Strange Wanderings on a Wednesday Afternoon

 

2019-paris-cluny and churches-3351
Sometimes I simply encounter strange white trees?

After lunch today, I set out for the Musée National du Moyen Âge to get my latest fill of Medieval Art.

I wandered into a couple of churches today, really quite by accident. Well, let’s face it, if I see a church, I generally go inside. The first one I encountered on the way to the Cluny is near the Latin Quarter, St. Séverin. On the outside, especially from the back, you cannot miss the gargoyles. Once inside, the church is definitely Gothic with its tall vaulted ribs and illuminating stained glass.

Once again, as has been my Paris experience thus far, I arrived at a museum that was mostly closed. Nevertheless, I was able to see the famous unicorn tapestries representing the senses of touch, sound, sight, smell, taste, and the sixth is really up to our imagination. Most of the gallery information was technical including weaving terminologies. The tapestries are huge and beautifully restored. Most of the second floor is currently dedicated to a unicorn show. Carved ivories of Christian figures are well represented in the collection along with enamels and other decorative art forms. I am completely impressed with the imagination, ambition and craftsmanship displayed in this wonderful collection.

After I left the museum, I decided to wander a bit and headed into the direction of the Pantheon. I reached the summit, all pretty much enclosed by the University of Paris, and admired the imposing structure with its commanding frontal Greek portico, huge Corinthian columns, and towering dome that I can also see off in the distance from my studio window. Over to the left of the Pantheon, I could see just beyond a bunch of parked motorbikes, the façade of another church. So, I headed toward it.

As I walked into St-Etienne du Mont, I immediately knew that I was in a curiously unique architectural setting. Floating above me between the right aisle and the nave was a balustrade with a walkway. In fact, suspended architectural structures and spiraling elements seemed to surprise me everywhere I looked. I wandered back through the ambulatory, examining as many of the details as I could. The wonderful light that entered into this church pleased me along with the emphasis on Renaissance rounded arches.

2019-paris-cluny and churches-3427
Only existing rood screen in Paris at Saint-Étienne-du-Mont

The most surprising architectural feature is the rood screen, the only one still in existence in Paris. It traditionally separated the laypersons that attended mass from the religious. This architectural device has pretty much been removed from the majority of churches as Catholic mass practices have evolved to become more inclusive.

2019-paris-cluny and churches-3430
Oldest existing organ case in Paris at Saint-Étienne-du-Mont

Secondly, this church can lay claim to the oldest organ case in Paris that was originally designed and constructed in 1631 by Jehan Buron. It is still in its original state. Third, as I came back and stood directly in front of the altar, I became aware for the first time that this church was not developed along a consistent central axis. After doing a little reading, I learned that it was originally joined to an Abbey Church, which likely accounts for this unusual alignment.

2019-paris-cluny and churches-3423
Stained Glass illustrating scenes from the life of Ste-Geneviéve

The history of the site goes back 502 with the burial of Ste-Geneviéve, patron saint of Paris in a basilica built by Clovis, king of the Franks, who was also buried there in 511. The remains of Ste-Geneviéve were destroyed in 1801 and her ashes were placed in the Seine. A few relics of her remain and they are enshrined in St-Etienne. The bottom register of this stained glass window illustrates scenes from the life of Ste-Geneviéve.

As I walked back to my studio, I really felt the cold today. The sunlit skies of the morning had transformed back into the overcast skies that could once again start raining at any given moment. I have been here for 4 weeks now and have not been to those places, yet, where I am supposed to go; nevertheless, I feel as though medieval and French royal history is slowly revealing itself to me in nicely surprising ways.

