The importance of a residency for an artist’s practice should not be underestimated. A change of environment, the headspace and freedom away from the usual distractions and time-consuming everyday activities, allows time for considered experimentation. The time to simply ‘be inspired’, to observe new people, to connect with the landscape, and find a more conscious connection to nature and slower pace of life are all part of the experience at the Villa Lena residency programme.
The experience at Villa Lena is also one of nurturing, from the food lovingly grown and prepared, to the nourishing sunshine and importance placed on relaxation, to the supportive sense of community between fellow residents living together in the Villa.
It was the perfect venue for us to launch a new annual artists residency aimed at supporting women-identifying artists of all ages and backgrounds and simultaneously encouraging patronage with purpose. ‘She CURAtes: The Residency’, was conceived in 2020 to empower and champion equality in the arts. Working with a new and unique model, artists will be championed by Patrons, both financially and supportively before, during and after the programme.
Founded by a hugely inspiring patron and philanthropist, Lena Evstafieva, the Villa Lena Foundation seeks to build a supportive and enriching community, and a long-term legacy for its artists. Part of this legacy is built through its collection.
The foundation encourages all of the residents to ‘leave a trace’ when they depart. This often means a work on paper, canvas, textile or sculpture, but has often been taken more symbolically, with musicians and other performers creating a live work to be enjoyed by fellow residents and guests. Often the works document the villa itself; either way they represent the essence of the villa in their variety, as well as a sense of gratitude in the considered application of a chosen technique.
The works left behind are built into what is an incredible collection, testament to the importance of the foundation’s work, which also serve as a visual history of artists that have resided within the villa’s walls.
When artists leave, they surely leave with different eyes, and a renewed sense of inspiration and purpose. With this in mind, works created during their time at the residency may be different from their usual practice, due to the all-consuming and restorative nature of the programme.
Here, we present a selection of our highlights from the VLF collection that show a particular connection to the place itself, in order to demonstrate the profound experience of the residency at Villa Lena. Where appropriate, this will be emphasised by comparing the work in the collection to the artist’s usual practice, to show the transformative nature of the residency there.
It is important to point out at this stage, that there is great variety of material in the collection at Villa Lena, and the below works are examples that we were drawn to aesthetically – our taste always tends to lean to the more figurative. A full list of the artists that have been in residence at the Villa can be found here
The gardens and the native plants and trees that grow on the land that surrounds the villa often fascinate and infiltrate the artist’s work whilst at the residency. A sustained sense of observation, noticing the changing light and being closer to nature seems to be have an effect on the artists that spend time there. This work shows a particular affinity to the mushrooms that grow in the forests that encircle the Villa, made by artist David Fenster.
David’s usual practice is film making, yet these works show a delicate rendering of Toaino’s mushrooms, drawn during his time at Villa Lena in 2017.
The delicate pair of larger-than-life sketches show a playful joy for appreciating the everyday, and the beauty of nature. The lines that encircle the mushroom in one drawing and ‘cartoonish’ nature of the works reminds us of Hockney sketches.
Pedro Batista was clearly influenced by the softened hues and pinkish light that shrouds the Tuscan valley when painting his work ‘Holly’ for the VLF Collection. His works predating his time at Villa Lena are bold and bright in contrast, with much more emphasis on line. Pedro has perfectly captured the mystical Tuscan light and the familiar Cypress tree that proudly points up from any given vista in the area.
Gregor Hildebrandt’s work in the Collection is typical of the German artist, utilising the edges of cassette tape holders to collectively create an image. Yet the subject matter is inextricably interwoven into the history of the Villa. It depicts Elvira, a long-lost and revered ghost, who’s death is marked each summer at a shrine on the Villa’s land. The story suggests that she was murdered by the family of a previous owner of the land after his affair with her. The story clearly had an impact on the artist and the work celebrates and commemorates her, so that she lives on within the Villa’s buildings.
Precious Opara was one of the artists chosen for our inaugural edition of ‘She Curates: The Residency’ in 2022, supported by Mollie E Barnes. Precious lives and works in London and is currently in between studios. She therefore found the dedicated time to create particularly rewarding. Her work explores the human body, sometimes distorted and often surreal in its approach, so the work left for the Collection is usual in that respect. However, the painting ‘If I can’t fly, I’ll swim’ demonstrates a profound connection to the landscape, the figure floating above it, like the cherubim of Renaissance altarpieces. Precious’ work was realised using under-water images of her swimming in the villa’s pool, including the light distortions and patterns reflected on her skin. The realistic rendering of the vista surrounding the villa places it firmly in the narrative of the residency, and demonstrates the importance of being surrounded by its beauty for the artists that reside there.
CURA Art supports and encourages those that collect, create and display works of art.
Georgia Powell and Liza Shapiro are the founders of CURA Art based in London and Los Angeles. CURA Art offers a personal and trusted approach to caring for varied collections, providing specialised services and expertise to ensure that works of art and other precious objects are preserved, managed, and displayed to the highest standards. Find out more about them here