Higher and Higher: Amiens

Last Friday night I did not sleep well. The Saturday morning trip had to many “what ifs” involved. I woke at 2:30 am and again at 5 am. At that point, I just got up, made the coffee and got ready for the day. I got on the metro at Pont Marie at 7:04 and headed toward Poissonniére where I would then walk 8 minutes to Gare du Nord, assuming I walked in the correct direction! I did. All was well. I was so early for my train that was scheduled to depart at 8:04. Saw a “5-Guys” with a breakfast menu, and I did it up right with a bacon, egg and cheese sandwich. My son would be proud.

The train departed. I was surprised at how long the Parisian sprawl continued before the landscape gave way to something rural, lots of factories and stuff. Most of it did not look that wonderful. The sun finally broke the horizon and I was looking at frosty fields and wind farms. It was a regional train, so we stopped frequently. When we arrived at Amiens I was a little surprised because there was not a lot of urban sprawl. Before I knew it, I was there. I could see over near the horizon one structure that dominated the skyline, the Cathedral. I have wanted to see it for decades. This trip had another bonus. One of my students, Sam Mungai, who enrolled in my Sistine Chapel class last semester, is in Amiens on a Study Abroad Exchange Program that our college has with Université de Picardie Jules Verne. So, Sam and I made arrangements to meet at the train station and he would show me the city and his place of study.

He graciously gave his entire day and patiently navigated as I took more than 300 photographs. We had a wonderful lunch at Miam’s. We saw the cathedral, walked along the river and canals, visited two campuses of the University, and ended the tour with a Macron Macaroon. I logged in at 13.31 miles of walking for the day. In our conversations, it was clear that he was happy with his university experience in Amiens. As a double major in Mass Communication and French Cultural Studies, he certainly was adaptable in the Amiens community.

Amiens initially struck me as more relaxed than Paris. It is smaller than Paris but by the end of the day we did end up in a more modernized section of town with the bustle that I have come to expect. I enjoyed the picturesque nature of the city.

The historical and university portions of the town are architecturally varied ranging from medieval to highly modernist. After an initial coffee stop, we visited the cathedral, which Sam knew was my top priority.

I expected the cathedral to be big, so I had no surprise there. I have been in the Cathedral of Notre-Dame, Paris several times, so I am expecting something similar, in a way. And it was in a way. But, Amiens Cathedral is very different from Paris and my readings prepared me. Amiens is more sculptural. The stained glass has been ravaged from wars, so it wasn’t going to be better than St. Chapelle in that regard. Upon entering through the portal, I was immediately struck with the three-dimensionality of the sculptures, the row after row of successive arches that suspended themselves overhead. I was also mesmerized by the complexity and richness of the sculptural program. The sculptures are not simply adhered to the structure but they visually become part of the structure. The architects and sculptors in this case have transformed the rigid nature of stone into an organic growing structure that soars. Truly, verticality rules here. But so does light, which becomes very apparent once you enter into the cathedral and absorb the view down the central nave. Beyond the altar, the ceiling area above the choir becomes a magical glowing white. This is about as close to a visual heaven on earth as anyone is likely to ever see. In the photographs that accompany this blog, I have included the things that support the idea that this cathedral is sculptural but also to certain extent, this cathedral is mystical. One cannot help but observe the way that the light from the stained glass transforms grey stone into beautiful pastels that one can easily find in a 19th-century impressionist painting. It is the largest cathedral in France. It is the tallest cathedral in France. I loved the round windows in the transepts. I loved the rose window above the organ. I loved the tombs. I loved the choir area with its burst of glory. The builders of the church took Gothic to an extreme that is beyond what these pictures can possibly show. I was surprised at the quality of light in this building.

Furthermore, I feel like the scale of this building challenged my photography skills and equipment. I truly needed a wider-angle lens.

