Maira Kalman began her stint at the American Academy in Rome exhausted. She told John Guare, she had calculated that over 3 months, she might complete 1,000 paintings. Guare responded “Maybe, you are here to do nothing at all.” Kalman did not tell the audience, assembled at her AAR Home From Rome lecture, (Wandering Aimlessly Around Rome: With One Day Trip to Florence Where I Ate a Boiled Chicken and Came Right Back Home), how many, if any, paintings she completed during her 3 month stay at the Academy. She focused on what attracted her attention In Rome. “Walking is my way of absorbing what is going on in the world” .
She collected Santa Lucia cards because Lucia eyes were like egg yolks.
She visited the Vatican Library to touch, with her own hands, The Nature of Things by Lucretius. 7,4000 six-beat hexameter lines, divided into six untitled books , whose author and poem remain a mystery even today.
She knocked on the monastery door of Santi Quattro Coronati, with a hand-written note in Italian. Kalman wanted to volunteer to iron anything the Nuns might need pressed. “I imagined underpants as large as a bed sheet”. Santi Quattro Coronati was entrusted to the Augustinian nuns in the 16th century and is still under their care.
She read Proust in Rome.
She embraced being at the American Academy – a sense of hearth, merriment and joy. It’s like “going to a mental institution with really smart people”.
During the Q&A, Kalman was asked about “mentors” or “influences.” She sited Charlotte Salomon
(1917-1943), who died at the age of 26 with her unborn child in Auschwitz. Salomon is remembered for a series of autobiographical paintings within the book Life? or Theater? The books consists of 769 paintings painted between 1941 and 1943 in the south of France when she was hiding from the Nazis.
Kalman attended the High School of Music and Art in New York City. She studied the piano. Asked about her relationship to music in the city of Rome. “Rome is an ongoing opera. What is better than sitting in a cafe, having a coffee, smoking a cigarette and listening to Romans speak Italian at the next table”.
Kalman was asked where she was going next. “I am going to Israel. I have been invited to do some work in a mental institution for holocaust survivors. “
“What are you going to do there?”
“I have no idea. I am just going to see what happens.”
I am trying my best to embrace this philosophy: letting things happen.