How the Rabbit Series Began
While working on my landscape paintings in Italy, I began to include these curious creatures in my paintings. It was a slow development originating by becoming the proud owner in 1998, of an Ariel Lop-eared rabbit from Holland. One early spring in March, my son Giulio and I were feeling a bit solitary after enduring a long and rainy winter up in the hills, so when we went down to the fair of San Giuseppe on March 19th. There we saw some people, Giulio ate some candy and we stretched our legs when we happened upon an acquaintance with whom we had frequently chatted over the winter at the “agraria” or grain store.
His name was Renato and he had a few Lops sitting in cages. He was looking for good homes for them as he had raised them “a casa con amore.” (at home with love) Renato told us with great pride and excitement that they were not the ones for eating, quite a novelty in Italy. The rabbits each sat in his own cage with their backs against the March wind. They were so still and seemed so impersonal, and looked all the same to us. They were four brothers and upon looking back, I wish I had taken all of them. So, on an impulse I bought one and we picked the one with more red tones on his head, lacking any other useful criterion in our decision making. Giulio, who was 7 at the time was delighted and we got all the necessary things and took him home. We named him Tom. I seem to remember Giulio naming him after the actor, Tom Cruise. Anyway, Tom was used to being with people and so it didn’t take him long to become part of the family, sucking an occasional spaghetti off the floor, and languishing on the rug in front to the wood burning stove, only to pay attention to the TV if he heard a fellow animal’s voice.
Tom would, we learned, accompany us on our walks down the isolated country road which hugged the hillside closely like a taught ribbon, squeezing it and altering its profile to seem like tiers on a wedding cake. There were vineyards lacing the entire hill and the sun beat down all day so that we baked in the summer heat as did the maturing grapes which, by August hung heavily on the vines. At this time the neighbors watched the weather closely and prayed it wouldn’t rain and water log the maturing grapes and on account of the heat, Tom could only go out early morning and late evening. He stayed in the cool of the kitchen, the floor of which was old and made of a thin terracotta tile set right on the damp earth. And so our daily walks were like brief reflections or daily anticipations of the day. We don’t know what Tom thought of this ritual. We only know he was easily waylaid by clover or sniffing and deciphering messages in the air and had no linear concept of traveling from one point to another. This could be annoying.
My first experiments in my rabbit painting were simple straight forward portraits of Tom. Tom sitting, Tom by a vase of flowers. At first I made him sit still. I studied him. But soon this seemed limited and did not adequately express Tom’s fantastic personality and his secret and silent inner world which I perceived in my imagination. One could call this a personal projection but that is not the point. An artist must suspend any analysis which would burst the bubble of a dream.
At the dead end of road was our house and my studio. In the fall, just before the “vendemmia” when we would harvest the grapes, and because the heat wave was over, Tom would spend hours while I worked in the studio, wandering in complete freedom between the vineyard and its terraced levels and my studio. Tom was a real presence and I remember the interruptions of this small hesitant figure which appeared every now and then, peeking into my studio to look at me, I guess to make sure I was there, and then pivoting on his haunches to wander off, only to return shortly to look in again. It was very curious. He was my silent companion, a creature with expressive eyes and a deliberate intensity of manner, and whose ears would tilt forward like bells in order to catch the sounds in the air which we could not hear. His black tail was lined with white like a doe’s, and when he traveled along the road it flitted, catching the light like a flag waving.
The mystery and apparent complexity of this little persona loomed large in my reflections and this eventually lead me to produce the Rabbit Series in which I suspend reality and any critical judgment to create whatever my inner eye suggests. What luxury!
The Rabbit Series is a whimsical, yet sometimes moody reflection of the human psyche set in the natural world. The full meaning of these paintings is of course open to speculation and does not concern me, though I recognize the symbolism and irony that is the vehicle in which to reveal some useful message about ourselves. I would hope that in these rabbit portraits we may recognize the better attributes of our own nature, that of love, friendship, loyalty, and that the renewed recognition of this will at once empower and inspire.