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The Italian Jaunt

Two local artists expose Italian villages in new exhibit.

Sue Lynch and Suzanne Quinlan are artists who take great care in finding subjects worthy of their time. Yet, in a way, their creative sojourn through Italy was born of impatience.

Several years ago, Lynch was driving with her husband and another couple through the English countryside, diverting through and exploring quaint little villages along the way. Eventually, her husband had seen enough; stopping the car, he professed his exhaustion, claiming that "if you’ve seen one village, you’ve seen them all."

Stimulated by that moment, Lynch and her friend vowed to return on their own with a group of women who would appreciate these rustic townships. The next year, a walking tour was formed — a group that would cover a lengthy 8-12 miles a day during their vacation.

"Yeah," said Lynch, "but you see the place."

Quinlan, a photo artist, joined the walking tour group three years ago. Last April, she and Lynch, a painter, traveled with more than a dozen other women to the Amalfi Coast of Italy for a week of relaxation, education and artistic inspiration. The Alexandria artists' works chronicling this journey will be featured in the exhibit "Two Artists Together in Italy" at the Multiple Exposures Gallery, 105 North Union Street, Studio 312 at the Torpedo Factory. The show runs from Sept. 4 through Oct. 1, daily from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Quinlan said the combination of paintings and photographs breaks new ground for the Multiple Exposures gallery. Originally conceived as a solo show for her, Quinlan welcomed the chance to share the stage with her friend as they reveal their interpretations of Italian architecture and landscapes.

"It’s a wonderful experience," said Quinlan.

THE AMALFI COAST is located on the southern side of the Sorrentine Peninsula of Italy. Along with a collection of tourist resorts, the coast is famous for picturesque vistas and towns that offer their own distinct character.

For Quinlan, those towns offered something she’s drawn to as an artist: ancient civilizations, and areas that have been lived-in through generations. "A lot of what I did over there was capturing old things and, I hope, conveying how I feel about them," she said.

It’s a connection she either makes or does not make as a photographer. She lived on and off in Paris for two years, yet never identified with the historic city. "I’ve never done anything good in Paris. It’s been done so much — I could really never find another point of view," she said.

While the villages in Amalfi aren’t exactly undiscovered, she connected with their architecture and culture — especially the struggle for the indigenous citizens to live and work. "There are a lot of lemon farmers we learned about, who were just being driven out of business by importers," said Quinlan. "There’s a lot of working people amidst all the resorts."

The architecture also played to her strengths, as Quinlan said she enjoys working with the interplay of light and shadow. Sitting in the Multiple Exposures gallery, she points to one of her works hanging on the wall. It’s a black and white shot of a brick wall at a construction site with shadows dancing across it — cast by a staircase. "Without those shadows at that time of day, it’s not worth shooting, let alone printing," she said.

She found a similar subject in an Italian church. During the trip Quinlan said she spotted a staircase; instead of a railing, there was a wall with an undulating banister. Somehow, the wall was dark, but the banister remained illuminated.

Quinlan took up photography about 20 years ago after a background in mathematical economics. But like her former course of study, her art features moments of revelation for those who know how to decipher them.

"They happen in an instant — you either lose them or you get them, and you never get a chance to get them again," she said.

SOME CARRY DIARIES; Sue Lynch carries a sketch book.

It’s a little square, spiral notepad. Each page reveals another sight through Lynch’s artistic eyes and glimpses of the walking tour’s travelogue.

An empty café, sketched by Lynch’s hand, is captured with sharp black lines and splashes of reddish-brown color. Under it is a description: "In the early morning the piazza is almost empty. A great time to sketch before breakfast and our walk for the day."

Lynch uses the book as guide for her paintings. She considers her work abstract, using color schemes that don’t exist in reality. But when it came to her interpretations of the Amalfi villages, she found her work "turned out to be more realistic" than she believed it would.

"The juxtaposition of shapes and shadows on the buildings was just fascinating. When you were walking down a hill and looking at all of these rooftops…there were vistas, but it’s almost too much to try and capture. The buildings got so interesting, that’s what you wanted to do," she said.

A lifelong painter with her own studio space at the Torpedo Factory, she said visiting international — and unfamiliar locales — can help the artistic process. She recalled a show in a Georgetown gallery that featured subjects around Washington, D.C. "It was a struggle. It was too familiar. It just didn’t hit me," said Lynch.

Amalfi was a different story. "The things we were photographing or painting had probably been done before, but it was new to us," she said.

Lynch didn’t want her paintings of Italian villages, restaurants and other areas to feel abandoned, even if she didn’t have locals featured in them.

"I [capture] the feeling that people had lived there," she said, recalling the café in her sketch book.

THE NEXT DESTINATION for the walking tour could be a return to England or a trip to Switzerland. Future plans, and a review of this exhibit’s creation, will be discussed at an artists’ talk at the Multiple Exposures Gallery on Thursday, Sept. 14, at 7:30 p.m.