When we arrived at Parc Saint-Pierre, we patiently waited for the sun to sink below the horizon. In the distance, the cathedral provided a beautiful silhouette, reflecting in the lake water, as the contrails of jets from a nearby airport etched their lines into a dramatic French sky. It was a great day that ended by reinforcing the idea that there must be something very important up there.


Building to a Finale

I’ve been a little distracted by nice weather this week. So my exercise miles have increased. Nevertheless, I’m shooting for 12 works that are respectfully along in the process. Furthermore, I will be hosting an open studio on Tuesday, February 19 at the Cité.

Back to work.


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So Far Away: Notes from the Louvre

I purchased my ticket from the kiosk at 9:45 and 21 seconds, am. There was no standing in line except for a brief security check, which took 4 minutes. I entered underground through the shopping mall directly from the metro, no waiting, no advanced ticket – and before I knew it – I was in the largest art museum in the world. I had my bucket list in my mind. I have wanted to see the masterpieces for decades. By the end of the museum, I had walked for more than 9 miles and taken more than 300 photographs. The experience was grand. For starters I will say hip-hip hooray for the demise of royal power so that this sprawling architectural wonder could be shared with a broader audience including myself. For a mere €15 I could freely roam about the former royal palace, or at least the parts that were open.

Works Missing in Action: David, Oath of the Horatii, Coronation of Napoleon I; Giorgione and/or Titian, Pastoral Symphony.


As I entered the Denon Wing of the Louvre I really wasn’t sure what to do or where to go. I simply decided to follow the signs to La Joconde. On my way, I encountered Michelangelo’s slaves in the Michelangelo Gallery. The two figures here were originally designed for the lower section of the Tomb of Pope Julius II in the beginning of the 16th century in Rome. The Dying Slave who seems to be at peace /resigned to fate and the Rebellious Slave, who is resisting against all odds, touch upon two different life approaches. It was a nice encounter on the way to La Joconde.


I climb another set of stairs and find myself in a room that brings great joy to my heart because as I enter I see Delacroix’s Death of Sardanapalus. It is huge. It is every bit as magnificent as I had hoped. On the opposite side of the room is his Liberty Leading the People. It has a tour group in front of it. I am lucky because no one cares about Sardanapalus. It is bigger than Liberty. It is incredible for its painterly virtuosity. Its color is rich, transparent, translucent, rich, fluid, brushy, sumptuous. He paints flesh beautifully. Delacroix is great with death/destruction; repeatedly revealing beauty within that theme. Over next to Liberty is Delacroix’s painting of Dante’s Inferno.



This Michelangelo-like figure is a tormented soul in the River Styx (the painting is loosely based on Canto VIII). Pay attention to the water droplets (in the zoomed photo). This detail within the overall epic drama of the painting makes him the 19th century Spielberg. Delacroix’s Romanticism was built on a foundation that traces its way back to Baroque artists including Rubens and Bernini. Also in the room is Gericault’s Raft of the Medusa with its monumental and political splendor. The French love protest. It is dark and brown.


I finally decide to move on with the day, and exit into the next room…a gift shop already? Yes, but I turn around and on the rear wall is Ingres’ Grand Odalisque. Ingres is best appreciated by viewing the real object. There is perfection in the system. It is linear and classical to a certain extent. It is smooth. It is so smooth. There is nothing else like it.


The next door is a big one. Wow, is it big. I enter into the room of the most famous work of art in the universe. It is La Joconde; from this point on, all art viewing goes downhill. This painting is the definition of masterpiece. This is the quintessential masterpiece. It is Leonardo da Vinci’s great work of mystery, sfumato, chiaroscuro, and the pinnacle of the High Italian Renaissance, the Mona Lisa. So now I’ve finally seen it, from roughly 20 feet away with light reflections all over the protective glass.

No one I have ever spoken with about viewing this work has experienced a satisfactory viewing, so my expectations were not high. The installation is one in which protection outweighs any reasonable viewing experience. The way that is displayed is so compromised. It would be better to go ahead and sell tickets to those willing to wear a face shield and rear handcuffs so at they could stand 24 inches away from the painting for 30 seconds. You could still employ the bulletproof glass.


