On Meeting Gemma Taccogna, My Mr. Miyagi

Hi darling readers, I am taking a break from the creative alphabet today. I sat down to write “C is for…” but then this poured out instead. And you know what, I am glad it did.

If you’ve ever talked to me for more than 5 minutes, chances are I’ve talked to you about Gemma Taccogna. But just in case I didn’t, or if you’re always up for more of my many Gemma stories, I have a new one for you today.

A peek into my studio. As you can see, I have not kept up the lesson to keep the paint organized by color.

I met Gemma in the spring of 2002. I had been in Los Angeles for just about a year and I felt like an alien. I knew almost no one and the prospect of feeling as connected and loved as I had with all of my friends and family back east felt slim to none.

Then one fateful day I met Gemma. I was 25, Gemma was 79. Her dear daughter Gemi inspired the whole meeting. See, they were my neighbors. But I, in all of my focusing on being an alien in martian territory, failed to realize this. Gemi came over one day and introduced herself. After just a few minutes she proclaimed, “You have to meet my mother.”

My eyes tear up every time I think of this. Right now, they are tearing up. For me, it feels like my soul has been struck by some magic chord. It felt like it then and now, almost ten years from that day, it still feels that way.

That summer, I joined Gemma’s classes that she taught in her living-room-turned-studio, right next door to where I was living. I’d stay long after class, for hours on end, talking to Gemma. She would invariably put me to work, which I loved.

Another peek into my studio. Paint bottles everywhere...

One of my first jobs was organizing the paint by color. That is, remove the hundreds, dare I say thousands, of small paint bottles from their racks, and order them by shades of colors so that from a distance the bright whites led to the beiges to the yellows to the oranges to the reds… you get it.

This took not just hours, but days. Was there a moment when I wondered what was this woman trying to teach me? YES! And I didn’t figure it out until years later. Part of it was commitment. Was she testing me out to see how committed I was? Part of it was she could use the help. Part of it was she enjoyed having me around and the job kept me there. The truth is, I so enjoyed being there I often did the dishes and scrubbed the counters and replaced the paper on the table just to stay longer and longer.

Eventually these charades were no longer necessary and Gemma proclaimed I was part of the ‘famiglia’ – a phrase I will forever treasure. Perhaps my biggest theory is that she was preparing me for some future I could not even imagine yet. It occurred to me recently I was not organizing the paint by color. I was “waxing on and waxing off.” I was Daniel-son and Gemma was my Mr. Miyagi. That whole summer and for the next five years – until her passing in 2007 – I studied with Gemma and had the honor and joy of calling her my darling, dear friend. A legendary creator took me under wing and now I could swear I have wings.

I would love for you to meet Gemma, too. If you have not seen this mini documentary by her granddaughter Evie Elman, I would love you to check it out. You can also check out this bio of Gemma that I wrote. It originally appeared as Gemma’s obituary – her family gave me the privelege of celebrating my dear friend’s life in this way.

PS – I am having so much fun with Pinterest right now, are you? Check out my Gemma Taccogna Board here.

7 Things A Commission Means to Me

A commission is the greatest honor and energizer for an artist. Here I am working on my latest commission.

And here’s the final piece hung in its beautiful home.

Many Moons. Mixed Media on Canvas. 3 24x24 panels. Melissa Renzi, 2011.

So far, in my creative life, I’ve completed three official commissions and I have two on the horizon. A commission means so much to me. It means:

1. You trust me and my creative vision.

2. We will work together in some way, shape or form to co-create the co-existence of something that never existed before. Commission breaks down to co-mission. I see us as co-pilots.

3. I have a down payment and a deadline. These are two of the greatest motivators.

4. You love my work and are ready to pay me to create something for you.

5. We will no doubt form some special bond born of people work together to make something happen.

6. There’s a defined beginning, middle and end. Beginning = you commissioning me and me meeting with you to get input and inspiration. Middle = the act of creating and making and painting and looking and listening and discovering and suddenly, it’s done. End = me delivering the commission to you. As Seth Godin would say, that’s shipping. As an artist, there’s no greater way to ship than to deliver the painting. To unveil the work. To revel in the birth of a new work.

7. Something great is about to unfold in my life. I say this from experience. So far every time I’ve gotten a commission the energy created has magnetized and attracted far more good things than I could ever imagine.

The World Beyond The Painting

In my last post, you saw my most recent painting: Dream of the Sunrise Diver.

What you didn’t see is the world that existed beyond the painting. The tubes of paint and the kitchen-table-turned-ideal-studio space that, to me, in moments of total awareness and appreciation, became just as colorful and inspiring as the painting itself. I knew this was happening as it happened and I took a ton of photos of the still lifes that created themselves as I worked. Here are a few of my favorites:

If you’re new to Good Things Darling, I’d love you to check out my first post, a letter to you darling readers. And my second post, ten reasons to subscribe to this very blog.

That’s all for now, darlings. Have a wonderful evening, wherever you are. I hope you notice the natural compositions in your world. I hope I do too. Good things, Melissa