"The real trick to life is not to be in the know, but to be in the mystery."
-Fred Alan Wolf

15 November 2019


“I give an honest response to landscapes,” he says. “I have it pass through me.” Like Tomales Bay and its tides, I think, or the push-pull seasons of Montana summer, Montana winter.

“I deliver a version that is still true—but it’s mine,” he says.

I think what he is saying is he doesn’t mean to shape or bend us; doesn’t need to convince or persuade us to see what he sees. He is just painting true to himself. And we follow.

His middle name may as well be nostalgia; his birthright is the elegy. He was but 5 years old when the man who was probably the most influential in his life, his grandfather, the famous Italian-­American landscape painter, Gottardo Piazzoni, had a heart attack at breakfast with Russell one morning, pitching forward suddenly but managing to say, before he died, “Good-bye.”

Because of his grandfather, Russell carried a paint box and easel everywhere. He hunted quail and ducks and rabbits, and fished like a fiend. It was and still is the richest land in America, the fecund tidal sloughs delivering moon-gushing torrents of immeasurable nutrients. Back then, there were steelhead and silver salmon in those bays and creeks, lots of them, big ones, and he went after them, as well as the striped bass. And he painted. “By the time I was 19 I had painted a thousand paintings.”

My plan is to prepare a meal for him. But Russell tells me his neighbor is Evan Shively, one of the best chefs in the Bay Area, and thoughts of whatever simple offering I had in mind vaporize like a wisp of dry grass before a flame; and like a coward and a glutton both I say “O.K.”


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