Feature: ArtScene

ArtScene: Silver Medals and Non-Drawing Teachers

By , Columnist

Fiona Graham-Mackay receives Silver Medal in Florence

Florence. Such a surprise.  Summoned to this wonderful city of back-to-back Renaissance for the most magical moment in the Palazzo Vecchio a gilded stone’s throw from the Arno and given a silver medal. I teach here and in surrounding Tuscany each year.  Odd isn’t it? Would-be painters from both sides of the Atlantic coming to this bit of heaven to be taught by a Scot. And I’m told, they’re already signing up for 2012.

Anyway, clutching my Number One Fan, flowers in one hand and the silver bling in its scarlet and gold box in the other, tripped light fantastic across the Palazzo della Signoria into Café Rivoire for Krug, espresso and calorie counting crème croissants that Revoire does better than anyone. These occasions create  moments of their own.

I suppose it is a sensation that all’s right with the world and so there’s a need to be wrapped in unashamed splendour. I seem to remember lunch went on a bit (in Gilli’s?) and was followed by exquisite moments of warmth and little needing to be said.  Then (still clutching silver) I was crossing the Ponte Vecchio and in awe,  so silent that even a whispered 'Gosh!' would have broken the spell, I was ushered into the Palazzo Pitti and room after room and wall after wall of simply astounding paintings.

A who’s who of masters from any gallery in the whole world. Great classic poses, others frighteningly modern.  All so breathtaking that it would take years to stand and stare.  Instead, a slow parade of what art is sometimes about - awareness of colour in all its expressions.

This could only be Florence - a city of never ending bliss. Go quietly there during these European winter days and be utterly without the conga lines of tourists led by ladies with raised umbrellas.

Florence is to be seen with a slight chill in the air. Cross the Arno to the Palazzo Pitti, re-cross to Or San Michele with its eighth century origins and statues of the apostles and then, to the exhibition of bankers and culture mounted by the brilliant director, the British Canadian, James Bradburne.

London.  How desperately sad, to return to London yesterday and the news that Tracey Emin is to be professor of drawing at the Royal Academy.  Is there no one at the RA who knows that Tracey, as delightful a person and as good a teacher as she is, simply cannot draw? What is going on in that place?

Tracey Emin Hayward 2011.jpg

A professor of drawing who can only squiggle - as her recent exhibition at the Heyward demonstrated.  An empress with no artistic clothing. An Academy with no emperors. Pity, pity the students.

Heigh-ho. I must book my Eurostar asap.  I’m due for the other Academy, the one in Florence of course, where they can really draw. Can’t wait.  And if I arrive early, there’s always a moment to loiter in Café Rivoire and memories of a truly wonderful morning. Silver medal vanity.  Why not? I’m only human.

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Fiona Graham-Mackay, is London's newest royal portrait painter. She is also recently back from painting in the Pakistan-Afghan border. She studied at London's Royal College of Art, had a studio in Paris before returning to the UK to paint and teach in London, Spain and Italy. Her next assignments are…

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