Click on images to enlarge
Picture a ride in a gondola in Venice – a romantic tour de force with water languidly lapping against the crumbling foundations of majestic buildings. And picture a ride through the Kent countryside – with its pretty white weatherboarded houses and compact churches on the marshes. Giuseppe Bertoli is equally at home in both settings – and when you talk to him you sense that the splendour of Venice and the natural beauty of the Weald of Kent hold a special magic for him to this day.
Born near Venice, Giuseppe weathered the ravages of the Second World War as a child. At the age of 18, he left his native Italy to study culinary skills in hotel schools in Switzerland. He soon found that painting was the perfect antidote to a stressful life in the catering business and so, over the following years while he worked in Holland and Italy as a chef and restaurant manager, he continued painting in his spare time. Then, in 1962 he decided to move to England where he settled into family life with his wife Laurette and two daughters.
“Painting was the perfect antidote to a stressful life”
And it was in England that the combination of cooking and painting really bore fruit. Giuseppe decided to open his own restaurant in Herstmonceux, East Sussex, and decorated the walls of ‘The Sundial’ with his own paintings. This proved a successful move – many diners took a liking to his works and so Giuseppe’s paintings found new homes as far abroad as the USA or Zimbabwe. It is evident from the way Giuseppe talks about this phase of his life that he greatly enjoyed what he was doing – creating exciting dishes and creating art. His role of chef and manager were demanding ones and painting offered him a way of unwinding and relaxing.
When Giuseppe retired from the restaurant business he moved to Wittersham and built a studio in the garden to be able to enjoy his ‘big hobby’, as he calls it. He is very self-deprecating about his achievements as a painter and says he doesn’t consider himself an artist. He just loves painting, it is a hobby he adores and that he puts his soul into. His enthusiasm is infectious. If he does not paint, something is missing in his day. He compares painting to a religion – he can easily spend three or four hours in his studio and loses track of time.
“If I don’t paint during the day, something is missing”
How does he work? Giuseppe takes lots of photos and does sketches, particularly when on holiday, and then puts the composition together back in the studio. Among his favourite motifs are of course Venice with its winding canals and impressive buildings. He mentions the amazing light of this city – light reflected on the water and also by the water onto buildings. Through his French wife Giuseppe has a special affinity with France. He buys his canvas in Paris where he has a small flat and loves to sketch and paint the city’s large avenues and handsome monuments. His local Kent countryside also provides a plethora of interesting angles from woodland to churches.
“Favourite motifs are Venice, Paris and the Kent countryside”
Giuseppe’s main mediums are oil and acrylic. Quite often he will combine the two, first sketching the subject in acrylics, then smoothing it out with oil on top. Giuseppe says that when he thinks something is no good, he feels dreadful. You sense painting with Giuseppe goes deep, it’s not a superficial occupation. So when he feels that he has gone wrong he covers up what he has done so far, goes back to it, changes it, works on it. The formats he uses are typically these sizes: 300 x 450mm or 400 x 600 mm.
There have been no courses to hone Giuseppe’s skills, he is what he calls ‘self-taught’. His influences have been Italian artists and the French Impressionists like Monet and Manet – he calls their work masterful. So when you ask Giuseppe how he would characterise his own style he says ‘perhaps realistic impressionist’. And looking at a painting like ‘Indian Tiger’ the unbiased observer really sees a tiger, in motion, strong and purposeful. Giuseppe’s modesty about his skills hides the fact that he has a gift – he is an artist.
Painting his own daughter Christine has been one of the highlights of his career as a painter. Giuseppe first painted her as a young woman in Cambridge, then as a married woman, and latterly with her baby son in her arms. Christine sat for him and Giuseppe also took photos to base his painting on. The finished painting still resides in Giuseppe’s studio – to make up for the fact that his daughter now lives far away in France.
WOKAS has been part of Giuseppe’s life for many years. He joined in 2006 when it was still the Weald of Kent Art Group and has successfully sold his works at WOKAG/S exhibitions. He thinks the society has done well in the current restrictive climate due to the Coronavirus pandemic by initiating online ‘Challenges’ and virtual exhibitions. Although no substitute for the real thing, it is the best that can be done in the circumstances to keep members active and motivated. And, like most artists, he is looking forward to meeting up again with fellow artists to paint and to exhibiting at venues locally.
“Either you are a painter or you are not”
BEING A PAINTER
What projects are in the pipeline? Giuseppe says he is looking for motifs all the time and at present, he is working on a scene of children playing in the sea. The phrase ‘I am what I am’ comes up now and then during the conversation. It is Giuseppe’s strong belief that either you are a painter or you are not – in the sense that you have got to like painting, to put your soul in it. So if you are lucky enough to be in this position – to really enjoy painting – then just carry on, is his advice. For then, unfailingly, this wonderful creative activity will reward you with surprising emotions and a great sense of achievement. Giuseppe adds wistfully that it has always given him particular pleasure if others like what he has created. And this is his big wish for the future: that others will continue to be moved by his paintings.
Giuseppe Bertoli is based in Wittersham, Kent.
Gunda Cannon was in conversation with him in March 2021.
Giuseppe Bertoli, March 2021
Market in Marrakech
Place de l'Opéra, Paris
Christine with baby son
In the studio