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.

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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!

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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!

 

I protest, therefore I am

What is an artist to do in these difficult and dangerous times? Sign petitions? Donate money? Write to newspapers? Done, done and done. But every morning, I am devastated anew by the realization of who currently occupies the White House. Several days into the new administration I was overtaken by a horrific premonition of where the president’s repulsive rhetoric could lead. In the space of two days, I painted the large canvas below. I thought perhaps I was too doomsday-ish, and I did not attempt to exhibit the piece.

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Unfortunately, that was no mere premonition. My painting depicts what many people are feeling in the wake of recent events in Charlottesville and the political fallout. Hundreds of white nationalists marched through the University of Virginia campus carrying burning torches, spewing hatred and brandishing nazi salutes. Clashes with anti-hate groups resulted in the tragic death of a young woman, and ultimately the outing of the president’s true beliefs (no surprise there).

August’s TIME cover had a similar theme to the painting I completed seven months ago.

TIME MAGAZINE

Artists all over the country and the world are picking up their brushes and their tools to protest this nightmarish period. I applaud my peers who give voice to their protest, and the audiences who look, listen and take heart.

More than meatballs

stockholm

Stockholm surprised and delighted me. The surprise was partly due to my ignorance. I had no idea that Sweden was made up of over 200,000 islands, and that getting around Stockholm often meant catching a ferry. The delight arose from Stockholm living up to its reputation as a super cool, bicycle-riding, muesli crunching, law-abiding city, but the delight was equally due to discovering that modern Swedish society is also quirky, eccentric, and not quite as straitlaced as expected.

A major retrospective at Stockholm’s Museum of Modern Art underscores the collective move away from the rigid social constructs that defined Swedish society. It has taken decades, but Sweden’s native daughter, artist Marie Louise Ekman, whose work was for years shunned and ridiculed by the traditional art institutions, is finally getting her due.

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Her crude, feminist, outsider art depicting acts of fellatio, defecating dogs, and all manner of images designed to provoke reaction to social and political issues, were not aligned with the more austere national character the Swedes prided themselves on.

Ekman began creating her naive gouache paintings in the late 1960’s and has been producing a prolific trove of visual social commentary ever since. The retrospective contains 350 works from 1967 to 2017. Her often outrageous imagery, painted without any attempt to obfuscate her message, leaves little to the imagination.

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The tour guide at the museum was practically gloating as he pointed out the hilarious predicament in one of the larger canvases depicting a man performing cunnilingus on a breast-feeding woman, while a group of matronly guests comes rushing in through a doorway. Oops. Should have called first!

Detail

The wall colors of the extensive exhibition were designed to exaggerate the infantile style of painting, and the low benches for viewing made the viewer gaze up at the works in a child-like manner. But the content of Ekman’s work is definitely R rated.

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Marie-Louise Ekman 17.6 – 17.9 2017 Stockholm

Ekman has been a major influence on generations of young Swedish creatives and now takes her place as one of Sweden’s foremost painters, film-makers and playwrights. She is a professor of Art at the Royal University College of Fine Arts, Stockholm and since 2009 has been Managing Director of the Royal Dramatic Theater in Sweden.

I’ll be back one day….

 

Paris – where life imitates art

There are many great cities around the world that boast a hip art scene and magnificent museums. But Paris oozes Art through its pores. The city’s history, its architecture, gardens, food, fashion and lifestyle are marked by a finessed artistic sensibility. It is a city that practices a mindful approach to all aspects of life, long before mindfulness became a 21st century catchphrase.

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Fountain at one of the entrances to the Grand Palais
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Reading room of the Keppler Hotel

Van Gogh and Titian are featured in Louis Vuitton’s new line of handbags

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One couple, two very different fashion statements
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A ham hock ready for carving. Not something I would eat, but I love the presentation
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Statue at Trocadero overlooking Eiffel Tower
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Neighborhood cafe. Very patriotic with the ‘bleu, blanc, rouge’!

America has the Stars and Stripes but France is all about stripes. One of France’s most notable artists, Daniel Buren, has crystallized the essence of the stripe in his iconic works. “It was the idea to have something very banal, but very strong,” says the artist in Interview magazine. He calls his stripe motif a visual tool that can transform any physical space.

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Painting by Daniel Buren at the Modern Art Museum, Paris
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Stripes play a big part in French fashion. I couldn’t resist…

EXHIBITIONS – TOP PICKS FOR THE SEASON

There’s always so much going on in Paris that it’s hard to know what to see when time is limited. Two noteworthy exhibitions are being shown concurrently at the Grand Palais – Rodin and Jardins. The Rodin exhibition marks the centenary of the sculptor’s death (1840-1917) and covers Rodin’s extensive creative universe. Jardins (Gardens) is a bit of a stretch from a curatorial standpoint, but there is something for everyone, from antique gardening equipment and Impressionist paintings of gardens, to installations offering contemporary interpretations of nature. Below are two of my sketches from these exhibitions.