 

 

Advertisements

My Day in the Garden

Let’s kick it up a notch. I am not a wine aficionado; and I cannot spend a lot, but I figure that while I’m here, I’ll forget beer for a bit and try some different wines. Now the wines, like anywhere else in the world, run the price range from about €3 to your credit card limit. I choose closer to the €4 range because Pringles are €2 and they are pretty darn good.

img_7823I kind of get excited about the region, too. If it has Bordeaux anywhere on the label, well I go for it. Next is the label and how it looks. A few things get me every time. So, if it has gold on the label, then that is a plus. If the wine name is in a traditional fancy typeface resembling Old English, well that is a tug at my heart. If there is an illustration that reminds me of an engraving, well, that’s a bonus. Cork, yeah, cork is important. A number? Yes…any number will do. The current bottle has No 25278 printed on it. Notice the superscripted underlined “o” in number; that makes it even better! AND LASTLY, A COAT OF ARMS. Yes, a gold lion on the left and a silver lion on the right. It means this winery is in a family and it goes back for centuries. It all adds up to greatness. Now you, too, know what goes into picking a bottle of red wine at the grocery store. I can say that I have yet to experience a bad bottle of wine in France, and I have experienced too much paint thinner by the time I drink some of the wine to know exactly how good the “bouquet” is. I can tell differences in bouquet and taste. Just for the record, I simply smell the paint thinner; I never actually drink it!

I was drinking my first cup of coffee when the sun rose.

The sun came up! No clouds? Sky is clear? The weather report on the phone says mostly cloudy…. I decided it time to go to the bakery. So, I cannot speak French – well, I can say “bonjour madame,” point at a pastry until she gets the right one, and I know they would love the money… I did it. I got the chocolate éclair, paid for it and left. Now what? The sun is still out. Place des Voges is only 4 blocks away, and I trek over to the park, find myself a bench, break out the éclair, and eat it as slowly as possible. For a brief fleeting microsecond, I am French. Over.

I returned to my studio, ate lunch and decided that I would go next to the Tuileries Gardens for the afternoon and shoot pictures there. I just needed to be outside. After eating, the sky was completely cloudy. I took a nap. When I awoke, the sun was brightly shining, again. I grabbed my camera and headed out.

I arrived to gray skies. I simply did the best I could, getting the shots that were there, maybe. I spent 2 hours working the scene. I walked across the bridge over the Seine near the Louvre, went into Sennelier Art Store, didn’t buy anything, left the store, and saw that the skies were breaking across the river. Next, I worked my way back to the gardens and got almost all of the shots in this post. I had about 30 minutes of decent dramatic light with good contrasts.

My experience in the garden today reinforced what was taught to me in 17th century art history. The French demonstrate power, royal authoritative power, by controlling nature. I am saving Versailles for the end of my trip, but this garden is designed in a similar approach. It is controlled by a dominant axis, it is fundamentally symmetrical, and plant pruning is precise. That includes all bushes and almost all trees. I know from my own experience that gardening is a 12-month endeavor. A lot of folks think gardening only happens during the warm months of the year. The beauty does shift and evolve, but there is a beauty here, even in the dormant months. I feel fortunate to have been able to spend part of my day here as a transient part of it. I’m also happy that some of the fountains were flowing.

 

A New and Different Day

fullsizeoutput_1ec7

For whatever reason, I awoke at 1 am because I was too hot. So I opened the window and let the freezing air seep in for the rest of the night as I went back to my sleep. When I awoke at 7 am, it was for real and went through my daily routines. I love my slow morning coffee. While I savored it along with part of a leftover baguette from yesterday, I enjoyed something new today that eventually did not amount to a whole lot, snow. I pretty much hoped that I might see Paris in the snow while I was here. It doesn’t have much of a reputation for it, mostly light amounts. That is the way it was today.

fullsizeoutput_1ec9

At 10:30 am I went downstairs for my first French lesson. I truly mean that. It was my first French lesson, ever. Throughout all of my art history I confess that I have avoided it, tried very limited phrases, and learned the correct pronunciation of artist’s names. There have more than a few terms I have learned along the way; trompe-l’œil comes to mind. I really did not know what to expect but I was certainly prepared to make it clearly known that I knew NOTHING. I pretty much expected something like: This is a cat, where is the bathroom? I want that éclair see voo play (misspelled this one on purpose), or perhaps the difference between latte and café au lait? No, no, no…her approach was immersion, trial by fire, no translation, 100% conversation, and lots of gesturing, role playing, and pictograms.

