View on the Arno
A couple of weeks ago, Susi Bellamy travelled back to where everything began: the inspiration, the art, and the seed of the interiors brand we run today.
We boarded our flight to Florence early on Wednesday morning - and in spite of some difficulty getting to our final destination with the Pisa forest fires, collapsed into our cosy Borgo St Jacopo apartment, just a few steps beyond the Ponte Vecchio, around 6 in the evening.
It is easy to see how Florence continues to inspire so many of us: tourists pack the cobbled streets wielding selfie sticks like weapons, pointing at impractical street maps that fold over and flutter away, and obediently follow the tour guides neon umbrella to their next destination.
Street art near the Cathedral
The vast cultural legacy of the city has sealed its fate as a top destination for world travellers, but this is not its only appeal. It is the dimly lit backstreets, cosy family-owned cantina cafes, and the new crop of humorous street art that we really loved to take in and felt reflected a more forward-thinking Florence.
Il Bistone Workshop
Susi lived here between 2004 and 2010 and began her artistic practice by taking shameless advantage of the cities' bustling art scene. She completed a course at etching workshop Il Bisonte, which counts none other than Pablo Picasso and Henry Moore as its' alumnae. She studies life drawing at the Charles H Cecil academy, and even taught some lessons herself to fellow expatriates looking to indulge their creative sides. The ease of experimentation allowed her to not only create broadly but also with a boldness that has stayed with her.
Purple Feathered washbag made of fabric featuring one of Susi's marbled papers at the Palazzo San Niccolo
Rather than carefully repeated the same paper marbling recipe, she would instead revel in the randomness of the process and make unique patterns every time in bold acidic colours.
And of course, the aesthetic sensibility of Florentine culture is not only present in its great museums. We particularly enjoyed ducking our heads into some of the quirkier boutiques in the Oltrarno neighbourhood. One, called Luca's Atelier, united large antique painted panels, marble busts and delicately painted wooden figures in tones of rust and beige in a softly lit space. A cabinet of curiosities on the wall summed up his eclectic inventory: coral, figurines, assorted shells and decoupage suspended behind glass. As we browsed, Luca worked noisily on his next creation in the atelier to the back of the shop.
Mannequin on display at Gucci Garden
From the artisanal to the glossy, the careful window displays communicate the mood of the moment. We passed bold signature prints at Pucci, crystal encrusted platform heels at Ferragamo, and a colourful, tongue in cheek print paradise at the Gucci Garden. To see the continuing love of maximalism was fantastic for us, and the Florentine willingness to accept colour and a style statement was not lost on us!
Red/Blue Geode in Palazzo Tornabuoni
Our first event at the prestigious and immaculately presented Palazzo Tornabuoni was a candlelit cocktail evening, the first of our talks in conversation with local art historian Elaine Ruffolo. Elaine and Susi dissected her artwork and traced back the original 'Coup de Coeur' moments of inspiration that led to their creation - many of them the work of old masters, or traditional Italian crafts such as pietra-dura and marbling.
Susi at the Palazzo San Niccolo
Our second venue had a different vibe. The cool, industrial Palazzo San Niccolo pairs effortless style with the luxury of a boutique hotel, We hosted another talk in the evening and a coffee morning the following day, encouraging customers to come and interact with our products. It was fabulous to see people trying on our scarves and imagining their own cushion combinations on the Palazzo's generous, wine red velvet sofa.
A selection of our cushions at the Palazzo San Niccolo
It felt right to bring the Madonna paintings (reinterpretations of the concept of the handheld 'cion') back to Florence to be shown. So many of their bricolaged elements originate from here. This includes florentine wrapping paper, small beads from the 'cartoleria' that dot the city, and of course the faces of these icons themselves which are pulled from the works of Fra Angelico and the like.
Royal Blue Madonna in Florentine Frame
The tabernacle shrines on almost every street corner represent the fusions of high religious art with the every day - bringing it to the people and giving them access to the same beauty and religious comfort they would find within a church or royal residence. Susi's work echoes the same principle. The Madonnas are decorative pieces, easy to understand in their warmth and universal imagery. They are not precious but have been created to be used and hung and appreciated and indulged in.
One work in the smaller Madonna series
The smaller collages are even left without glass, making them even easier to reach out and touch. SOme boast small trinket like details, that play with the idea of the collage as a 2D plane, and ass a playful sparkle to the works.
Our visit was a success in more ways than one. Not only did we participate in 3 fantastic events which each had their own unique ambience and audience, but we were able to enjoy a week of taking in a city of such beauty and history. We landed back in Newcastle re-energised and excited for what the global future of Susi Bellamy as a company and fine artist holds.