Furthermore, the selfie-picture-thing is just out of control; therefore, I’m posting the most obnoxious selfie-picture-thing from my Mona Lisa viewing experience so that others visiting the Louvre can have even lower expectations than I could ever imagine. If this photo should perhaps go viral, then we can revise Dante’s Inferno to include one more form of symbolic retribution.


Before I know it, Veronese’s Last Supper at Cana is inundated with a tour group, so I look at, it and I move into the next hall. It is rather grand. Not knowing where to go, I simply say to myself, “let’s simply wander over to Leonardo’s Virgin & Child with Saint Anne.” Now this is odd, it’s a Leonardo and I can see it. Nobody knows it’s here? I can stand 15 inches away. There are no queues, no guards no bulletproof glass…this is my normal Leonardo viewing experience. This is like the National Gallery in Washington, or the Ufizzi in Florence. Not only that, but it is such a lovely Leonardo. The nice color is due to a recent restoration, although the restoration has been controversial.


Nearby is Leonardo’s Virgin of the Rocks and it too, has excellent accessibility. I noticed my white hair emerging for the sfumato (Smokey Haze) while looking at my photos and decided that this was a cool selfie for a lot of reasons: I am emerging in the presence of a bunch of holy figures, I am surrounded by really interesting gestures including a blessing and a prayer, and the Virgin Mary is being very supportive over me. Most of all, however, is that I am not blatantly disrupting other viewers! This is a work that, like the Mona Lisa, can use a cleaning. It is mired in deep thick dark murky varnish.

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After a brief lunch at the café, I continued my journey by visiting French Painting upstairs and then segued into northern Europe. I enjoyed my time wandering through Rembrandt’s, Van Eycks, and so forth when I made this turn into a very large room of Rubens, all Rubens. It was the Marie deMedici cycle. I remembered in my 17th coursework that I loved Rubens but when it came to this series I was flabbergasted at the theme. Here is essentially a wealthy woman with very few important life achievements being put into allegorical contexts with all of history and the Gods. Let’s face it; her arrival to France after a proxy marriage to a King, being represented with Poseidon and ancient sea nymphs in the foreground is blatantly preposterous. I remember chuckling out loud during art history, which opened up quite a conversation with my wonderful art historian. At the very least it seemed a bit gratuitous for Rubens to include such voluptuous sea nymphs in the foreground, commanding more attention than Marie, herself. My art historian could not convince me of the work’s validity. Seeing the entire cycle in its entirety has impressed me in terms of ambition, scale, technical virtuosity, and the invention of allegory in the most imaginative ways. Now, even my hero Delacroix cannot match Rubens’ capacity for painting flesh.


I am including a detail of a sea nymph here, again, with the water droplets that are so masterfully depicted. Guess who influenced Delacroix? And, guess who paid Rubens? Was it worth it? Well, Marie de Medici secured her place in history and this epic cycle of paintings is Spielbergian within a 17th century context.


A Digression -The collection here holds so much and some of it so big that it is sometimes difficult to look for the smaller gems. A painter like Chardin comes to mind. In Northern Europe, there were the Dutch still life painters. This Dutch floral arrangement shows that beauty can exist in the temporary. It doesn’t have to be a great allegory. It doesn’t have to be associated with the ritual of religion.

As I continued my visit, I exhausted the European painting strand, casually wandered through decorative arts, and started my literal descent into antiquity as I started exploring the lower floors of the museum. The conversation that continued to play in my head after seeing the Medici cycle (and if you have ever had me for art history you have heard me say this) is how art is often a result of the power structures that produced it; in this Roman relief sculpture, it happens to be religion and prescribed ritual.


In this image, a priest is reading the intentions of Jupiter from the entrails of the bull prior to the emperor embarking on a military campaign. The work was discovered in the Forum of Trajan in Rome.