img_7777

The others in the class could converse! If they did not understand, well they sure could fake it a lot better than I could. I’m thinking that I am in an adverse placement. I’m thinking I should master the phrasebooks before I even start with this. I’m thinking I suck at this. Should I even be taking this class? At the end of class, 2.5 hours later, it was finally the end of class. Two of my classmates approached me and asked if I would like to have a synopsis of the conversations. I could tell that one was a discussion about the feminine and the masculine but apparently in went deeper and more opinionated that what I got out of it. Another discussion revolved around the yellow vest protests and I at least during class, I could determine that was the subject. These two classmates were offering positive feedback and actually encouraging me to stick with it. So, these two classmates, one a music scholar working on a dissertation, and another, a composer, and I went to lunch across the river at a nice restaurant. I ordered from the complete meal section and ended up eating more in one meal than I generally have in a day. I will say it was expertly prepared and delicious.

img_7769

I came back to the studio to work; however, the fullness of the meal caught up with me, I reclined on the bed, and awoke for my 3rd time in one day an hour and a half later. At this point, I’m calling it a day after writing this blog.

I’ve also been reflecting on a short essay written by the late Mary Oliver entitled “Of Power and Time.” At some point I think all artists know what she is talking about. Creative work needs solitude. Within ourselves we have three identities: the child that we once were, the social self that demands consistency and routine, and lastly the third self, which shuts out all that is necessary to create. She concludes by saying that the regretful people are the ones who felt the call to creative work, and did not give it their power or time. The sabbaticals and residencies are in some ways artificial ways to escape the disruption of the social/daily lives. From experience, I understand the luxury. I understand the transition out of normalcy and the transition back into it. One of the challenges of the teacher/artist is to find ways to maintain the newfound/transformed self that both the artist and the academic community support and desire from the sabbatical process.

So today was a very different day. I took the risk with the French class and I think I learned something. Where else would I have the opportunity to learn from such a fluent native speaker? I met a couple of residents from other parts of the world. I had a great meal. It snowed in Paris.

 

A Brief Walk

Today was a pretty straightforward day. I worked in the studio for most of it. There’s not much to this post except to say that the sun was out in full force for a change and I could not ignore it. So I took a break and went for a walk. It was not a power walk but a leisurely one, as I was trying to pay attention to the light, history, and beauty in the architecture. Some of the streets were pleasantly silent and some of the larger ones were bustling with lots of energy.

Woke Up to the City of Light

2019-1-11 picasso_goolsby-3087

To start, I pretty much had already decided that I wasn’t going to write today but here it is anyway. I may just keep it short. I was up early and rewarded with actual sunlight. Most of January has been pretty overcast.  As I looked out my window, the city was bathed in a very nice pink light. Suddenly, Impressionism wasn’t quite so magical anymore…I mean, all Monet had to do was look out of his apartment window towards the Cathedral of Notre-Dame and the entire world dissolved into beautiful reflected patterns of light, right?

I painted in the morning and it went okay. After lunch, I decided to go over to the Picasso Museum, which is a very easy walk. I knew before going that one floor was closed for installation; however, I did not know that two floors were actually closed. So I got to see the top two floors and that was it. For the world’s most extensive collection of Picasso, this was less than….ok. I made the best of it and will go back. I’m glad that it is very convenient, and I am glad I’m here for two months.

I walked around a bit and am proud to say that I am now getting familiar with the Marais District. In other words, I’m not feeling lost all of the time. One thing I will say is that the light was very bright. The sun at this time of the year (when one can see it) has a very low trajectory, so it gets in your eyes! Nevertheless, it felt great. It was a glorious day to be outdoors.

I came back to the studio and painted some more. I think the painting I am working on has ended in a good place. I will reflect on it a bit in the morning, before I post anything. Signing off for now.

Great Impressions

 

I decided to spend my Thursday afternoon doing a re-run of Musée d’Orsay. I went there on the 2nd day of my residency to see the Picasso, Blue & Rose special exhibition. To be fair, it was extremely crowded because Picasso was slated to close in 3 days.  I was also exhausted from travel and still adjusting to all of the new changes, including the time difference.

Today was a different story. I arrived at the museum right after lunch, walked right in the front door, no lines, no wait, no hassles, and no blockbuster exhibition. Things stayed pretty nice for about 3 hours and then I guess the school trips with students started flooding into the galleries. At any rate, this was a far more pleasant experience, than my first time there.

