A profound love of art and a respect for the Old Masters drew Albany painters Marjan Bakhitiarikish and Ron Baker together in Florence, Italy in 2011. “Ron is from Albany and I’m Iranian Persian,” Bakhitiarikish said. “We met in Florence when we were studying classical painting in one of the Russian academies — Florence, of course, is the city of romance.” Eight years ago the pair settled in Albany and they regularly exhibit work in group shows with the Albany Art Group and Phoenix Fine Arts. “I started off in Albany as a young lad doing watercolours and I went to Melbourne in the 60s,” Baker said. “Art schools then were much more abstract and avant-garde.” Preferring to embrace realism and tradition but unable to find training, Baker put aside the easel and brush for many years before he learned of the academies set up in Florence to revive the techniques of the Old Masters. “I was attracted to the depth of emotion and everything that can be achieved through realism and the classical,” he said. Baker travelled to Florence to undertake four years of classical training and it was while studying portraiture that he and Bakhitiarikish formed a bond. Like Baker, Bakhitiarikish had been drawn to Italy by a desire to immerse herself in the art of the 17th century. “I was fortunate that from an early age, we would listen to classical musicals and opera,” she said. “Wherever you’re from you can connect to the sense of humanity that you feel, and from classical music and opera I became interested in classical painting. “I have huge respect for the skill that goes into a work of art and after discovering the Old Masters and learning that there was a place where you can learn to draw and paint like that I went to Florence.” The traditional style the artists have refined reflects classical concerns and 17th-century technique in regard to subject, style and emphasis on drawing. “We would go to museums and galleries in Florence and sit there and draw from the sculptures to learn the sense of the ideal, the sense of beauty, proportion, light and shade,” Bakhitiarikish said. “The sense of beauty is very important. Renaissance artists were in love with beauty and it’s one of the pillars of classical art, it should always be beautiful and timeless. “Life, death, beauty, love, suffering — they are forever which is why we can always connect with them.” A desire to share and showcase beauty has led Baker and Bakhitiarikish to transform their Arcadia Studio by building a boutique gallery space beside it. “Because we are traditional painters the lighting is very important to us,” Bakhitiarikish said. “Without lighting the painting can be seriously affected because you don’t get that illusion of form. “We think it’s a beautiful space, people can go through our studio where we work and see the pieces available in the gallery.” Baker said that while a local lack of exhibition spaces had also prompted the couple to build their gallery Albany’s art scene is thriving. “We’ve noticed since we’ve been back that the art community is really growing,” he said. “More and more people are coming down for the lifestyle, making studios, creating art in different forms — it’s really starting to happen.” The pair will open their studio and gallery up to the public for the first time as they take part in the 2023 Southern Art and Craft Trail from September 23 to October 1. Studio Arcadia is otherwise open by appointment and Baker and Bakhitiarikish invite anyone interested in viewing their work to visit their website or call them on 0473 386 243.