The Great Sphinx is the largest outside of Egypt and weighs several tons. It also represents a king, with the name inscribed under the beard. The lion’s body gives the king power. As a future king needed the sculpture, his name was added until there was no more space; at that point, the earlier kings names were removed completely and new ones added.


This large capital is from the palace of Darius I in Susa, Persian Empire from the 6th century BCE. With it he was trying to bring together two traditions, the Babylonian and the Iranian. Ionians were brought in to complete the designs, which included two bulls, back to back, on the top. The courtyard where the columns originated were six columns wide by six columns deep. Darius I, the king, was trying to assimilate the various cultures of his empire.


The winged human headed bulls from 8th century BCE are from Khorsabad, Assyria (now near Mosul, Iraq) and originally guarded the doors of the palace there. The horns on the tiara symbolized divinity. Each bull has five legs. From the front, they are standing still. From the side, it looks like they are walking. They each weigh several tons. The palace was constructed of unfired bricks. These along with other slabs protected the base of the walls.


This stele made of basalt and is very important because it was erected in the 18th century BCE. King Hammurabi is on the left. The god on the other side is the sun god. Below is a very long and complete legal text. The law predates biblical laws. The central part governs life, commercial, agricultural, slavery, family, economic issues including price regulations. The family is foundational and the laws cover marriage, engagement, divorce, adultery, etc. For example, if an adopted child should say to his parents, “you are not my real parents,” his tongue shall be cut out.

2019-2-8-goolsby-louvre-3853This statue from Ain Ghazal is the most ancient work from Neolithic times housed in the Louvre. It is more than 9000 years old. It is on loan from the Jordanian government. It is thought that it is perhaps related to ancestor worship. The figure is made from lime plaster on a reed framework. It predates the invention of ceramics. It certainly has striking power.


Well, it was morning when I arrived and by around 7:30pm my endurance was waning. It was evening and now darker. The work crews were cleaning and sweeping. The museum would remain open, but I was exhausted. There was a strange and peaceful quietness in the sculpture courts. When I saw this haunting sculpture from Medieval times, I decided it was time to rest, perhaps, not as permanently as the gentleman was experiencing in this effigy from the Tomb of Philippe Pot from the 15th century.

You may be wondering what I missed and I may never know. I know that it was hard to get this to a point where it would fit into a blog. The guidebooks say that the average visitor spends two hours at the Louvre. I was lost and found so many times, but I discovered things to explore for more than 9 hours. What was nice for me is that I was able to take in things that were off the beaten paths, and in a lot of ways, those were the better experiences.


How the city of Paris looks is so dependent upon the weather. Today is yuck cloudy and cold. The Seine has transformed from olive to yuck brown. I see folks with umbrellas outside of my studio window; it must be raining. Yesterday sparkled at the beginning, diffused for a good part of the afternoon, and walloped in the end with a crystal clear sunset behind the Cathedral. Enough of the weather! It is now time for me to get on with the blog and I am catching up.

First, last Thursday I went see an exhibit by JR called “Momentum.” Seems this guy found his first camera in a Paris subway and immediately he became the illegal street artist type – Oh, Keith Haring, don’t think you didn’t start a movement or anything! First you, next Basquiat, and now JR, who makes no bones about it, gets his initials from the 1980s hit television show about the Ewings, known to a lot of folks as “Dallas.” I know you can hear the theme song running through your mind now, da, da, dah, da, da, da, da da, dah…. So he took it to the streets, getting arrested, over and over again (I can see why I can never make it as an artist for several reasons…one, I seem to somehow avoid situations that involve arrest – for example, I pride myself for getting a baguette, paying for it with legal currency, and transacting the entire affair in French! – so I have no hope of making it as a great artist, like JR.  He is from Tunisia.