This museum is a renovated train station. It is brilliant. It has character. It has open space. It has nooks and crannies to explore.  The guidebook says to skip the traditional European stuff on the first floor; I didn’t follow the author’s recommendation.  I agree that Impressionism is “to die for.” But, I will never forget the scale of Courbet’s Artist’s Studio, and Burial at Ornans. The magnitude of these two French Realist works is impressive. It reinforces my belief that an underlying condition of great art is ambition. It is obviously not the only essential characteristic, but it must be present.

In addition, I was pleased to see the work embraced by the French Academy during the late 19th century on display. To my 21st century eyes, supported by the underlying values solidified by my art history training, the academy work, which embodies strong traditional draftsmanship with an emphasis on history painting, indeed looks stale. I appreciate the museum presenting this work so that I could make the comparison for myself.

All of the artists in this collection are great; however, the one that I have the closest personal affinity to is Manet. His paint application is generous and direct; he attracts my attention with delicious paint. The push and pull he achieves between the various planes and spaces, in his paintings, are contradictions of illusional space. In Le Déjeuner sur l’Herbe he makes it all look so effortless. I think if I could take one painting home with me this would be it.  It truly is inventive. I was also thrilled to see Manet’s Olympia and the Balcony and additionally, several smaller still lifes.

The collection of Édouard Vuillard in this museum is impressive. I have seen numerous works by this artist in Washington, D.C. at the Phillips Collection and the National Gallery of Art.  My recollection of all of those works is that they were very modest in scale, typically small and intimate. The themes and palette here in France are similar, but the scale of many works surprised me. The seated figure in the photograph above was at least 5 feet tall.  I think part today’s experience for me as “Vuillard redefined.”

All in all, I left with a feeling that the late 19th century truly was a great period for painting. I hope I am still seeing them in my mind not only this evening when I close my eyes and go to sleep but I hope they continue to reside in my subconscious as I continue my quest as a painter.

 

 

 

In the Studio

Cité internationale des arts

I have been holed up in my studio flat for a few days now. Saturday, Sunday, Monday and now Tuesday. Occasionally, I have gone out to the grocery and last night I attended two performances here at the Cité but that is about it.

I am painting. I brought with me as many sheets of Arches oil painting paper as I could roll into a tube. I took another 5 sheets, and cut them in half for smaller works. So the half-baked images you see on the wall are each 22 x 30 inches. I feel like my start has been slow, but I also think that is okay. As you can tell from my previous posts I have spent some of my time going to exhibitions before they closed.

So, up to this point, things have been a little uptight as I dive back into my passion. I am warming up. Ultimately, I’m am aiming for this this work to become more visceral and perhaps wind up in some territory where things are a little more abstract. I will say that I predictably responded well to the Basquiat show in terms of sheer power and mark making, so we will see how that goes. As far as these three works go, they are all from outside of my own backyard in the States and have been on the back burner now for a while; they may stay that way. Nevertheless, I am using them as a bridge, something to practice and explore until the real work emerges. The fourth one that is on the board at the moment is more improvisational. It has been a little different painting on this paper. There is no primer, so things are slightly more absorbent at first. I am also fighting with the limited territory of my palette and the smaller tubes of paint. I expect to adjust.

As I get back at it in a little bit, let me simply issue a caveat; what you see in this post is likely to undergo revision, meaning that all of this work can end up sacrificed for what comes next. I’ll keep you posted. Au revoir.

Egon Schiele and Jean-Michel Basquiat at Fondation Louis Vitton

Wow. Yesterday, I approached and entered the Centre Pompidou and encountered no waiting. Today was a different matter. Today was cloudy, misting rain and bout 40 degrees. I went to the end of the line. I asked the attendant if I was in the correct line, and how long would the wait be? She replied respectively, yes and 3 hours. Well, I decided to stick it out. With an oatmeal raisin cliff bar in my pocket, I could endure anything! I suspected it would be crowded as the show closes in two days.

A few observations immediately came to mind for me as I waited: 1. Yesterday, by the end of my tour, I was pretty convinced that non-conceptual painting is no longer a priority, and 2. Gee, there are a lot of people here today standing in line to see two dead artists who put a lot of emphasis on physical process. 3. If one is going to have to stand in the cold with toes going numb, at least it is nice to experience the riveting and inventive architecture of Frank Gehry. My wait to get to the x-ray scanners was about an hour.

