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Painting Positano, By Jean Cauthen

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What memorable days I spent this summer capturing the light, color and illumination of this wonderful Italian village perched on a hillside, facing seaward.


 I am a landscape painter and teacher from the mountainous regions of North Carolina, USA.  My main experiences in landscape painting then, are depicting gently rolling hills, with their reddish clay undertones and the small town life there.  Therefore, I’m always eager to seek out new terrains, finding both the similarities and differences inspiring.  Also, I have had an ongoing love affair with all things Italian, having spent my infancy in Naples and returning yearly as an adult to teach landscape painting in the Chianti region.


One of the great joys of painting on location is the full absorption you experience when you engage in a visual conversation with a place.  It makes travel richer and painting an adventure.


I arrived in Positano with my friend, Kathy during unusually chilly weather and set up my easel on hilltops, under balconies and along the coast.  I often considered donning a sweater and sitting in a café for the day, sipping cappuccino, enjoying the lively parade of shoppers and tourists who pass.  There turned out to be plenty of time for kicking back in the evenings…and sampling the glorious wine and seafood in any of the little street side café’s.


As expected in any tourist town, resident artists set up seaside and rely on visitors to buy their original paintings.  These artists are understandably territorial, and it is important that the traveler/painter not appear to infringe on their market.  Also, seeking to avoid scenes that I may paraphrase as “clichéd,” it is better for me set up “off the beaten path,” and find my own slant on common themes.


However, as I’m sure all painters who visit here feel compelled, I attempted to capture the illusive beauty of the water, with its constant shifts in hue from teal to turquoise.   In fact as I was painting, an Englishman and his wife stopped to chat and he told me he had painted this very same view 20 years ago!   Something about this place, he remembered, made him paint better than he should have.  “Carryon,” he said as they walked away.


Light changes.  This is the joy and bane of every landscape painter.  But Positano’s light dances over the water and across space pausing only long enough for the artist to load the brush,  deliberate,  then commit to Nature’s whimsy.


It was no simple task to describe the playful pastel colored buildings that seemed to tumble down the hillside.  Their colors and geometry appeal to the painter’s eye.  But patches of muted primary colors alone can’t convey the rich texture and centuries of history there.  I strive for a sense of layers and ghosted forms under lively hues.



Today I am back in my North Carolina studio, transforming some of my small Positano paintings into larger more sustained works.  It brings back sweet, salt water memories of a chilly summer week.  But in no way can it replace those wonderful hours of absorbing the sun and the sights.  So, my easel and I will return to Positano.  It will be warmer, the windy little roads will lead to new vistas and the endeavor to someday get the water “just right,”  will happily continue.


Jean Cauthen now lives in Charlotte, NC and teaches landscape painting in the Tuscany region of Italy.  For information on registering, visit www.ilchiostro.com  .  For information on her other workshops, contact jcauthen@conninc.com.

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