If you are not a “beach holiday” sort of person and you are tired of city breaks, chances are you are on the lookout for something different, preferably in an exotic location, to spend your well earned vacation.
If you nodded an enthusiastic yes to the above statement, then here at Escape Artist we have the perfect solution for you. How about a painting holiday in one of the most spectacular, but little known locations in Latin America?
On a beautiful late August afternoon – the beginning of spring here in Argentina, I am in the garden of “Finca La Susana”, an old colonial style house a few miles outside of San Rafael in the province of Mendoza. The sun is streaming down brightly on the wide variety of plants and trees as I talk to Vicky Stuart and Kate Kirby about their painting- holiday project – Art in the Andes.
During my first painting lesson I took the opportunity to find out more about the project and the two women behind it. They were happy to be interviewed.
Both of the women are originally from Scotland and now live as expats in San Rafael, Argentina. Both graduated from the Edinburgh College of Art and so I had to ask ….
S.B. Did they know each other before moving to Argentina – were they friends in Scotland?
V.S./K.K. They smiled and almost replied in unison, “no, we met here …. it’s a small world and all that”.
I discovered the Vicky has lived in Argentina for thirty years, Kate for two and a half and both are married to bi-lingual Anglo Argentines.
S.B. Is that why they came to live here?
V.S./K.K. “Yes, we fall into that category of expat who is dragged somewhere rather than choosing to go,” they agree laughing.
But are you happy in your adopted country?
V.S. “Oh yes, on the whole it’s a great place to be, and I have been here so long its home. Sometimes life can be a challenge, but isn’t that true of anywhere you live? Most of the time it’s idyllic”.
S.B. Sipping our drinks in this lovely garden, it would be hard to disagree.
K.K. “I do love it here and it is fantastic from the point of view of being an artist. However, as Vicky says life here can be challenging, especially when you have been here a while and the “honeymoon” period, when everything seems different and exciting, is over. What I try and remind myself is that nowhere is perfect, there are pros and cons of living anywhere”
S.B. Why do you say this is such a great place for artists?
K.K. “Well the landscape is incredible – San Rafael is an agricultural town irrigated by snow-melt from the Andes and it is a green oasis in the middle of the desert. Vineyards and fruit orchards do well here, but immediately beyond the irrigated area you are into a very different landscape of canyons and gullies carved out of rocks that range in colour from pink to green – it is very dramatic.
Also there is the weather, you can work outside year round. A nickname for the area is “The Place the Sun goes in the winter” – and it is very apt. Because of the altitude we have lovely fresh mornings, even in the summer when it does get hot later in the day.
Then there is the fabulous food and wine – so important to artists!”
S.B. So – Art in the Andes – how did this idea come about?
V.S. “It seemed like an obvious thing to do. We both love painting, and we have somewhere for people to stay. Our husbands, Mike and Robbie are involved in the project too and we all enjoy cooking and entertaining so it just seemed like a natural thing to set up.”
S.B. We are sitting the grounds of a beautiful home which Vicky explains has been in her husband’s family for three generations. Inside it is full of fascinating artefacts and pictures. The rooms are spacious and full of light.
“It is not luxurious,” says Vicky , “ but it is very comfortable. We have a large swimming pool, lots of books and guests really feel at home here.
The guests that we attract are those who want to stay somewhere that has character and presents an opportunity to meet local people.
We try to make it as easy and straight forward as possible. We meet guests when they arrive in San Rafael and we provide all meals and drinks.”
S.B. So how does the art aspect work, are you aiming at beginners or experienced artists?
K.K. “We welcome people of with all levels of skills and experience. Including complete beginners.
S.B. And do you have a structured programme?
K.K. “We always teach on an individual basis. We often start the day with a general chat and a discussion about various artists’ work, but after that we talk to each student about their own strengths and weaknesses throughout the day – we aren’t trying to impose our own style on anyone but want them to discover and develop their own potential.
The basic timetable is three working sessions, with breaks for snacks and lunch. At the end of the working day we have a group review which is usually very stimulating. After that guests are ready for a swim in the pool and a gin and tonic!
The timetable can be adapted of course – for example, someone might be very enthusiastic and want to work solidly for a week while another guest might want to take things a bit easier.
We generally start with the emphasis on drawing, drawing and more drawing, as we believe it is fundamental to painting. From that starting point customers develop their work in whichever medium they prefer.
If experienced artists want to come and stay and get on with their work without any tuition that is fine.”
S.B. And where would they work – is there any particular itinerary?
V.S “We try to keep things flexible so we always ask guests what they prefer to do – for example, some people might be happy to spend a week working here in the garden at La Susana, which has all sorts of interesting nooks and crannies. However, on a typical week we would also make several trips further afield.
The Valle Grande, which is nearby, has spectacular rock formations and there is a series of lakes, which are very dramatic. A favourite is to spend the day at a very tranquil spot in the camp – as the non-irrigated land here is called. This place that we know is very beautiful, and we sometimes have roasted chivito (young goat) for lunch, which is a local speciality.”
S.B. And what about materials?
K.K. “ We have a list of recommended materials on our website. If customers want to bring their own that is fine, if not we can provide them.”
S.B. I am curious to know more about their experience with the hospitality trade, art and teaching.
V.S. “We have had hundreds of people staying at La Susana over the years, and no complaints yet! I think we look after guests pretty well.
I have drawn and painted for years, and now that my four sons have left home I can spend more time on it. I love drawing especially, and usually use mixed media.”
S.B. I have already admired Vicky’s work in the house – colourful loose still lives and landscapes.
K.K. “The Scottish tradition is very strong on drawing and colour, I guess we have both absorbed that. I like mixed media too although recently I have been working mostly in oils.”
S.B. And have you exhibited here?
K.K. “Yes, I have had two exhibitions since moving here and I am working towards another one soon. I exhibited regularly when I lived in Scotland and have taught in various places, including at the Leith School of Art. For years, I was a tutor for The Open College of The Arts.”
S.B. So how many guests can you cater for?
K.K. “We can take up to six at La Susana . Robbie, my husband, and I also have a self- contained cabin at our house nearby where we can accommodate two guests if there are too many to stay at La Susana. If a larger group wanted to come, we would arrange accommodation for them nearby.”
S.B. Where do most of your guests come from?
V.S “People from Buenos Aires flock to the Mendoza province for their summer and winter holidays and so they make up majority of our local market. However Argentina is becoming a very popular vacation destination for people from all over the world and we are very happy to greet any nationality”.
S.B. And can guests only book a one-week duration for their vacation?
K.K. “No we offer weekend courses too. Guests can combine a stay with us along with going elsewhere. There is so much to do here for tourists – many of the best wines in Argentina are made in the province of Mendoza and there are hundreds of wineries to visit. Then there is outdoor and nature tourism, and much more. If people have a set itinerary we try and fit in around their dates.”
S.B. So could people stay with you for longer than the art holiday and do other things?
V.S. “ Yes and if someone wants to bring along a non-painting partner that is fine.”
S.B. I am not a painter, but I thoroughly enjoyed my time with Vicky and Kate who are delightful company and passionate about painting and art. They clearly enjoy sharing their talent and experience with their guests and go out of their way to ensure a good time is had by all. The Scottish are world famous for their hospitality and their Anglo-Argentine husbands are equally as keen to make sure guests are entertained and well fed. Although I did not produce a masterpiece I came away with a sense of tranquillity and a desire to return again sometime soon.
For a guest testimony click here
For more information about the location, availability and prices please see the Art in the Andes website: www.kate-kirby.com/artintheandes.html or contact information for the artists can be found by clicking here