Monte San Savino 2022

Monte is one of those shows that many people have told me about for a number of years. I’ve been meaning to go since about 2016 or so, but it’s at a weird time of year and things just never worked out. With the pandemic abating, I figured now was the time. I also had Martin and Joey pestering me, and I know they’d never have made it without my amazing organisational skills (note for future: we will not be staying in the same villa).

I have some thoughts about the show, but I’ll bore you all to death with the usual screeds of poorly-taken photos first.

So, as mentioned, Monte has quite the reputation, and I was curious what exactly it was that made it so popular. After all, it’s not nearly as accessible as many other shows, it’s at a weird time of year, it’s relatively small (compared to behemoths like SMC and the World Expo), etc. I can conclude that what really makes Monte is the town square immediately outside the exhibition hall.

This gives all the painters a great social space; in fact, the town’s so small that for a few days it’s essentially completely taken over by painters, and the town square is the hub of all that activity. Because there are so many painters, it’s easy to meet new people essentially by osmosis – I know this guy and that guy, who know these guys, who know these guys, and sooner or later you’re chatting to people you’ve never met before, but your shared interests, experiences and friends bridge all of that.

Painters talk about how the ‘community’ or the ‘family’ is what makes Monte great, and this social space is what allows that to grow. See friends, make new friends, be nerds, have delicious Italian food and wine.

Would I say it’s the best show I’ve been to? Probably not, but my enjoyment was a little hindered by a shoulder injury causing a bit of pain as well as the start of what turned out to be a covid infection. I would say, however, that it had the same characteristics as the best shows I’ve been to (for reference, those are the World Expo in Stresa and the sadly defunct Herzog von Bayern): a social element enabled by the availability of social spaces that are physically separate from the show itself.

I make the distinction about social spaces being separate from the show because the World Expo in Eindhoven had social spaces, but they were all within the convention centre. There isn’t really anywhere else to go where you can have the same organic movement of people other than at the venue. And I think this is important, as it makes shows like Monte and Herzog von Bayern feel more like a holiday with friends that just happens to also have a whole lot of models, rather than being “I’m at a convention.”

Anyway, highlights of the show for me:

  • Being able to finally meet some people I’d only spoken to online, or hadn’t spoken to much before. In particular, the Other Canadian Kyle and Jakob. You guys are champs.
  • The Danes.
  • The Spicy Noodle.
  • The Danes.
  • The French guys who bought the plastic cups so we could enjoy wine from the wine vending machine.
  • The Danes.
  • The ‘ambient’ category.

I feel I should discuss the ambient category because I think it’s a really great idea and shows that Monte is trying something different, even if the other categories make the same arbitrary distinctions that I don’t like to see. The ambient category, at its core, seems to be there to reward creativity. It’s not just about ‘evoking a feeling or scene’ or ‘narrative’. It’s about models that attempt to do something with the medium that might not be recognised in more traditional competitions. In fact, some of the displays would be actively penalised at other competitions.

For instance, Jakob’s display (replicated below in my appalling photography) relies on the context that you build between two or more pieces – it’s not about how well one piece is painted, or about how well the whole display is painted: there’s a dialogue between each piece of the same type, and to a certain extent a dialogue across all of the pieces. You can’t pick up one piece to judge the whole thing because that ignores the overall context. Sure, Jakob would probably do well at any competition with any one of those pieces, but in some shows, your display is judged solely on what the judges consider to be the best single piece within your display. Jakob’s work is greater than the sum of its parts (which is why he was awarded ‘Best of Creativity’), and very few shows take that into account.

Seriously, I have no idea how to use my camera outside of my lightbox.

As I’ve mentioned before, the hobby is mildly obsessed with technical perfection. Thankfully ‘style’ is more accepted these days, so painters don’t have to aim for perfect blends if that doesn’t apply to the style, for instance, but there is still a degree to which painters are expected to approach their work as a purely technical challenge. I wouldn’t say this is rejected in the ambient category – after all, you do need a certain level of technical ability in order to construct a narrative or build context – rather that it’s not given the bulk of the weighting as it is in other categories.

Anyway, enough artsy rambling. Results:

  • Martin: Bronze in Master Fantasy Painting, Bronze in Master Fantasy Ambient
  • Fet: Gold in Master Fantasy Ambient
  • Joey: Sadly nothing

This was Joey’s first ‘big’ show, and I think he came into it with some higher expectations after doing well in old, established shows over here in the UK. Monte, of course, is famous for the very high bar it sets.

I’m personally incredibly stoked by my result – still don’t quite believe it. When it was announced, I literally said “What the fuck” out loud. Now, however, I feel like I need to come up with something even more bonkers to maintain my standing. I have a couple of ideas – one of which might be something I can get some other painters in on, but I’ll need to commission a wee sculpt first.

And here’s a pic of Martin behaving like an idiot in a candy store while flanked by perfectly normal nerds:

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