Once inside, I headed for the information desk and then to the galleries. In terms of  crowds, this was pretty much the same as the Picasso show I saw last week. Inside of these galleries, one is still not safe from pick-pocket thieves. Not only is it a challenge to simply see the work, one also has the regular patron who has to extend that cell phone camera into the line of vision; it is fascinating to see how inept people are with their cell phones – mostly bad framing. In blockbuster exhibitions of the past, one only had to content with perfume cacophony. Now, we get see how the Pixel 3 competes with the Samsung Edge. Oh, and generally there is a work of art at the other end, a guard, and an alarm beeping. Aesthetic experiences have changed.

With all of that being said, Schiele was quite the draftsman. He was dynamite the the contour line and so confident in his practice, that he could even nail things with a blind-contour line.  He was sensitive not only to the forms, but to the attitudes and postures of his sitters, including himself. He strikes me as kind of frail, maybe sometimes less than secure, and he was being honest to allow these revelations to come forward.  For whatever proportional distortions come forward in his figures, there is a lovely accuracy in his observations. I am really happy for the amount of attention given to his drawing in this show.

For Basquiat, the power of the mark, the relationships to individualized handwriting, the juxtaposition of bold symbolic images with larger passages of expressionist paint, and sheer scale of his work delivers a raw and powerful effect. He works with larger themes of minority issues, relationships with religion, mythologies and cultural mores. His transition from NYC street graffiti to large canvasses make a lot of sense and the decade of the 1980s (with the context of Neo-expressionism) was perfect for him to emerge. He built on and fused the traditions of Andy Warhol and Cy Twombly. I could probably go back and look at this exhaustive show over and over and find new things revealed. There is no way you can leave without be confronted with questions of economic and societal unfairness. The big question since this work was made in the 1980s is, “have we really made any improvements in terms of equal opportunity for all?” By taking it off the street walls and delivering it to an art audience, the right people might at least be seeing the message. It is possible that it carries more weight when the audience has to shell out 16 euro to see the message.

Lastly, this is one of those museum experiences where the museum itself is a work of art. So I have included some pictures of Frank Gehry’s innovation of space. It is big, it is grand, and it is very organic. Once inside, the structure allows for the transition of all of that vast space, down to the most sensitive Egon Schiele line. A couple of works commissioned for the space that enhance the organic theme are the oversized rose by Iza Gensken  and the layered garden piece by Adrian Villar Rojas.  Thanks Paris, for taking these risks to elevate the human spirit through art and architecture.

A Day at the Museum – Centre Pompidou

I read about how this building is designed and functions before I went, so my initiation should have gone well, and for the most part it did. First things first, there is a system of exterior escalators that takes one up to the various levels. But first, one must go inside to get the ticket?…Yes. After the ticket booth, one goes back through a controlled exit to the exterior magical tube. In some ways it reminded me of a plastic habitat system my brother had for his pet hamster when I was growing up. I finally got to the the Musée national d’ art moderne, submitted my ticket, and I was IN. Things got easier from this point on. All of the guide books point out that it is one of the largest comprehensive collections of modern and contemporary art in the world. It is big. It has a lot of space. Nevertheless, a great deal of the collection is in storage. For this blog, I’m knocking it all down to ten pieces. Given another visit, I might very well pick differently but here it goes:

