into boy! – hahaha) which I am enclosing underneath this post.

If you would like to view more images of my work please visit my official art website at: http://www.nicholaspeart.com

Enjoy!…

 

 

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Life On Pluto (2016), oil on canvas, 100 x 75cm

 

 

 

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Straight To Hell (2016), oil on canvas, 100 x 75cm 

 

 

 

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Frozen Meta Collective Unconscious Lives And Past Lives (2016), oil on canvas, 100 x 75cm

 

 

 

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In The Next Life (2016), oil on canvas, 70 x 55cm

 

 

 

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Enigma (2016), oil on canvas, 70 x 55cm

 

 

 

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Funeral Pyres Of Fantastic Disguise (2016), oil on canvas, 40 x 32cm

 

 

 

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Secret Lives (2016), oil on canvas, 70 x 55cm

 

 

 

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Sun Poles (2016), oil on canvas, 50 x 40cm

 

 

(All images and works above by Nicholas Peart)

(All rights reserved)

Spiritual Coding and Self Discovery: An Exploration Of My Paintings

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Magma Matter Execution (2012) by Nicholas Peart

 

I am often asked by people to explain my paintings. ‘What are they about?’ is a common question. For a long time I found it difficult to translate the meaning of my paintings into words since the process is very personal and involves deep introspection. When people did ask the question I invariably gave them the reply, ‘My feelings. I paint my feelings’. This is one of the most succinct and sincere ways of explaining the meaning of my paintings yet I often felt that such a response just didn’t wash with some people.

All of my inspiration comes from within; through journeys into the deep chambers of my eternal, spiritual and immortal being. This is the part of me that is really me. The truth. In Hinduism and Buddhism this part of the self is known as atman. Yet often I feel very separated from this as I am immersed in the external environment of this life; a player on a stage where much of the cast has been programmed to be increasingly separated from their true being.

When I am immersed in the deep meditative process of painting, I feel increasingly connected with my true eternal being. It almost feels like it’s not me painting but my spirit. In my most inspired and transcendental moments of the painting process it is my eternal spirit which guides me. In these moments there is no chasm between my conscious and my unconscious. Being in this state makes me think of some of the earliest prehistoric civilisations. Back then, the world was a much less complex and complicated place to the one it is today. Especially the time before words. I think of the San rock art paintings found across parts of Southern Africa and Aboriginal rock art paintings from Australia. The San people of Southern Africa and the Aboriginal people of Australia fascinate me greatly since their culture goes back tens of thousands of years. But what’s more, their culture is profoundly spiritual and this can be seen clearly in their art; their oneness with the world and nature, and their high levels of awareness. In many ways it’s their lives and methods of working which inspire me just as much as the work itself, because of their deep spirituality.

 

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San rock art – Cederberg, South Africa

 

One thing that the San and Aboriginal people have in common is that much of their land is vast desert. For many people such a terrain is inhospitable and lonely; especially if one is very separated from themselves. In this state of being such a person would very quickly find the desert intolerable and isolating. It’s almost like the desert richly rewards those who are spiritually connected (and by extension at one with it) and makes life a living hell for those who are detached from their eternal soul. With a higher state of consciousness the desert begins to truly reveal itself. In a sense my paintings are like deserts, which only become alive as one becomes more connected with themselves. And this is sometimes a great problem I encounter as to some people my paintings appear quite alien and foreign to them. I fully expect this and it does not offend me when people openly tell me that they don’t understand them. My paintings are interactions with the spiritual world and these interactions take place during the painting process. One could then argue that in order to get to the core of my work it would be essential to observe me as I paint. You can do this and you can even do this without me being aware of being observed. But to really understand the processes would involve fully connecting with all levels of my consciousness.

 

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Wadjina Aboriginal rock art – Kimberly, Australia

 

I find that the paintings of the American artist Don Van Vleit (better known as Captain Beefheart) have much in common with the art of those early prehistoric civilisations. What’s also interesting is that when Van Vleit retired from making music and dedicated himself fully to painting in the early 1980s, he lived in a remote part of Northern California. And by immersing oneself in his work one can see the deep connection. Like the San and Aboriginal people, his true spiritual home was in nature. The place where his true being could glow white hot. Take him out of this environment and plop him in a studio in New York, London or Berlin, he would be like a flower without water.

 

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                                        Crepe And Black Lamps (1986) by Don Van Vliet

 

I like to call my painting technique Spiritual Coding. In the digital world in which we currently live the word coding is used a lot. This of course refers to computer programming. A language for this age. And when I look at my paintings I am also using my own language. A language created through interacting with my ‘inner being’ and this I call Spiritual Coding. My paintings are in many ways remnants of this. Tangible photographs almost of my eternal spirit. Although they don’t capture the processes of my work they are residue formations of intense spiritual journeying and internal searching.

 

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A Winter In Crowland (2008) by Nicholas Peart

 

Remaining on the subject of Spiritual Coding, symbols are important in my paintings. The American artist Philip Guston created his own unique symbols, language and world. Even if his world was very bleak and one of hardcore isolation. A dystopian spirituality. But through connecting with his paintings one can see that he embraced this insurmountable at-sea pain and isolation. Works offering no hope or salvation. For the majority of people (including myself) such a level of alienation would be intolerable and very difficult to embrace and accept. But it’s amazing how secure Guston seems to be in this vacuum. And that’s what makes his paintings very striking, visceral and distinct. They are pure undiluted archives of raw pain. I think of Van Gogh and how, even though he was often in the grip of profound sadness and anxiety, he produced some of the most beautiful paintings of all time. Yet Guston’s paintings are anything but beautiful. He was not looking to turn pain into beauty. He was more interested in turning pain into more pain. The painter Francis Bacon is the closest artist to Guston in this respect. Merciless insatiable masochists. Perhaps there is absolutely nothing of the spiritual in Guston’s work and he was always an enigma to himself but his comfort in the most acute thresholds of pain and loneliness is epic.

 

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Painter’s Form II (1978) by Philip Guston

 

Luck and chance play enormous roles in my paintings. My soul brothers here are the painters Jackson Pollock and Francis Bacon. And like them I never make sketches or engage in preliminary studies. And why would I? After all this is completely against my way of working and, more significantly, my raison d’être. I can’t plan what I am going to paint. If luck and chance weren’t integral parts of the painting process, I don’t think I would ever paint. Uncertainty is extremely important.

 

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                                                                           Jackson Pollock 

 

The work of both Jackson Pollock and Francis Bacon have their own unique and idiosyncratic qualities yet what unites them is their spontaneity. But there’s a more important quality which unites them and that is their energy. Wild, untamed, animal energy. Free of even the most minute inhibition. The primal way Pollock dripped paint and the ferocious and feral way Bacon attacked the canvas. Almost like a serial axe murderer taking a swing at his next victim. I can relate to this (not the axe murderer) since in much of my work when I first apply paint to the canvas either with a brush or a palate knife I literally lunge at it and let my inner self do the work. And sometimes I get so exhausted by the end of this process I need to rest.

 

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                                                                            Francis Bacon

 

I am still on my journey of self discovery. And as explained earlier in the text, I am just as conditioned and influenced by my external environment as any other being yet when I am painting I am far away from this external environment since painting enables me to get closer to the truth; of myself and the world

 

by Nicholas Peart

23rd May 2016

(All rights reserved)

 

My work can be found by visiting my website; http://www.nicholaspeart.com