A lot has happened since my last post. Today I cleaned up and cleaned out. My paintings are in a tube. I have checked into my flight. In about 12 hours, I will also be in a tube, flying back to the States with memories, experiences, and mixed emotions. As the light beamed through my windows today against the empty stark room, I reflected upon my exhausted arrival. I thought of Edward Hopper’s paintings of quiet reflection and solitude. I remember the cloudy and cold rainy weeks of January, the emptiness of this space, and the adventures that unfolded. Over the past weeks since my arrival on January 3rd, I have worked on 12 paintings. As each painting materialized, the room belonged more and more to me. I felt more at home and more at ease. I expect I will evolve over time because of this experience. A number of people at my open studio commented that my paintings reminded them of an American landscape, something they remember, something they were familiar with from their experiences.
Since my last post, I have visited the Deportation Memorial and the Shoah Memorial. These two sites within a quarter of a mile from each other create environments for quiet reflection on the hundreds of thousands of Jewish people who were deported from France to Nazi Germany death camps during the occupation of France by Nazi Germany during World War II. The immensity of this tragedy, the incomprehensible failure of humanity that even allowed something like this to get started, and the revelation of all of it when allied troops finally pounded Germany into surrender is sobering to say the least.
The tragedy of wars, the technologies of wars, how wars result in national leaders, and the long history of wars is exhaustively displayed in the Musée de l’Armée at Hôtel national des Invalides. It covers every war that the French have ever been engaged and overs a perspective that is interesting for an American in France. I might note that when I encountered Napoleon’s preserved stuffed white horse, I was somewhat amused because the image of Napoleon Crossing the Alps, at the Palace of Versailles, showed a horse that was a great deal more glorified than this horse could ever have lived up to. Napoleon’s tomb under a phenomenal dome gets the prime location in the entire complex as the high altar of the church under a baldachino, clearly inspired by St. Peter’s in Rome, plays second fiddle.
Rodin was clearly the greatest sculptor to have emerged since the time of Bernini in the 17th century. Rodin’s time was a time of Impressionism, yet he worked in very substantive materials, bronze and marble. His career seemed to be one of gradual development and this museum does a nice job of tracing his growth chronologically. A great deal of emphasis has been placed on his creative process, drawings, models, and inspirations.
I came away with the sense that his forms were expressive, organic, and intense. I made better connections with the works that were inspired by Dante and how they ultimately played out in his masterwork, The Gates of Hell.
The guide books make climbing this hill seem difficult; however, I took my time and was never once out of breath, exhausted, or anything like that. I did not use a metro ticket to take the incline. When I first saw the church, it seemed very starkly bright and clean. It is a strange mixture of styles held together by a fairly impressive dome. The interior proportions are also a little strange as the apse mosaic is disproportionate to the rest of the interior.
Out on the streets, one feels as though you are in the Paris that is the traditional 19th century Paris. Loaded with cafes, galleries, boutiques, and sketch artists, you cannot help but feel that you are maybe in a different time, well if you look closely, you can can find the state police armed with automatic weapons casually protecting the public in the background. I briefly escaped the main streets to find some quiet areas. I was wondering as I ate my lunch and watching a sketch artist working with two children for a portrait sitting, if this was a good way to occupy the kids while the parents went to grab a drink.
Street art in this area, like the Marais district, can be found in abundance. I cannot begin to say what it at all means, but it adds a bit of grit to an area that is clearly a tourist trap.
These paintings are about water and light. Water is fluid and light flickers. Monet made great paintings about it. I was impressed by the dry scumbled brushwork that built and built and built and how that ended up looking fluid. Lastly, I was able to see the painting that started it all, Impression Sunrise.
Also on display are works by Caillibotte, Berthe Morisot, and Manet.
At the beginning of this post, I mentioned mixed emotions. To start, this residency has been an opportunity of a lifetime. I have been able to meet artists from all over the world. I have been able to see face to face the works from art history have been in the forefront of my mind for decades. I waited too long to come. On one hand, my two months have been too short. On the other, I am ready to reunite with my family back home, a family I love and have missed very much. Hopper paintings are lonely. Studios are lonely. Empty studios are especially lonely. I think that solitude is necessary to create. This solitude is part of the sacrifice that is experienced by artists. I am not going to promise that this will be my last post regarding Paris. It will be my last post from Paris, until I perhaps one day return. Good night and goodbye river Seine.