Nature served as a constant companion during artist Elisabetta Bastai’s childhood. She and her younger brother would often visit several horses that her parents’ friends kept in a mountain field in northern Italy. When her brother died of leukemia, at the age of seven, she went back to that field. There was only one horse left, a gray mare called Luna. In a subtle, unconscious way, she says, her connection to that horse became a connection to her brother. As Bastai began drawing, her first work was of horses.
After that, her bond with nature intensified. Every summer she explored and hiked in the mountains and snorkeled off the Tuscan coast. Bastai collected plants and seashells and began to take landscape photographs and experiment with oil paint. In her late twenties, she moved to Ireland and ended up working at a riding stable. She kept drawing in her spare time. A year later, she moved to Scotland and began to paint in acrylics.
Nature landscapes feature prominently in Bastai’s work. Experiences as a professional photographer in Bangalore, India, and work in Washington state at the Gifford-Pinchot National Forest led her to start asking questions about how people relate to the landscape. “I’m fascinated by the contrasting ways that people see nature,” she says. “For example, looking at the different relationship that the Native Americans and the pioneers had with the forests. How do people relate to landscape? Why do people interfere the way they do?”
One of Bastai’s art forms is a series of drawings that she called “maps,” a cross between a naturalist’s journal and a personal diary in which text and images intermingle. “When you experience a landscape, you experience it with more than your eyes,” she says. “You experience smells and sounds that trigger thoughts and memories. I found that by including text into my drawings I was able to add things I could not include by painting alone.” Bastai also continues to sketch and paint landscapes in a more traditional way. In 2004, her interest in horses re-emerged in a series of drawings entitled Poseidon’s Horses. In this body of work she explores relationships between landscape and myth, and combines her memories of the Mediterranean Sea with the colors and forms of the Pacific Northwest.