Lost in Translation | Transit

Not that anyone needs an excuse to go to Italy but I did feel that it was my newly discovered fascination with the Sienese painter Sassetta that lured me back this time. I first discovered his work in the National Gallery in London and was instantly smitten by his use of colour. Seeing Sassetta's work did something to me. It was like a portkey into a new, much more abstract reality that has inspired me ever since.

As often happens with these moments of magic, your mind tries to recreate them through the sum of their parts. According to that logic, going to see other pieces by Sassetta in the very place he used to work would surely be an even more potent catalyst for new insights and inspiration... Ha, what a laugh that turned out to be!

We drove down to Siena last week. All that good food and the beauty of the place somewhat obstructed the route to the Pinacoteca Nazionale di Siena and it ended up being five o’clock by the time we bought tickets. The lady at the ticket office was talking about various opening times and giving us instructions in Italian. Well, the Italian part of my brain was a bit sluggish that day so I understood her to mean that I had all of 15 min. left to get to the section that houses their Sassettas.

I dashed up the stairs and finally found the right room only to be stopped by this stern looking security lady. She was the dead ringer of one of the nuns who taught me in primary school. Disapprovingly she informed me that this section of the gallery was “Chiuso”. “Chiuso” I said, “but sure it can’t be! I came all the way from Ireland just to see this one painting…”.

On and on I went, begging her to let me through, trying to muster any bit of Irish charm with my 10 words of Italian. Eventually she took pity on me and I hurried through to the room with Sassetta's work. There it was. A piece of paper informing me that the one painting I had come to see had been sent out on loan to Brussels a few days ago!!

As I was standing there, staring at the blank space in disbelief, I noticed the room filling around me. It turned out that all the begging just got me into the room 15 min. early. The room wasn’t about to close. It was about to open!

Well, having made such a fool of myself I thought I might as well stay and soak in the beauty. I went up to the Collezione Spannocchi and found a beautiful Dürer. Wandering about the room I walked past this image of a flemish Tower of Babel and realised I had a print of that very same tower stuck on my studio wall for years.

What a surprise. I had no idea the original was here in Siena. Except it wasn’t. It too had been recently sent on loan. I stood in front of the copy, bewildered, reading out loud “on loan to New York”. That moment a security guard passed behind me. He shuffled on with quiet indignation, blowing the words “New York" through pursed lips in an audible whisper. No doubt he was crafting the story he was going to tell in his local later. "Some idiot tourist thought the Tower of Babel was an image of New York..."


I was about to start protesting, telling him no, I was not that idiot and, yes, I did know the flemish school and...blabla.. when I suddenly saw the collective silliness of this whole afternoon's quest for serious inspiration and got a fit of laughter. Inspiration still strikes when it wants to. Everything lost in translation and transit...