Au revoir, Auvillar

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View from a lookout above Auvillar looks like an 18th century French landscape painting.

My time at the VCCA artist residency in Auvillar is sadly coming to a close. There will be much to miss. Roasted chestnuts/bedding airing on windowsills framed by blue shutters/ children who pass you in the street and greet you politely with a Bonjour, madame/the accordion music that drifts out of the house by the bend in the road/the long, silent hours of uninterrupted writing/the sharing of creative trials and tribulations/the weekly communal meals/the telling of time by the tolling of church bells rather than the screen of an iPhone.

And of course, the gorgeous countryside. I sometimes feel like I am on the set of a French version of Frances Mayes’ Under the Tuscan Sun. Come and join me on the bike ride I took this morning and you’ll see what I mean. Allons-y!

I had a very productive writing residency here, and I also completed a labor-intensive painting, entitled Les murs, The Walls. Walls in medieval villages like Auvillar speak of the passage of time. They reveal glimpses of centuries gone by, the marks of masons and artisans long gone who added to existing layers rather than destroy what came before. In this painting, I have left traces of multiple layers in the hopes of creating a textured, timeless piece. The result pleasingly resembled a fresco – another wall association!

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Oh, and if you’re headed this way tomorrow night, please drop in on our literary salon:

Please join us this Monday, October 30th at 18h30
at La Maison Vieilhescaze at le Moulin à Nef
16 Esplanade du Port, Auvillar

Artist and writer Lilianne MILGROM will introduce the project that she is working on while in residence. She will show us the artwork by Gustave COURBET that has inspired her writing and then read an extract of her novel in French and in English.

Lilianne Milgrom says “My life revolves around art – creating art, looking at art and writing about art. My work can be found in both private and institutional collections worldwide.”
 
“The current residency in Auvillar is the first residency in which I am concentrating primarily on writing rather than painting. I am working on a novel, inspired by Gustave Courbet.”  www.liliannemilgrom.com/
 
Poet Kathryn LEVY will introduce her work in French then read several of her poems in English as well as a couple in French. 
Kathryn LEVY is author of the poetry collections Losing the Moon and Reports, a finalist for the 2014 Midwest Book Award. Her work has appeared in various journals including Slate, Hanging Loose and Seattle Review, among many others. Her numerous writing fellowships include awards from Yaddo, MacDowell and VCCA. 

http://kathryn-levy.com/

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Au revoir, Auvillar. I hope to be back!
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Auvillar residency PART II. La chasse…

WARNING! THIS BLOG POST HAS IMAGES THAT MAY OFFEND CERTAIN READERS

Right next door to the VCCA artist residency in the village of Auvillar is the local hunting lodge. There, a robust group of about twenty dedicated hunters can be found on any given Sunday between 7:30 am to 6:00 p.m. I know this because they happen to congregate outside my ground floor bedroom window, their deep voices jocular and rich with local patois.

First, the hunt. In the early fog of morning the hunters set out in small groups with their guns and their dogs to flush out young deer or boar. Again, I know this because I was startled by shots ringing out while walking on a quiet country road…

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The scenery at that time of the morning is breathtaking.

Auvillar, countrysideAuvillar countryside

Next up, the hunters head back to the lodge with sacks of game. How do I know this? Because of the tell tale trail of blood on the sidewalk as I exited the residence!

Suspicious droplets...

When I asked one hunter what he had in his sack, he duly reached in and pulled out ‘les bambis‘. I’m not sure that’s quite the way Disney intended us to think of Bambi…

'Les bambis'

Rather than cringe and act horrified (I myself rarely eat meat), I engaged the hunters in conversation and was surprised by their sophisticated responses. Firstly, they assured me that the farmers and the municipality depended on then to cull the herds. They do not believe in hunting for sport and consume everything they hunt. They also recommended venison for lowering cholesterol and recommended it over fish because of the latter’s high mercury levels. So, what’s next? Skinning and carving, of course!

Preparing the meat

Strangely, I was totally unfazed by these proceedings. Over the next few hours, the hunters cooked the meat and enjoyed their rewards at a long communal table. My studio was redolent with the smell of grilled meat. The sounds of laughter and camaraderie lured me back down to the hunting lodge, thinking I might take some photographs and maybe even do a few portraits. My motto when on an artist residency – expect the unexpected and go with the flow.

The hunters were most accommodating, each in turn introducing himself with cheek kisses. One game-y smelling fellow said to me “You smell lovely. Nina Ricci?” How hilarious, and how absolutely French! I returned to the studio and completed a portrait of the patron of the hunting lodge in one hour. Back I went to my now familiar friends, with portrait in hand. Oh la la! Bravo!!!! Standing ovations! It was a huge hit!

Le patron

EPILOGUE

They intend to hang the painting under the prized boar’s head, and invited me to sit with them and share dessert and red wine. Not just any dessert, mind you. A delicious apple pattiserie baked on site by one the hunters who happened to be a retired baker. Vive la France!

Artist residency: Auvillar, France

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Old city of Auvillar

Two weeks ago, I had no idea where Auvillar was, but thanks to an unexpected artist residency at VCCA’s Moulin à Nef, here I am, writing this blog post from a spacious studio looking out over a French farmhouse and listening to the crows of a very boisterous rooster. Auvillar is in the southwest of France, about 45 minutes ride from Toulouse. Two facts worth noting –  it is a stop for pilgrims making their way along the St-Jacques de Compostelle trail through the Pyrenees and into Spain, and it also has the honor of being included in the hundred most picturesque villages in France. I can vouch for that – there is a picture worthy scene at every turn.

Auvillar

Although my main goal for this residency is to make a dent in my book, I cannot resist the temptation to create art when surrounded by such beauty. I used origami paper to create these two scenes below.

One of the most important things to expect from a residency is the unexpected. Like today, for instance. I was all set to go out on a walk by the river when I happened upon a beautiful bird. Unfortunately, it was lying at my feet, dead. I immediately scooped it up and ran back to my studio to immortalize it in paint. I used a new technique I have been wanting to try for a while, using the crusty residue of my paper palettes as the foundation for a new painting. I rather like it!

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Le pauvre/Poor thing

I hope to be posting one or two more blogs about the residency experience in Auvillar. Comments welcome!

A bientôt!