I would also recommend two private collections that do not often hit the international circuit. On exhibit at L’Orangerie is the Ishibashi collection normally housed at the Bridgestone Museum in Tokyo. Fabulous. The Caillebotte painting is particularly exquisite. At the Jacquemart-Andre Museum you can catch Spanish businesswoman Alicia Koplowitz’s eclectic collection. Handpicked works by Goya, Tiepolo, Schiele, de Staël, Freud, Rothko and Bourgeois are among this enviable private collection.

Bon voyage!

Sorolla, Impressionist extraordinaire

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Not visiting the Prado Museum when in Madrid is almost a sacrilege. But with limited time on my hands, I opted to spend a day at the intimate Sorolla Museum instead, and I don’t regret it for a minute. Joaquín Sorolla y Bastida  (1863 – 1923) was a Spanish painter of exceptional talent and ambition. Following an inspirational visit to Paris at the age of 23, Sorolla aspired to become an international artist. He exhibited in Paris, Munich, Berlin, Vienna and Venice and the prizes followed one after another. Is it any wonder?

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His larger-than-life, light-filled canvases fill the Sorolla Museum, which was actually the artist’s home and studio. Located in the heart of Madrid, Sorolla’s house and grounds would provide fertile inspiration for any artist.

The sun-drenched, butter yellow facade, scattered statuary and inner courtyards with tiled fountains are peaceful and romantic, a welcome surprise. Sorolla’s studio is a soaring, book-lined, wood-paneled space. I was assured that every item in the studio is original.

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Sorolla’s brushes
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View of Sorolla’s studio

A contemporary of John Singer Sargent, Sorolla was lauded for his ability to capture intense light with the flick of his loaded paintbrush. Below are some of his magnificent canvases followed by a close-up detail, so that his impressionistic genius can truly be appreciated. The size of his canvases fits right in with the modern appetite for oversized artwork.

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The Sail Menders (222cm x 300cm)
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Detail from The Sail Menders

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Detail from painting above. Note the impressionistic brushstrokes, unexpected colors and areas of exposed canvas.

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Sorolla was a family man. One of my favorite paintings on exhibit portrays his wife lying in bed with an infant she just gave birth to. I love the composition – those two tiny little heads in a huge sea of white linen…

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The artist’s enormous collection of Spanish pottery added to my overall enjoyment. At every turn, the house revealed gorgeous examples of decorated ceramics.

I will conclude this post with a sketch I made of a stair banister detail in the Sorolla home. And if anyone can provide me with any information on how large paintings were internationally transported in the 19th century, I would be much obliged!

SOROLLA SKETCH

For your next visit to Madrid, more details about the Sorolla Museum can be found here.

Art Is Good for your health

Don’t you love it when the scientific community comes out with proof of something you have instinctively known all along? Most artists have experienced that delicious feeling of well being when they get into the’zone’. But now there is empirical evidence that art is good for your overall health.

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Digital illustration by Lilianne Milgrom

No news to me. Anyone who has immersed themselves in a creative process can attest to a feeling of calm, of total engagement with the senses, of putting on hold life’s demands and worries. But don’t take my word for it.

Making and looking at art can even reduce doctor’s visits! C’mon guys – get yourselves off to that gallery opening! And if that’s not enough to move you,  recent studies show that Art not only holds off Alzheimer’s but creating art actually lowers stress indicators. The Experience Life article contends that “Creative types may have de-stressing down to an art. Researchers at Philadelphia’s Drexel University recruited 39 adults, ranging in age from 18 to 59, to participate in 45 minutes of art making by using clay, drawing with markers, or creating collages.

To measure cortisol levels (an indicator of stress), researchers collected saliva samples from participants before and after their creative work. The results, published in Art Therapy, noted reduced levels of the stress hormone in roughly three-quarters of the participants. I can’t help but think that being so prolific must have contributed to Picasso’s long life. What a chill dude!

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Yves Manciet  Picasso in the studio

One L.A. doctor who puts her faith in the art and wellness correlation into practice is celebrated endocrinologist, Dr. Katja Van Herle. She and her husband have opened a gallery so they “could work with artists who want to engage with the community, provide a calming space for anyone to interact with art for free, and raise funds for causes we believe in—mainly, exposing more art and its effects to more people,” explains Van Herle.

Van Herle sees Denk Gallery in downtown Los Angeles as a extension of her medical practice. “Art is healing, in all of its forms—that’s what we want to communicate through DENK.”

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Jungle Cities installation view, courtesy DENK Gallery

So it’s time to dust off those paintbrushes or get out the modelling clay and try to make the most of what has so far been a stressful beginning to the year following the 2016 elections…