St. John’s Professor of Fine Arts Susan Cottle recently displayed 33 paintings on the walls of the second floor of the St. John’s Manhattan campus at 101 Murray Street.
The exhibition, called “Turrets, Towers and Alpine Terrain,” opened on March 10 and will last until May 12. It features mostly oils and gouaches on paper that is, for the most part, tabloid-size or smaller. The paintings depict rural landscapes with castles and churches on the Italian countryside.
Cottle, who has been painting for 20 years, said she considers herself a “representational painter,” heavily influenced by her Italian heritage. She has been traveling to Italy for the past five years during July and August to teach at workshops sponsored by the St. John’s Study Abroad Program. Cottle has also had independent workshops in Lazio, Umbria, Toscana and Trentino Alto Adige.
The exhibition featured mostly Italian landscapes with a mixture of cityscapes from Prague. The architectural representation of buildings and churches of the Czech capital in her paintings was mainly inspired by sketches and drawings she previously made in her studio, according to Cottle. The Italian landscapes, on the other hand, are purely realistic in nature and painted “on the spot,” giving a sense of vividness to the settings.
“In smaller villages, I loved working with the organic aspect of the landscapes, like the light and the surroundings,” Cottle said. In her statement “Pinzolo/ Prague: Bell towers and Domes in Context,” Cottle stated that working in Italy had given her the opportunity to realize just how close the Italian people are to their churches.
“I am interested in how the Italian town’s identity is shaped through her church and bell tower, and the human connection based on a person’s sense of home, scale, history and spirituality,” she wrote.
She said she liked depicting and studying the bell towers because they gave her more architectural lines and a certain angle that fascinated her.
Madine Insalaco, one of the 40 visitors attending the formal reception, said she liked the paintings because “[Cottle] has a very unique way of handling things on her own, like the sensitivity of colors. The paintings are very modern and classical at the same time.”
Insalaco, who walked through the exhibition with her husband, Joseph, said she is a painter herself and a good friend of Cottle.”My husband is also a painter and the three of us have painted together in Italy,” Insalaco said. “We were painting together for ‘La Tempesta,'” one of the paintings at the exposition. Insalaco said she and her husband handle their business independently from Cottle although they did enjoy painting with her from time to time.
Most of those in attendance were students or former students of the artist at The New School, an institution in Greenwich Village.
“The last time I studied it was a long, long time ago at NYU,” recalled Charles Spataro, an art history major at The New School.
Spataro, an Italian-American who has always enjoyed drawing and painting, said he found Cottle’s classes very short and rewarding, a plus for an older man with time obligations. Guadalupe Lavez, who sat at the same table with Spataro, said, “I learn so much from her. She is a very talented painter and also a talented professor.
“Sometimes you feel you are just standing there and you can feel the breeze and the sun,” she added.
The paintings range from $450 to $700, depending on the size. The oldest paintings date back to 2003 and the most recent ones are dated 2007.