  1. Initial impressions are always fresh, so I enjoyed some Derain, Modigliani, and then she-bang, really hit it off with this wall of Matisse. The one on the left is such a perfect setup for one of my painting heroes, Richard Diebenkorn (I might add, they did not show a Diebenkorn, so this is as close as I got, today). The color in this work simply sings beautiful melodies and harmonies. The structure is impeccable and the paint quality is delicious. And the goldfish are alive, which is miraculous.2019-1-10 centre pompidou-2906
  2. One of Wassily Kandinsky‘s Improvisations.  He made this work after his Blue Rider Period and it represents a period where expressionism takes off into something more spiritual in his art. He is a fascinating artist who started out in Russia. Once he got to the Bauhaus in Germany his ideas became more structured. This one represents a sweet spot in his career in terms of expressive mark making, color, and pure abstraction that is analogous to music.2019-1-10 centre pompidou-2912
  3. Georges Braque Still Life, is one of the best I have ever seen. Turns the world into multiple vantage points and reminds me of collage, even though it is painted. It’s also very dark, and I like very dark. Its also pretty cool to think that one use to be able to paint this kind of subject matter and not be raked over the coals by some post-modernist critic. 2019-1-10 centre pompidou-2925
  4. Picasso: How do you pick a Picasso? I suspect that the museum curators think the same thing.  This one seemed alive for me. I’ve never seen it before. It has the cubism style, great color, and bold shape. The mirror is a nice touch.2019-1-10 centre pompidou-2963
  5. Cy Twombly: Achilles Mourning the Death of Patroclus. The painting is large. The painting is epic. The painting is economical. Okay, he was from Lexington, Virginia (so I am biased)  and evolved into a European and ultimately an international art star. There is nothing else that looks like his work, but he was likely the only person who ever understood it; the rest of us simply want to. He was clearly influenced by history and the classics. In the process, he transformed those ideas into a new and highly individualized form of painting/drawing.2019-1-10 centre pompidou-2959
  6. Claude Rutault: Please simply make my painting the same color as your wall. It’s your choice.2019-1-10 centre pompidou-2938
  7. Sol Lewitt: To start, if you are suffering from gallery fatigue, you might just accidentally miss this one, even though it commands an entire wall. Here are the instructions; now, do it yourself.  Lewitt sends the gallery a very specific diagram, and specifies the exact colors and the brand of pencil. Gallery assistants become critical in the execution of the work. The artist insists that the concept remains primary through this process.2019-1-10 centre pompidou-2957
  8. Joseph Kosuth, One and Three Chairs. The chair is the signifier. The definition of the word is the signified, the whole is the sign. By confronting the actual object with its representation and definition, it’s reduced to its concept alone; it is a chair. This is the stuff that even Plato loved to argue about!2019-1-10 centre pompidou-2931
  9. Christian Boltanski, La vie impossible de C. B. “We will never realize quite clearly enough what a shameful thing death is…I decided to harness myself to…preserving oneself whole, keeping a trace of all moments of our lives…” Interesting installation about both life and death. It was definitely dark in there.2019-1-10 centre pompidou-2939
  10. Maya Dunietz, Thicket. Composer and Sound artist from Tel Aviv. Instead of one headset separating the listener from the rest of the world, this artist reverses the process by using numerous headsets to create a soundscape. I might add that the visual impact was impressive as well.2019-1-10 centre pompidou-2945

As I wrap this blog up for today, I want to say that I am blown away by the ambition demonstrated by so many artists, even the ones I chose not to blog about including: Guston, Close, Marden, deKooning, Klein, Savu, Nauman, Duchamp, Mitchell….The list goes on and on. One thing I felt about this collection is that it has a different European emphasis than what I am accustomed to in the United States. It was a refreshing narrative.

 

 

 

Settling In

I’ve been here a few days and getting a little more used to my surroundings. My studio Flat is on the third floor of Cité internationale des arts facing south and it overlooks the Seine River. Notre-Dame of Paris is off to the right. I have been to Musée d’Orsay, Notre-dame, and Sainte Chapelle.  The pics above are from yesterday.  The represent my neighborhood and the ancient island across the river from me. The images represent Notre-Dame, Sainte Chapelle, and surrounding views. The weather was awesome.

So far, nothing has matched the luminosity, magic, and spacial transformation of Sainte-Chapelle. It is of course famous as an example of the Rayonnant Gothic Style of architecture. The supporting stone masonry is reduced to a minimum so as to emphasize magnificent walls of glass. I’m not sure where I read it, but I liked the description of the structure as a place where the visitor is located inside of a reliquary. This was the royal chapel built for use by the King of France. It also once housed the relic of Christ’s crown of thorns. That relic is now held be the Cathedral of Notre-Dame a few blocks away.

The trick to this experience, as is true of all residencies, will be balancing the exploration of a new territory with getting work done for a forthcoming show. I have trekked to the art supply store and have started working. As things progress, this blog will alternate between cultural exploration and paintings that are in progress.