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Edmund Ian Grant was recently awarded first prize in painting by the  Anglo-Italian Academy of Arts at the Biennale of Chianciano 2011 held at the Art Museum of Chianciano, in the province of Siena, Italy.

More than 1,600 artists from all over the world applied to participate. Of these, 160 artists, representing 50 nations, were chosen to exhibit their work in the Biennale.

The Biennale of Chianciano is an important contemporary art show in Europe that hosts the finest artistic talent from around the world. The skill and ability of these juried artists  including this Napa Valley couple has set them apart from thousands of applicants in the eyes of the selection committee composed of art critics, curators and experts. 

Grant’s prize-winning paintings were “Birdland,” “BeBop,” and “Extreme-Takeover.”  A fourth painting, “The Tray,” was not exhibited but was shown on Italian television to promote the Biennale.

“I knew the work was strong but to be awarded a first prize in painting was remarkable. To receive this award at an International Biennale amongst so much competition from the Anglo-Italian Academy of Arts, an organization that puts together museum shows in Europe, was as an incredible validation,” said Grant.

Grant’s wife, Kristi Rene, also an artist who made the top 160 cut to exhibit in the Biennale was proud of her husband’s recognition. “This couldn’t happen to a nicer guy.  But then again I really deserved the prize,” she said, laughing.

The couple will be among 39 artists selected from the 160 at the Biennale of Chianciano to show at the upcoming Biennale at the Gaglieardi Gallery on Kings Road in London May 2012.

Grant’s work is collected throughout the United States and abroad.  In this country, his work has been shown in galleries from News Orleans to some of the top galleries of California including the Vorpal Gallery of San Francisco and the Dyansen Gallery of Carmel.  A list of his shows, awards, collectors, and the publications his work has appeared in over the past 20 years covers pages of single spaced print. 

Internationally Grant’s artwork has been exhibited in Florence, Milan, London, Chianciano Terme and Tel Aviv.  Currently, his work is at the Gagliardi Gallery, one of London’s oldest contemporary art galleries. 

The 60 year-old local artist who has painted for 25 years describes himself as a self-taught painter and sculptor. “When I say I am a self-taught artist I mean I did not go to art school,” Grant said. 

He pointed out that he studied art by learning from the work of the great masters like Cezanne, Van Gogh, Dali and Picasso to name a few. “Each artist would bring me insight and I would attempt to extrapolate off of certain aspects of their works that attracted me and make this my own.”

“I learned color and texture from Van Gogh. I learned about composition and pushing the edges from Picasso.” Grant said.

Vibrant colors leap from his canvas pulling the viewer in. Grant acknowledges that “color” is the gift he was given but explains that learning the rules of color theory are necessary to bring out the gift.  He says his inspiration for color came from the post impressionists like Gauguin, Van Gogh, Lautrec and Cezanne.  

There is a strong European influence in many of his paintings, especially Italian and Spanish. His favorite place in Europe is Rome. “For me Rome is the center of the universe.  It is so powerful, I am overwhelmed by its beauty and art,” Grant said.  His wife agrees.

“Rome makes me proud to be a human being,” said Kristi Rene. “ The reverence for art, architecture, and culture always inspires me.”

Going to Salvador Dali’s home in Spain made a deep impression on Grant.  “Being in Dali’s studio was a great inspiration for living life as an artist,” Grant said.  “Seeing his last two paintings on the easel — unfinished — was remarkable. He was still working up until the day he left us!”

Locally, Grant has had several one-man shows and has been the artist in residence at both Pat Kuleto’s Kuleto Estate Family Winery and Jessup Cellars.  Most of his work is now shown along with that of his wife at their own private gallery.

Rene is also a self-taught, award-winning artist. She, too, was one of the few artists chosen to exhibit at the Biennale of Chianciano where her husband was honored with first prize. Rene, who has established patrons internationally, has had more than 25 group and solo exhibitions and has received many awards and honors.  She was recently in the Sausalito Art Festival as a painter, the most competitive category, Grant said.

Rene paints and sculpts in groupings. Her ceramic groupings are strong in their sensitive evocation of community and gratitude. She envisions making these groupings life size or larger as to encourage human interactions and foresees them as being tremendously powerful and awe inspiring as public art or private installations on special properties.

In 2007, in the magazine “Napa Sonoma Modern Luxury” spring summer issue, Kristi Rene was named as one of four artists to watch in the  Napa Valley by  Margrit Biever Mondavi. The other artists she named were Gordon Huether, Robilee Fredrick and Gail Chase Bien 

Her paintings, which she normally paints three to 12 at a time, have a confluence of color field and emotional and intellectual slant that creates a cohesive body of work that her collectors can preordain for diptychs (two paintings), triptychs (three paintings) and upwards. They can be displayed vertically, horizontally, diagonally or separate throughout a space. Once again, powerful in terms of the way they interact with one another, Grant said.

