Painting the Fireworks from St. Mark’s Bay

As we look back at A+A over the past decade, here we have a post from October 2012 featuring three of our favorite subjects: Venice, Palladio and watercolor painting. Alexander Creswell is an expert on all of them and we interviewed him about his work, some of it painted from the Venetian lagoon:

In art school, Alexander Creswell was taught that watercolor was an apologetic medium for little old ladies.

He set out to prove that maxim wrong.

“It was like a red rag to a bull,” says the master of the medium – now one of Great Britain’s most successful living artists. “I paint only in watercolor – to rival oil in size, magnitude and the degree to which it’s worked up.”

His paintings are as large as five by three-and-a-half feet.

During the past 30 years he’s explored the milieu of the “artist-traveler,” the role played out by J.M.W. Turner, Edward Lear and John Singer Sargent, each of whom influenced his work.

Creswell incorporates a modern approach to his work. He enhances the quality of light in his paintings by layering his pigments, which are then literally scratched away down to the paper. The technique is about the feel of a fleeting moment.

Architecture is his chosen subject matter, though he has recorded two major royal events: the wedding of HRH Prince William to Catherine Middleton, and the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee.

But it’s the northern Italian city on the lagoon that appeals to him most. “I’ve been painting Venice a lot, from a boat I use as a floating sketch pad to get away from prying eyes,” he says.

He says the scale of time in Venice is different from other places. “It’s incredibly powerful, with a deep history and great monuments,” he says. “I never tire of painting it.”

One of his favorite events there takes place on warm July evenings during the Festival De Redentore and its celebratory fireworks at midnight. Dating from 1577, the event was first held to celebrate the city’s deliverance from a terrible plague, and the construction of Palladio’s “Redentore” (Redeemer) Church.

“People have dinner and drink a lot, and then watch the fireworks from the water,” he says. “The buildings lit by fireworks have a kind of feral and wild unpredictability – it’s quite something, visually and experientially”

Creswell usually can be found front and center, seated in a boat in St. Mark’s Bay, canvas and brush or charcoal at hand.

“It’s the culmination of architecture and water combined in such a beautiful manner,” he says. “It’s about the meeting of curved stone and gently lapping water.”

He’s fortunate not only to see it and feel it, but to paint it for the rest of us.

For more information, go here.

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