Here are some photo transfers I recently made of Perugia, a beautiful town in Umbria (Italy). All of these are small squares, measuring 3¼ inches on each side. Being on abalone and mother of pearl, the images are highly responsive to changing light conditions. Hold them up to the sun, and they almost disappear; put them against a white background and the full color emerges; wiggle them and the underlying abalone design comes to the surface; shine a light on them at night and the image glows.
Bill Travis, “Perugia 1,” photo transfer on abalone, 3 1/4 X 3 1/4 in., 2012
Bill Travis, “Perugia 2,” photo transfer on abalone, 3 1/4 X 3 1/4 in., 2012
Bill Travis, “Perugia 3,” photo transfer on abalone, 3 1/4 X 3 1/4 in., 2012
Bill Travis, “Perugia 4,” photo transfer on abalone, 3 1/4 X 3 1/4 in., 2012
Every year in elementary school, we were assigned a special theme to study. In second grade, the theme was sheep and I remember that well because our teacher’s name was Mrs. Lamb. When you’re seven years old, a coincidence like that has to be magic and I spent many an hour mulling over the mysteries of the universe as I sat in my chair longing for my feet to reach the ground. I may have been doing more longing than listening. When, at the end of the year, the teacher asked each of us to contribute one fact we’d learned about sheep, I couldn’t think of a single thing, and I’m afraid to say I’ve carried this ignorance of ovine matters into my adulthood. Ask me anything about sheep—anything—and I’m fairly confident I won’t know the answer.
On the other hand, I could probably tell you a lot about Mrs. Lamb, the kids, the teacher’s growing reliance on aspirin, and the fact that we rarely saw the same teacher the following year. I guess I remember everything about second grade except what we learned.
One of the best things about elementary school, barring the emphasis on ruminant ungulates, was the first assignment each year, when teachers asked us to write about our summer vacations. There really wasn’t a lot to say. People didn’t travel as much in those days and all the juicy, domestic stuff was kept well under children’s radar. One highlight was finding an old milk bottle next door, but no amount of digging turned up hidden treasures, so all I had to show after three months’ vacation was a pile of dirt and random observations on the cosmos, which I duly offered up every September after Labor Day. It must be said to our teachers’ credit that their lack of enthusiasm for our summer essays was an authentic, not a learned, response.
Now that I’m older and have shed all interest in rancid dairy products, mud, and ambulating sweaters, I am free to explore the wider world, and summer vacation has become a time to exult in the beauty of our planet.
Bill Travis, “Cypresses, Assisi,” photo on white silk, 10 X 15 in., 2011
So, in belated response to Mrs. Lamb and other teachers who moved on, for the past several summers I’ve visited many places and the one I’m highlighting today is Umbria, the only landlocked region in Italy, located in the central eastern part of the country. With its gently rolling hills, misty skies, and earthen colors, the landscape counts among the most beautiful in a supremely beautiful country.
The best-known site is probably Assisi, on account of the shrine built there in the thirteenth century by followers of St. Francis and the magnificent, pre-Renaissance frescoes. But rather than photograph the basilica, completely overrun by pilgrims and tourists, I preferred to concentrate on cypresses, a ruined fortress, and other places that create mood.
Bill Travis, “Fortress, Assisi,” photo on white silk, 10 1/2 X 15 in., 2011
Perugia, capital of the region, is a small city of striking, rustic beauty, represented here by a single view of a corner where the city meets the landscape. I’ve made dozens of images of this wondrous place and plan to return to some of these in later posts.
Bill Travis, “Perugia,” photo on white silk, 10 X 15 in., 2011
Spoleto, once the seat of a duchy, is now a sleepy town whose buildings bear silent witness to its wealth and power over the centuries. I’ll say more about this, too, in future posts. In the meantime, here is a single view of an outlying monastery, taken from a rise nearby.
Bill Travis, “View from Spoleto,” photo on white silk, 10 X 15 1/4 in., 2011
And here is a view taken from the train on the way to Spoleto.
Bill Travis, “From Viterbo to Spoleto,” photo on white silk, 7 X 10 1/4 in., 2011
Perched on hills and mountains, all of these places offered a natural defense against armed incursions through the ages. If you survive the climb up today, you gain access to a rare beauty, locked between the severity of the stone architecture and the infinitely graceful setting. There’s nothing frivolous here, just the building blocks of art, and a softness and simple nobility. These, at any rate, are qualities I want to bring out in my work, and that is also why I’ve printed these images on silk. Details fade away. What’s left is fragile, fleeing and yet, in some way, eternal.