Pip's visit to Assisi

Thursday 5th June 2014, my 63rd birthday. We take the early plane to Perugia and then drive half an hour up to Assisi. Dad and Mum came here, a month before he died. Going through his sketchbooks the other day, I discovered for the first time the drawings from this, their one and only visit. Ali suggested we take the sketchbook with us.

We approach Assisi from the plain, immediately recognising one of the drawings. The duomo on its knoll, with the town stretching up behind it, arches leading into the distance. So much of Dad's work is of natural forms, it's interesting to see him drawing buildings.

We enter the town. After visiting the cathedral, we set off, climbing the steep alleyways. I want to find the Rocca Maggiore, the highest point, mentioned on a few of the sketches. As we climb, we hear a girl practising arpeggios in a clear soprano voice, echoing from an upstairs room. Eventually the ruined walls of the fort on the summit emerge above the trees and rooftops. The road winds up, revealing the remote wooded hills rising behind the town. Then we branch off on a rough path. Climbing higher, I see a place by the roadside where one might sit and draw. I come up to it, turn and crouch, opening the sketchbook. I flick through a page or two, and then....


I'm sitting exactly where he had been working. Towers, domes and roofs on a hillside are recorded by his free but accurate hand on the page. I look from the sketch to the view - every detail registers. Far down, beneath a flying buttress, the line of a church is at precisely the same angle I see it now. Higher up, a tower intersects a dome identically. Only the pointed cypress trees are in new places, twenty-two years on.

Hand, eye and pen. I feel almost as though I have slipped into a bubble he has left here, sharpening my eye. I experience his focus.

And then I laugh. In the drawing, the line of buildings runs up the hill, and then stops, with unfinished lines on the whiteness of the page. Then there's the splay of a quickly drawn tree, followed, on the very edge of the page by a squat tower. I look at the real view. The complicated roofs of the town continue half the drawn distance again up the hill, and then a long and featureless battlement runs up the ridge, culminating in the little tower. To take all this in would have sent the drawing far over the page, so he edited what he saw. He left out the long and unremarkable wall, but kept the tower, justifying the space in between with the little tree. It's as though the tower is the last  word in the story of the hill, important to include one way or another.

It takes me back to the fox on Juniper Hill, drawing the elements together, to tell the story of the painting. His sketch at Assisi is very accurate when it needs to be, but not painstakingly. The sketch is his preparation for a painting, (never embarked on before his death), and as such held the sifted information he would need for the context of the picture.

And this is so like the gathering of footage needed for the edit of a film. The act of filming selects, framing reality, and then the edit brings the energy and focus together into the final work.

Ollo's Sketchbook, 1992

Assisi June 2014