By Malik Vitthal
Reflecting upon my time attending the Villa Lena residency this past summer, the thought that comes to mind is community. Since childhood, I have always been attracted to community spaces where groups of artists gather, invested in each other’s growth.
It has been a defining factor in who I am today, and Villa Lena was another beautiful step in the shaping of my personal and professional voice. Upon my arrival, Villa Lena and its resident artists quickly brought me up to speed on the system of places to create, eat, sweat, and think. I dropped my bags in my room, and instead of taking a tour, we went on a run to a nearby abandoned village. Planted directly into this new atmosphere, somehow it felt familiar, reminiscent of many places I have been. Topically, the hills the estate rests upon have the same foliage, soil, smells, and weather as the mountains of Southern California, where I grew up.
The group of artists staying there at the same time was a perfect blend, each of us from different yet complementary disciplines: a painter, musician, jeweler, woodworker, graphic designer, and chef. All were lovers of the arts, including the residents of the hotel, who enriched the community with their curiosity about our current creations, as well as the workshops we developed to share our crafts and past works. When I needed time to retreat to write and visualize my next film, I could hole up in my room and explore the page. The tiles in my room will forever hold a special place in my heart. A year earlier, I set out to create the story for our next film, and the tiles in my room were the exact color as the inspiration source material for the project.
I grew in many ways during my stay there, mainly from spending time with artists of differing disciplines. They have specific approaches to their work that taught me fresh approaches to mine. I found that I have spent the latest cycles of development practicing formalism and conscious construction of story. Being in Tuscany reminded me to develop that raw, distinct tone of my voice to keep stories feeling alive, dynamic, and present. Being with such a welcoming, open-minded, and loving group helped me reflect on the next steps of my journey. In a way, my stay at Villa Lena was more than just a time to mine materials for my next project; it was a chance for me to look myself in the mirror and continue to curate the unseen. My experience reminded me to continue to create with a sense of service and give back to the many communities that have helped create who I am. I enjoyed feeling at home and knowing I was in the right, magical place. Those hills remain within me everywhere my journey leads.