Grant’s advice to new artists is that perseverance is important. “Keep going; believe that you can be a great artist. Even if sometimes early on you believe you are great but don’t really see that well …This self-delusion keeps you going.”

Seeing well takes years to develop,” he said. One of the first tools Grant used was a book called “Drawing on the Right Side of Your Brain.” This, along with other ‘how to’, books were part of his early curriculum. 

You never stop learning and growing as an artist, he says.

“Never give up, continue to grow, the more you do the better you get,” Grant said.  “My best advice for any new artist would be don’t stop, experiment, take risks, do not worry about outcome, experience the joy of making art…I feel everyone can learn to make art just believe in yourself and don’t give up.”

Grant has embraced art in many forms, including music throughout his life.  He began playing saxophone at age seven, then later learned the flute and clarinet.

“During college I was playing gigs for food, and after college I was part of a group playing lots of weddings,” Grant said.

Saxophones, as well as other musical instruments, slip into a number of Grant’s paintings.  He loves music and even uses musical terminology when discussing color.

“In music, you have tone and like in jazz music if the color of the note is out of key but it resolves back to the tonic (key), it works.  In art, that tone is light and dark. If the underlying tones of light and dark work or resolve then it does not matter how out of key the color is, the painting will work,” Grant said.  “This is a lesson from the Fauvists.  Ultimately, for me, color is tantamount.  I love the interactions between disparate colors, the subtle hues created or a bold brash passionate passage, and then making these elements work as a unified whole.”

 Grant says his only involvement with music now is listening to his wife play piano and listening to jazz, but he is “kicking around the idea” of playing again.

Each of Grant’s paintings tells a unique story.  Several of his narrative paintings focus on the battle between good and evil like “Temptation” and “Frames of Time.” The manipulation of biology and its possible negative ramifications is the message in “Extreme Takeover.”

When Grant tells first-time visitors about to experience the “art destination” he and his wife have designed and created that they’ll be “blown away” when they see it, he is not exaggerating. The art villa that houses the couple’s paintings and sculptures is awe-inspiring. Cradled in the eastern Napa Valley hills off Soda Canyon Road, this treasure chest of art waits to be opened by art lovers. 

The couple named it Villa Spankadellik. And those who abandon themselves to the joy of a personalized private gallery art tour can become “Spankaphiles,” a word created by Kristi’s interpretation of Sinatra’s Rat Pack jargon like a ring – a-ding–ding — which led to spank’in. From there the rest is history. People from all over the world visit Spankadellik and are now full=fledged “Spankaphiles.” 

From the outside, the architecturally distinctive Villa Spankadellik is stunning in its park-like setting. Soda Creek, a year-round stream, meanders through elegant oak and laurel trees on the grounds.  The delicate woods look as if they has been swept free of anything that would mar their beauty.

Inside, room after room is filled with paintings and sculptures created by the couple. Somehow, the abundance of high level art everywhere doesn’t overcrowd the immaculate home gallery. Most rooms are large with lots of natural light while some are cozy and cave like. The overall ambiance suggests jazzy, whimsical play mixed with something ancient and powerful.

It is evident that the couple enjoys discovering which art pieces appeal most to their guests as they guide them along. The prolific duo admit there are so many they don’t know how many paintings are on exhibit and housed within Villa Spankadellik.

Together, the couple spent six and a half years designing and creating the 3,800 square-foot art villa in Soda Canyon.  It was originally an old kind of hippie house with a two-story section attached to a funky cabin, the original structure, on post and pier, Grant explains. They were told that the cabin evolved from a chicken coop.

“When we eventually tore down this structure we found the remnants of that coop,” Grant says, laughing.

Before their villa reached its present glory, the Grants had braved not only the usual challenges of building, but had also dealt with bats, scorpions, indoor Starlings, leaking roofs, and no heat or air conditioning.

“This villa was designed specifically to create a unique showcase in this community for a personalized and intimate gallery studio live space to share with art lovers,” Grant said. The art villa is open by appointment all year long for viewing or purchasing art.

Before following their passion to be full-time artists more than two decades ago, Grant and Kristi were dentists. They met when Kristi was in her first year of dental school and Grant was in his third year. Their mutual love of art and music drew them together. Over the years, their attraction and respect has deepened as they create and manifest their dreams together. Villa Spankadellik is a dream they’ve worked very hard to make come true — a dream they want to share.

The couple said they are receptive to opening Villa Spankadellik for certain events such as charity fundraisers.

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