The Wild-Haired Women of Paulo Sandulli

Paulo Sandulli creates art in an 800-year-old medieval tower.

Assiola was built as a defense lookout in 1270 when Praiano had a thriving silk industry and marauding pirates were a constant threat.

The curious round structure was the first thing I noticed from my terrace when I arrived. You really can’t miss it. I Googled: Tower in Praiano, and Signore Sandulli’s name popped up. I read about this multi-talented artist and knew I had to meet him.

Today I did.

The rugged approach was challenging after the 2,966,843 steps down from the street. I exaggerate, but not much. It’s rumored that Sandulli has goats. I didn’t see them, but the terrain would suit.

The door to the studio was open. He motioned me in. Oh, please converse in English, I prayed.

He did so with eloquence.

As one would expect, the circular space was a visual cornucopia. Sandulli has been working his magic here for thirty years. Right now he’s madly pumping out product preparing for the summer onslaught of tourists who flock to buy his pieces.

“Do you ever get tired of creating?” I asked, wondering how anyone could maintain that level of productivity over such a span of time. He raised his eyebrows, no doubt surprised at my cheeky question, looked around to ensure we were alone, then nodded the affirmative.

He was obviously able to power through whatever boredom might plague him. The room, bursting with torsos and busts, attested to that. He told me the figure beside him with glasses was a likeness of his father. I could see the resemblance.

On shelves and tabletops were rows of women sporting hair in a riot of colors. “Sponges,” he said. He removed one elegant lady’s updo and handed it to me. It was light as cotton balls.

For the next hour, the master himself treated me to a personal tour of his studio – a workplace magical and enthralling.

He excels in every medium: clay, oils, watercolor, acrylics. I paged through reams of charcoal sketches that prefaced his creations.

Unfinished busts sat drying, works in progress, and the blue box in the background is his kiln.

Mermaids cavorted in bathtubs…

Scantily dressed teams played tennis…

Nudes rode sea creatures. He told me the name of this fish…grouper maybe?

And in their private glass case, a group of fishermen played cards.

Sandulli’s muse Eleonora, “…was born in a tower overlooking the sea not very different from this one,” he said of the Aragonese princess, who in 1473 sealed a dynastic union by becoming the wife of the Duke of Ferrara. A picture of her hangs on the wall.

Paulo’s process is a study in economy and brilliance. He has only a few molds he uses for the chest and hip portions of the body. Then he attaches the head and limbs and assigns different positions to make each character a unique individual. For those that ride sea creatures, the hips spread wide for stradling broad backs. On some he attaches a mermaid’s tail.

It’s similar with the busts. The basic head is the same, but while the clay is still malleable he varies the shape of the eyes, nose, mouth, ears, and gives each one a personality.

The terracotta figures are flamboyant and fun. But Paulo’s paintings tell deeper stories.

As my visit drew to a close, I thanked him for sharing his time and he grew contemplative. “This tower was used to defend Praiano from people who would have destroyed her,” he said. “With my paintings I also wish to defend this place. Make a record for future generations before it is lost.”

It’s a noble cause. Thank you, Signore Paulo Sandulli. I wish you well.

Oh, and by the way, please keep that painting for me, You know the one. I’ll be back.

We Wash Their Brains

Mr. Jati has been making art for 50 years. He is passionate about his work. But I didn’t know that until the other morning I notice the door to his studio is open. Dewa, Mr. Jati’s son, had told me I could go in any time, that his father would show me the paintings. Still, climbing the 8 or so steps to his door and announcing myself up to that moment hadn’t seemed appropriate. But on this day, with the open door issuing an invitation, I make the climb and peek in. “Hello? Mr. Jati, Hello?” I don’t know what I had expected, but a man shorter than my 5’2″ in a sarong and short-sleeved shirt buttoned haphazardly was not it. “Mr. Jati?” I ask. “Yes, yes, come in, please.” He is beaming and I immediately feel at ease. “Would it be alright to look at your paintings?” I ask politely. “Yes, yes, please,” he says again.

In very good English, he describes his work, the techniques he uses, the books he has read about art, the countries where he has held exhibitions, and the man’s love for his craft radiates from every pore of his being. There are three huge (I mean 5 x 8 foot) canvases with sketches lining one wall. There are easels with somewhat smaller canvases that have some shading applied to them on the other side of the room. And there are several canvases with the figures and vegetation already showing the colors that Mr. Jati had chosen in another area. His depiction of traditional Balinese life rendered in rich pastels holds me enthralled. I ask him why he is painting so many at once. “They come in my head!” he says, going on to explain that he is also preparing for an exhibition in Jakarta in 2013. “I need 30 to 45 paintings at least,” he tells me.

Picture compliments of website cited below:

I stare at his creations so beautifully and expertly rendered from a memory of what Bali used to be. After thoroughly absorbing the art I thank him and give him my best hands-together-incline-the-head gesture of gratitude. He beams again and says, “Come back tomorrow, I will have more.” The next day I don’t have to search for him. He greets me as I come out my door and says, “I will interrupt your day to show you again my art!” I have to chuckle as I follow him up the stairs. Sure enough! The man is prolific! He has several more semi-completed canvases. I am amazed and I tell him so. He beams.

The next morning I visit with Dewa over breakfast. We talk about his father’s art and the beautiful and complex traditions of the Balinese people. I ask Dewa if he thinks the next generation will continue to follow Hinduism and preserve the culture. He nods with an emphatic “Yes!” “Really?” I reply, “You seem quite sure.” He flashes one of those brilliant smiles and says,”From very little we take the babies to the temple every day,” then with that mischievous grin of his he continues, “we wash their brains!” After the initial shock and a good laugh I think to myself, in the U.S. we have a similar system. It’s called television.

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