Constantly being around so much art in Rome had me missing creating art of my own. I bring my camera with me nearly everywhere I go, so that fulfills some of my needs to express myself artistically, but it had been a long time since I got my hands dirty with some paint.
Yesterday, some friends and I went to Arte Bottega, an art studio, collective and gallery in Testaccio run by some incredible Italians. Giorgio Ferretti — a sweet old man who speaks barely a lick of English — manages the studio as a family affair, working closely with his nephew, Massimiliano, and a handful of other relatives and friends. The studio teamed up with the UC Center Rome program a few years back so students could have an immersive Italian experience and participate in some hands-on art.
We knew to not show up to any event hosted by Italians empty handed, so we grabbed a couple bottles of wine and headed to the studio. We received a warm welcome, introduced ourselves, and handed over the vino. The men returned the favor with stories, pie and even more wine.
It was fun to chat with all of the Italians and practice the language. They were all such characters. Even if I didn’t fully understand their stories I couldn’t help but smile from their gestures, inflections and jolly bellowing laughter.
They treated us as family from the moment we entered. They acted like we had been friends for years. They got us situated in front of some easels with art supplies and told us all about their workshop. In my best attempt at translating, the history of the studio is as follows: The Bottega’s (Italian for workshop) story begins in 1920 when Giorgio’s father moved to Rome from Abruzzo, where he eventually opened up a cobbler shop in Testaccio. His father married a talented and creative woman and the 2 of them began to make custom footwear. The duo had 9 children (Giorgio included), all with artistic tendencies. Almost a century later the bottega was revitalized by Giorgio and some relatives, with the intention of coming together with friends and family to promote creativity and art in all forms.
The studio wants to engage people in order to exchange ideas and create. The workshop is used for people to come together to paint, draw, sculpt; write poetry and stories; perform theatrical acts or dancing and the space is frequently converted to a gallery. The perimeter of the studio had paintings and photos hung up from a recent exhibition. I was especially impressed by the paintings done by Italian artist, Alessia Meddi, shown above. The realism is impressive and the monochromatic color palette is captivating.
But today, we were here to paint. Giorgio and Massimiliano set us up with tables, easels and canvases and asked us what we wanted to paint. They asked our experience levels, what inspires us and gave us some books with paintings as references if we wanted them.
It was an amazing time, painting, creating, laughing and exchanging stories. Our new Italian friends were so passionate — buzzing with energy — fulling engaged and ready to take in everything we had to share. They gave us tips and pointers and encouraged us as we went.
Giorgio stopped us a few hours in. He told us our masterpieces had to be put on hold in order to feast. He said we must come back and visit him next week and finish our paintings. We cleaned up our messes, put away the supplies and Giorgio set down a red table cloth. He left the main studio and entered back with a platter of cured meats, then a cheese plate, then some fresh bread, then he lined up bottle after bottle of wine. This was the proper way to host guests — the Italian way.
We spent the next hour or so talking and indulging. Georgio asked us if we wanted to drink red wine or white wine, and told us they should never be mixed during the same sitting. In the nicest way possible, he explained how much better the vino bianco he brought out was from the Pinot grigio we brought him. He said his white wine was fresh, organic and wasn’t pasteurized. I tried to tell him I only chose that Pinot grigio because of the label. But as a polite, gesture he only drank the Pinot. It was a gift, so of course he would drink it — the Italian way.
The whole experience was absolutely wonderful. I was not expecting to have so much fun and learn so much. It truly felt like an authentic Italian experience. Art — the Italian way.