“What competence I possess as an oil painter I feel I owe to the years I spent working exclusively in watercolor.”
An honest day’s work in the clear afternoon sunshine…ah…Working with a mule and cart is a physical job and not an easy way to make a living, but this slice of life from Naples, Italy in 1960 looks refreshingly routine and reminds us of business-as-usual days.
Oil & Water
The Collector-Naples is a 17 x 24″ watercolor similar to one featured in Hulings’ early 1960s Tulsa Watercolor show at the NarBil gallery in Oklahoma. He traveled extensively throughout his life, but 1958-61 was an exceptionally busy time that saw him on the road perpetually from Northern Europe to Northern Africa, with months and months in Italy. During these travels, Hulings found watercolor to be a portable, quick-drying medium that was also sophisticated and exacting. As we’ve mentioned in previous articles, watercolor is often misunderstood in the fine art world. Hulings discussed the technical challenge of planning a composition where the painter must work from light to dark, and also said: “What competence I possess as an oil painter I feel I owe to the years I spent working exclusively in watercolor.”
Smooth Ride Home
Hulings had an amazing ability to tell visual stories about traditional ways of life without sentimentalizing them. Here we see human and animal working together with an interesting visual harmony between the triangles of man’s crooked elbow and bent knee and mule’s pointed ears. It could be the end of the day, with the sun lengthening its shadows along the road—we see that the way forward is downhill, so hopefully, the trip home will be smooth sailing. It’s a shining example of the clarity of light that’s possible in watercolor, with particular detail in the sunlight on the spokes of the cart wheel. The colors are especially vivid here, with bright white punctuated by the blue doors and green plant; the yellow detail on the man’s hat, mule saddle, and flowers; and Hulings’ signature red in the stripe on the wagon.
Naples is the third-largest city in Italy, settled since 2,000 BC with proud traditions in food, music, art, clothing, literature—you name it. Italy was hard-hit by the Coronavirus; a video from The Guardian a few weeks ago showed Naples locals lowering baskets from their windows filled with fresh bread and food to help feed their neighbors. So, just like this man doing his job in 1960, hard work and care for the community continues in 2020.