Anderson Cooper: CBS 60 minutes:

“When a giant photograph of a child appeared looming over the U.S.-Mexico border near San Diego this fall, art aficionados knew right away it was the work of an artist who calls himself JR. You may have never heard of JR, but his giant photographs have appeared in some 140 countries, sometimes in fancy art galleries, but more often than not pasted illegally on sidewalks and subways, buildings, and rooftops.” (https://www.cbsnews.com/news/larger-than-life-displays-by-french-photographer-jr/)

Okay, so how did this play out in the Maison Européene de la Photographie? Brilliantly, is the correct answer. I loved the exhibit, so beyond that, what? I am blown away by his professionalism, the imagination, the social awareness, ambition and the craft. I think I am experiencing some of the same creative restrictions that he did with this show, mainly the restriction of space; he has handled it well. JR typically has the world as his space and he is able to work on a very large scale. Much of the work in this show documents some of those but other works employ the space allotted by this small museum.

JR GUNHe takes on a number of issues, but it struck me as a little odd to take on gun control; nevertheless, the projected interactive image of collaged figures, which slowly moved struck a nerve and was eerie in terms of how quiet it was while the different voices could be heard on an interactive audio available through a phone app download. So everybody in the collage has a voice, but they sure aren’t listening, especially to each other. It was nice to find a way to finally let each individual speak one at a time. It is a nice contrast to cable news shows, in particular, that seem to fail in this regard.

One observation that I share with some of my fellow residents here is that we may “kind of be in France” (and we are), but we are really in Paris, which is an international city that co-mingles cultural diversity from all over the world. Truthfully, a previous residency I held in Auvillar several years ago, seemed more authentically “French.” Paris, and I love it, well one can have anything one wants…I think? For example, and this is weird, my favorite eating place right now is La’s du Fallafel in the Jewish Quarter, which is just a couple of blocks from my studio. And, on the French side of life, I did successfully go to the Boulangerie to get a baguette today and did the entire transaction speaking French, which is a major achievement for me since my teachers are still marveling over any English that they were able to finally get me to achieve.

Yesterday was special because of the weather. I posted some lovely images on Facebook from my 3-hour, 9-mile walk (These are at the top of this blog). I knew I was getting out and had know idea where life would take me. As I meandered through neighborhoods with mostly closed shops because it was Sunday, I finally gravitated toward the Eiffel Tower. I have avoided two things since I have been here, the Eiffel Tower and the Louvre. Please understand that the art attracts me to the Louvre. The crowds and immensity of the Louvre are the determining negatives. So this selection of photos is a little strange, and I took a tremendous number of others, but here they are, in their old-fashioned square format attempt at replicating film a film look.  I did finally make it to the Eiffel Tower!

2019-Paris-STUDIO PAINTINGS-2This blog is called painting in France. I maybe should have called it something else because my experience is more holistic than that; however, I do paint. I am working from experience. I arrived here with the idea that it was time for something new. I am honestly ready for whatever is next. I just haven’t found the “next” yet. But I am working with imagery and ideas that up to this point, I just have not been able to get to in my everyday routine of teaching and its associated responsibilities; I am exploring them here. I have enjoyed it so far. As I am thinking, I have concluded that this work, probably like much of my work right now, resides in a collective fictive space comprised of memory, past evidence, and current engagement in creative process. I set up the conditions for the work back in September when I became the candidate for this opportunity.

Each work is painted on paper, Arches oil treated-paper (22 x 30 inches), and I will hand carry them onto an airplane in a tube as a “personal item” when I go home. I’m not concerned with them being finished. I do want each of them to be a pretty good start. Conceptually, they are centered on landscape as a psychological space. In addition they have each originated from a specific physical place. I have allowed myself time to explore here in Paris, and at some point may result in some Paris-specific artwork, but two months is a short time. We will see if and how it evolves. The other thing that is important, is that I have allowed myself time to think, time to absorb, time to reflect, and time to feel. I have also had time to mourn and I am grateful. But for now, the image (above) represents most my studio progress so far that I am willing to share. It’s passed the halfway point here and I still have much to accomplish. Signing off for now.

Strange Wanderings on a Wednesday Afternoon


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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.



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


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.


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.


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.


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

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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.