TRACEY JOHNSTON

John Kinross Scholar in 1992


Tracey Johnston, Playgarden, acrylic on board

How did the experience affect you as an individual?
I was a young woman in my early twenties, my first time living away from home for an extended period of time and the art, architecture, food, history and people I discovered was intoxicating.

I spent three months based in Florence and lived in a tiny apartment in the Church of St Mark’s in the Oltrarno at the time filled with interesting antique shops, trattoria’s, furniture makers and restoration workshops and so simply walking around was interesting to see and hear the sound of making and mending.  Just across the River is the majestic Uffizi where I went every week without fail to gaze upon the works therein, at the time I was spell bound by Botticelli and I remember trying to memorise every single detail in his paintings. Behind my little apartment was the Basilica Santo Spirito and not far the Chiesa di Santa Maria del Carmine both of which I visited nearly every day to soak up the beautiful fresco paintings. The square was also home to a language school I attended to unlock the mystery of the Italian language and where I met many other people from all over Europe and the USA who were like me making Florence their home albeit just for a little while. Pre-mobile phones and the age of digital/social media – visual details were recorded with my camera and daily sketching in and around Florence – a true gift!  Writing letters home to family and friends and queuing for the phone box every Sunday – a different time. The experience was exhilarating, and it broadened my mind to a different culture and way of life.

What was the impact on your practice?
While in Florence I fell in love with Fresco and the work of Piero Della Francesca. I was particularly interested in the surface patina, where some areas were worn away with age and I was keen to learn this ancient technique.  In the years to follow I travelled all over Italy looking at and studying fresco and this led me to work with Professor of Conservation Alma Ortolan in Seravalle, Veneto learning how to prepare and mix the lime plaster material and how to know when it was ready to paint on with pure pigment.  When the time is right the brush glides over the surface with the pigment being absorbed immediately like magic – ‘the hour of the Saint’. Back in my studio in Scotland I continued to experiment with true fresco and also explored modern mediums to recreate the same feel but to a less satisfying result. For a long time, I painted only using a medieval colour palette.

What would you say the long term impact has been on yourself and you work?
The opportunity was life changing for me and sparked an ongoing love affair with Italy. I have travelled extensively studying fresco, art and architecture and lived for a few years near Verona, exploring the Lakes and Mountains, Opera and life on water in Venice and the pretty painted facades of Treviso. In my own practise I still enjoy working with the medieval colour palette and trying to create a satisfying surface to paint on. Images still recur in my work and reference my time in Florence. I feel blessed to have been given the opportunity to experience Florence and Italy at such a young age and its influence has stayed with me throughout my life.  It made me view the world in a new way and value the differences and nuances between people and places. While looking outwards I also looked inwards to reflect on my own roots, heritage and culture which I appreciated more.  I still visit regularly and always discover new experiences to savour.