In Montana, the phrase "traditional painting" usually conjures up images of Charlie Russell canvases.
Two recent transplants studied a much older tradition, academic painting and drawing, in the academies of Florence, Italy.
Terra Chapman and Maurilio Milone, a married couple ages 27 and 31, respectively, recently moved from Europe to Missoula with plans of opening a studio to create their own works and teach others.
Their artistic introduction comes courtesy of a show at Gallery 709 at Montana Art and Framing, located on Ronan Street across from the Bitterroot Spur Trail just off South Sixth Street East.
The exhibition gathers drawings, etchings and paintings, in their respective styles. Chapman, who's interested in myths and nature, hews to the old master techniques she learned in school. A trompe l'oeil still life is all the more remarkable when you consider that she painted it when she was only 17. Her more recent work dips into fairies and myths, some of her original interests.
Milone shares etchings that show his academic training, but he's also more invested in surrealism and digital painting. He likes a heightened palette that represents the emotional energy of his subjects, sometimes portraits of alienated subjects or surrealistic interpretations of music.
Chapman began painting seriously at age 7. She was born in San Diego, but her family moved around: Portugal, Texas, Washington, D.C, all before she was 12. She began taking lessons early, and one of her grandmother's private art instructors encouraged her to study in Italy. When it came time to look at schools, she attended a convention of university art programs, where students could discuss what they wanted to pursue. Some recruiters told her they couldn't help her with the Old Master style she prefers.
When she was 18, she moved to Florence, Italy, where she attended a string of academies: Angel Academy of Art, the Florence Academy of Art's painting program, and the Russian Academy of Art's drawing program.
The academy isn't college. There were no math and science classes, or even grades. Chapman said they were painting every day, almost all day.
The training was rigorous and the criticism blunt. Some of Chapman and Milone's instructors were trained in the Soviet Union and communicated with the students via translators, which added another potential layer for misinterpretation of the tone of their critiques.
"Every day at least one student would cry in front of their easels," Milone said. Chapman said she definitely cried. "Everybody cried," Milone said. "There were no exceptions."
That said, they both grew the thicker skin required to pursue art. Many of those instructors became friends, and some attended their wedding.
After finishing school, Chapman stayed in Europe. She wasn't ready to return to the United States, and Milone was there. They both taught at the Barcelona Academy of Art.
Milone, a Sicily native, had a more tangential route to the academy. He felt obliged to pursue a career, and studied economics and finance in Milan. After the financial crisis, he had further doubts about his chosen path.
"I was already disenfranchised, and I really didn't like what the system was doing and what I was training for myself, and then I got to see all the effects of the bank bailouts and all that," Milone said.
The final straw was a robbery at gunpoint. He'd just parked his car at home and was putting away the Beach Boys greatest-hits CD when it happened.
"I see this guy opening the passenger door and he sits next to me and he has a gun between his legs, and he starts swearing and he's definitely high on something," he said. The robber hit Milone in the head with his gun multiple times, all for the five euros of gas money in his pocket.
Milone wasn't badly hurt, but in the moment he remembers thinking that he was going to be OK but regretful if he stayed on his current path. "But I just wished I had studied art instead of business and economics," he recalled.
Three months later, he moved to Florence and met Chapman, first a fellow student at the Russian Academy, then a friend, neighbor, fiancee and now his wife.
Earlier this year, the two moved to Missoula. Chapman's aunt and uncle, Jennifer and Brent Parker, live in Drummond, where they opened the Parkers' Restaurant, aka the place with 135 different burger options.
After the Parkers moved here, so did their children and Chapman's grandparents and eventually her parents.
When she brought Milone here to meet her grandparents, they liked it so much the thought of moving here lingered. They decided to get married and then set up shop in Missoula.
They plan on opening a studio here. They hope to find a space large enough that Chapman can pursue large-scale works while leaving enough room for private lessons.
The two taught a six-week class at the Missoula Art Museum, in which students spent the entire duration producing a single drawing. They have a class for teens coming up as well.
At their studio, they'd like to help artists who want to further their development, as well as hobbyists, enthusiasts and kids who are starting from scratch. They want to encourage people to make art, to take a break from the screens that dominate work and leisure time.
"It's like an antidote for modern-day alienation," Milone said. "Art-making, it's healing."
Chapman and Milone like to refer to the technical training as "the toolbox." Anybody can learn the techniques if they practice, Chapman said, just like anyone can learn to play an instrument or learn to read and write. "It's what you do with the toolbox later that is what makes people an artist or not," she said.
They both said they're not trying to determine the style that anyone pursues, only provide the toolbox.
As an example, she pointed to the expressionist figurative painter Egon Schiele. His work doesn't resemble Chapman's, but it's clear he knows line, color, value and anatomy.
"Once you know it, you can do anything with it," she said.