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Painting in the Pandemic Memories of Milan

Painting in the Pandemic Memories of Milan

Artist and painter Jerilyn Jurinek shares her work and memories of Milan and her travels in Italy which inspired her latest works, “Painting in the Pandemic”. As a member of the Center for Italian Modern Art (CIMA) in New York, she stays connected to Italy and the art which inspires her most.

                                                 By JERILYN JURINEK

I’m Jerilyn Jurinek a painter, living in a Soho loft three blocks from the Center for Italian Modern Art (CIMA) in New York City. Here I find early 20th c. artists: G. Morandi, Giorgio de Chiricio, and Marino Marini  exhibited and studied. I have loved the first since graduate school, studied and apprenticed with Maestro Francesco Santoro who was mentored by the second and now I am in the newsletter with the third because I recently responded to their newsletter for members. In it the question was asked- “In the ‘Pandemic’ what are you doing?”

  “Oh, I am painting friends I can’t visit.” My building is empty now. Commercial tenants fled to home computers, the neighborhood is once again a haven for artists only.  Painting a painter and sculptor! I put them in places I visited in Italy last December: the palazzo that houses the Etruscan museum in Tarquinia.  I’d be there now, again. But then, I have this virtual exhibition in the June CIMA newsletter keeping my connection to Tarquinia alive.  

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Surrounded By Her Works,  24 in x 30 in.  2020

Giulia Nicita at CIMA loved the paintings I sent in response to the question. Yes, they respond to the tradition of Italian figurative art, and classical composition. They are also human and fun. They are full of light, history, and healing. “Healing?” Yes! 

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Ro, Thoughtfully. 40 in x 30 in, 2020

If we get ourselves on a truthful basis, we truly see. Living is this “righting” process, over and over again. Art reminds us that Beauty is just the attempt to see right. I put my NYC avant-garde friends in this Renaissance setting. It is a “righting” of their monastic/modernist lives with their historical reality. Anneli is seen surrounded by her somewhat surrealist sculpture in a light filled upper hall. Ro in a softly luminous room, which frescoed and faded, reminds us of our long line of artistic ancestry, not only our own day. Seeing a whole picture is healing.

The art studies and exhibits at CIMA always reveal how “the modern”  exists  “within” the history of art. It cannot be just modern w/o roots. It must be historical or our common human experience is suspended. My travels through Italy have made these paintings and the accompanying discourse possible. 

Since 2013, I have travelled in Italy a total of 12 weeks with my one year of Italian language from the University of Chicago, long ago.  I wanted to see works of art where they were placed by artists of the Renaissance and earlier times: in small hill towns, former city states, larger banking towns and major cities. I always backed into the oldest quarters, the farthest from contemporary interests.  My trips are “Olde Schoole:” behind the palazzo in Urbino, up the hill in the Istituto S. Caterina in Cortona,  at Soggiorno Alessandra in the Oltrarno, Firenze, at the Humiliata Seminario on the Gianicolo outside Roma, in the tower of Castelleschi in Tarquinia and in the church of the Carmine in Brera, Milano. I travel alone as artists have done, but take the bus or the train.

Drawing,  then photographing what and where I drew, I accumulated an archive of material for painting. But I also studied history in general. I wanted to know why the people around me hated Machiavelli? I do not! Why the recent translation by George Bull of The Book of the Courtier by Castigliani left out the very lines I was hunting for, to use in my drawing class in Rutgers University’s art conservatory, Mason Gross School of the Arts. In short my life was becoming bound to Italian history. I have given talks at the NYPL library branch: Mulberry Street, in my neighborhood, twice, touching on these subjects and the way church art operates in the social space. I want to make the next talk on the “operative art” of the churches of Milano. Perhaps I may give it in Milano as well.

In the winter of ’18 I spent two weeks in Milano, pulling my suitcase on foot from Stazione Cadorna, around  back of il Castello, a via Mercato, arrivo a Piazza Carmine. Fr. René rushed toward me warmly, instantly knowing the lady with the suitcase to be the expected one. I was welcomed into the family of the church prearranged by the Maestro. 

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© Photo Brera, by J. Jurinek  2019       

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© Ink drawing-Brera, by Jerilyn Jurinek 2019

For two weeks I drew the piazza life, watching people use ancient stone paths to guide their steps. I saw them in my mind using these stone areas and pathways for pageants in medieval days. I found myself touched by these present time descendents of Renaissance Milano in their current courtly dress for their arts related professions, shopping in their fine stores. With history I escape sharing a view that it is “just fashion” seeing the beauty and grace of heritage. Ah, what relief is history. I bathe my eyes with it, not to mention my soul.

At the end of my stay I gave Fr. René my cash donation, in the ufficio, where old and wooden, it also spoke of modesty, the wealth of art long gone. When he asked about my stay, I brought out the pile of ink drawings, mostly of the piazza. He wanted the one of the church.  “This is obviously for us” he said, propping it against the wall, with the other more staid watercolors and renderings made through the years of church restorations.

 Then, his curiosity aroused, he sidled over to see the others. He made his “I like this, I don’t like that” pair of piles stating his aesthetic reasoning and chose another ink drawing of a mature but well turned out couple about to enter a store.

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 © Brera couple ink wash & pen, Ufficio of Santa Maria del Carmine. Milano, 6 in x 8 in, 2019

 “Mozart stayed here” he began. “We will tell people you stayed here as well, but…“he hesitated just a little for effect. “You will have to die first.”  This most warm and wonderful priest then said the second drawing “makes me smile. I will keep it.“  My donation became one that made us both smile.

 One and a half years and the Pandemic later, neither of us has died, and it is rare to smile. 

But in the Pandemic art can still speak. It can be seen, if virtually. It can tell of continuity even when we cannot. It can cross borders and oceans when I cannot. It can portray us in new relation gradually as we grow the new sense of what “together” means, like my paintings of modern artists in time- worn historical buildings that we treasure.  What I hope for myself is more life in Italy to paint, write and speak what Italy has given to the world. I can “spell it out” in English as well as in paint so new generations can use it. My Italian will be a bit slower but I am still working on it. 

©Jerilyn Jurinek in Milano in front of Santa Maria del Carmine, Brera,  2019.

©Jerilyn Jurinek 7/2/2020

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