I’ve been living in the Greek island of Paros for half a century. Many of my friends are artists from Europe and America who spend three to five months here every year. Like me, they are mostly older now and mostly retired, and so do not need to reside and be always available in the cities where they earned a living and raised families, and so can stay longer. They often have reliable places to exhibit their paintings or publish their poems. Some of them actually make some money from this, but published poems do not make money—and how many paintings must an artist sell to secure even a lower-middle-class living? We’re here for another reason. This other reason is what documentary filmmaker Richard Kane has been mostly exploring since he moved to Maine many years ago and met people like himself. His latest is this year’s Carlo . . . and His Merry Band of Artists. Many of his subjects have referenced Carlo Pittore—with strong feelings in evidence—and this film, in its quiet, canny way, tells us why.
Charles Stanley was a New Yorker (from Long Island) born in 1943, and Carlo Pittore died a Maine painter in 2005. He asserts that he knew he was a painter from childhood. His family disapproved: he never cared about getting a real job, he was gay, and he wasn’t quiet. They could see he was serious, since he worked so hard at it; his executors, for example, had to deal with 50,000 works on paper. In his youth he made some breakthroughs in New York, and career possibilities presented themselves. But he knew this was not the way to progress. When living in Italy, he was called by local children “Carlo Pittore” (Charles the Painter), and he saw this was the right way, and that this was his true identity.
His favorite painters were from the Italian Renaissance, especially Michelangelo, whose terribilità (as opposed to the classical balance of, say, Raphael), is what his Maine friends, students, and admirers all remember about him. He surely got pointers for his free paint handling, broad brushstrokes and daring color from Lucian Freud and others, but his attitude to his nudes, portraits, and self-portraits—his chief subjects—is always respectful, however battered by life they may seem. The sensuality of the body is his repeated subject, and if the models are young and vigorous and attractive, he captures this joyously. But he gives just as much glow to those past their prime. No falsifications are permitted. Many of his sometime models show up in this film, and they all found modeling for him an intense experience and are permanently encouraged, as he demanded, to aim for greatness.
Kane obtained sufficient archival footage so that we too can feel this vociferously. A gathering of his colleagues and students years later occupies much of the film. They are eating the Italian food he loved to prepare and listening to the operas, full of passionate song, he loved. Though all have complaints about Carlo—such intensity is never uncomplicated or easy—they remain dedicated to his memory, and hear his voice still motivating them.
Richard Kane, despite his lyrical style, is after this: the terribilità, the presence of Carlo in his friends and colleagues’ lives years after his death. He did not critique his students, he clamorously encouraged them by the force of his interest in them. Does this sound like a medieval saint? Read the lives of the saints, and you do not encounter saintly figures meek and mild: the saints are furious, fanatic, bursting with energy. They want you to do something, and “Saint” Carlo’s God was Art.
Maine artists know they are many, and know they are not going to imitate Winslow Homer, who had his own terribilità, and they know what they have given up to get what they need. Probably I could have moved to Maine, which I have visited, instead of to my lovely Greek island. Carlo, I hear you. Thanks, Dick.
Carlo . . . and His Merry Band of Artists. will be released at the end of 2023.
Image at top: Carlo Pittore, photo by Judy Glickman Lauder.