Cities of Dreams: Layla Fanucci’s Cityscapes
Surrounded by pastoral scenery it would be easy to assume that an artist like Layla Fanucci would be inspired by the natural beauty of Northern California’s wine country, but that doesn’t interest her.
The rolling hills lined with row after row of crooked vines bursting with grapes and pastures filled with cows, horses and sheep casually grazing are only a backdrop as she works in her studio at Charter Oak Winery, which she co-owns with her husband Robert Fanucci, in St. Helena, California.
Robert, the winery’s winemaker, inherited his family’s nearly 70-year-old winery in St. Helena in 1986. A dozen years later, Layla and Robert changed the winery’s name to Charter Oak Winery, but they retained the three generations tradition of handcrafting the wine, long before artisan wines became a trend.
Robert and his son, David Fanucci, craft Petite Sirah and Zinfandel grapes and their Old World Field Blend, which combines Cabernet Sauvignon, St. Helena Estate Zinfandel, Old Vine Monte Rosso Zinfandel, and Old Vind Petite Sirah, on a 128-year old basket press handed down from Robert’s grandfather. They produce an average of 800 cases of wine a year that is mostly available in restaurants.
Their daughters, Nicole and Michelle, also help out at the winery.
“It’s certainly a labor of love,” says Layla, 56, but so are her unique cityscapes painted inside her winery studio.
It is there where she re-envisions the world’s famous cities and its buildings layering cityscapes of various destinations, the older the better, interspersed with bright colors using rapid short strokes.
The daughter of two generations of architects from Istanbul, Turkey she is attracted to the complicated and rich textures of urban life with its architecture and history, she says.
Three of her favorite cities to paint are New York, Paris, Prague, as well as some cities in Italy that are bustling with a lot of churches and old buildings rich in history with the business of modern life buzzing around the centuries old edifices.
“Those are probably my three favorite cities,” says Layla. “I paint any city, but it has to have a lot of architecture. If you asked me to paint St. Helena it would be hard.”
Her best works come from her travels to the cities “where I feel the city, mingle with the people, get into the energy, see the history [and] feel the history,” she says.
“Then [I] come [home] and paint,” says Layla, who has painted London and Prague, but hasn’t ever visited them.
“Prague is just so magical to paint on the canvas,” says Layla. “Maybe because there is just a lot of really great architecture, but I would like to see Prague and see London.”
She will take her first trip to London sometime this spring, she says.
“That’s my favorite thing to do, travel a little bit, do an exhibit, and come home and paint,” says Layla about her preferred way of working.
Reminiscing about her family’s trip to Paris after her three-month solo exhibit at the Muse de Marrakech in Morocco in 2010 and how she returned home to translate what she experienced onto the canvas.
“I love to see the cities, the history, the people [and] the energy,” Layla says about traveling. She often takes in the city and brings her memories and photos back to St. Helena with her to paint onto the canvases that surround her day in and day out.
Currently, Layla is bringing her cityscapes to Napa in the “Thinking Outside the Bottle” exhibit at the Napa Valley Museum (55 Presidents Circle, Yountville, Calif., 707-944-0500707-944-0500, info@NapaValleyMuseum.org, NapaValleyMuseum.org). Later this spring, Layla will also appear in the forthcoming book It Ain’t Over . . . Till It’s Over: Reinventing Your Life–and Realizing Your Dreams–Anytime, at Any Age.
“I’ve always admired Marlo Thomas and the work that she’s done,” says Layla, who is very honored and excited to appear among 49 other women in It Ain’t Over … Till It’s Over.
The book is filled with stories about and by everyday women who have reinvented themselves in inspirational and extraordinary ways.
“The whole point is to inspire women to keep going and you can achieve any goal at any age at anytime,” says Layla, who looks forward to reading the other women’s stories.
If there was a tour guide for transitioning through life’s different stages and reinventions, Layla might be the perfect example of how to do it with grace and ease.
The former music teacher turned emerging worldwide art sensation has always been an artist. Starting out as a musician when she was five years old, she learned how to play the clarinet, guitar and piano. As she grew up she crafted her art into a career as a music teacher and took her student’s on tours around the San Francisco Bay Area.
“We played at concerts all around the Bay Area and [at] all of the local functions,” says Layla. “We did it all.”
Painting wasn’t a hobby or even a pastime for Layla. She simply woke up one day 15 years ago desiring to have more than the framed posters that hung on the walls of her home at the time.
“I wanted to have some live art on the walls,” says Layla, who wanted to have big and colorful live art on the walls of her home.
She searched artistic hot spots in Sonoma for what she saw in her mind and felt that she wanted, but she turned up empty handed. Rather than keep searching, she went out and bought a 6 x 5 board, some paint and threw it onto the board.
“It was big, colorful and its live art,” Layla says she thought after completing her first work that she framed and hung up on her living room wall. “I had it framed and put it on the wall in my living room and I was happy.”
Friends and guests to her home admired her paintings and requested her to create pieces for their homes, she says. During her first year as a budding painter, she created nine commissioned works. Two years later she left her music teaching job to focus on painting full-time.
It was the beginning of an addiction that took 15 years to develop working with an art consultant and painting until her unique style emerged.
“I got addicted to painting during that year and have never stopped,” says Layla, who found switching between the two mediums wasn’t difficult for her.
“You have this creative gene in you and you need to get it out because that’s when you feel really good,” says Layla, who spent up to 11 hours a day in the studio painting and developing her craft into the unique cityscapes that have become her signature work. “We have so many talents inside of us. It’s a matter of taking the time to develop them.”
It doesn’t matter if the artist is a musician, writer, or winemaker it’s creative and that creativity needs to be released through one or more of the many outlets to express that vision.
Layla had a breakthrough year in 2013.
Art connoisseurs couldn’t get enough of her unique cityscapes buying up more than 30 of her original works, a 167 percent jump in sales from 2012 when she sold a total of 12 paintings.
The purchases created a situation where Layla is reentering the studio for the next two years to concentrate on creating a new body of work to exhibit. The discovery of her works by art collectors has left a dearth of her works available for exhibiting, in spite of prestigious invitations international exhibits. This places her in a new enviable position of needing to create a whole new collection to put on display for a hungry art market.
“This has been an amazing year,” says Layla who believes that people are connected to her work and telling other people about it in 2013. “They are just really connecting to them. For me it’s an honor to have that happen.”
Throughout her career as a painter, Layla has sold more than 260 of her works, which is sold for $2,400 and upward of $100,000, and are in private collections worldwide, including the U.S. and abroad. Her pieces have appeared in more than 200 galleries and museums worldwide, including Morocco.
Layla also creates collector edition etched and painted double magnums as well as creating the labels for the Zinfandel Mind, a label depicting what happens “when you drink a little too much Zin,” for Charter Oak Winery, says Layla.
She’s currently working on designing new labels for her family’s winery, but her main goal in 2014 is to paint.
“My goal for the next two years is to paint, paint, [and] paint to try to gather a body of work to exhibit,” says Layla.
She also wants to write another book as well as complete a documentary about how her cityscapes are developed with one full city upon, color, upon another city until the work is completed.
Her first book about her cityscapes, Layla Fanucci: City of Dreams Unabridged 1999-2011 , has sold 700 copies within a year and a half since its publication, she says.
Check out Layla’s and other Northern California winemakers, winery owners and vintners’ artwork now in the “Thinking Outside the Bottle” exhibit at the Napa Valley Museum, 55 Presidents Circle, Yountville, California. The works will be on display through March 23.
To contract an original article, purchase reprints or become a media partner, contact editor [@] girlsthatroam [.] com.
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