Thursday, July 3, 2014

Au Revoir France

Back from the land of all things exquisite.  (wahhhhhh)  

Everything I can say about France has probably been said.  So I'll simply say that it is a true feast for the senses.  Of course visually it blew me away and I was expecting that -- in more interesting ways than I thought which I'll elaborate on below.  

But also in smell, sound and taste.  Of course taste -- we ate our way out.  Such delicious fruits, breads, wines, pistachio icecream.  But driving through areas in Provence we could smell each thing -- lavender to wildflowers to honey to salt flats.  It was a strange feeling, like I suddenly had the nose of a dog.  I rarely ever turn to Alex and say "Do you smell that?" unless its Nugget, but in France everything smelled great.  And at night there were many unfamiliar sounds of birds and who knows what other animals.

First the colors.

An apricot -- best single fruit I have ever eaten.  That editing here.

The blue at night in Nice was nothing we had ever seen.  The camera pulls out the difference but with natural vision the line between ocean and sky was invisible and created this odd flatness -- we knew there was depth but couldn't sense it.
This happens to be Van Gogh's Night Cafe in Arles but each and every restaurant seemed to use color in meaningful ways from the awning to seats to placemats in an effort to bring people into the space and create a unique visual.
Then the shapes, many different shapes and points of view than I am used to

In Gordes, a hilltop town you could walk by the roofs of houses on the hill below.  And the shadow!
So many interesting plants
Everywhere shapes for interesting painting compositions

The arrangement of things.  
There was a different consciousness for how things should be presented.  I'm not sure I prefer it but I was highly aware of it.  From jewelry to baked goods to lavender in the field to umbrellas on the beach, everything was in its place.

In terms of seeing artwork, it was a mixed bag.  

First stop was the Orangerie.  This is was fantastic little museum.  Not too long of a wait, probably because it is on the outskirts of the Louvre's gardens concealed by trees.  No pictures allowed in the upper gallery but click to get the smallest inkling of understanding.  

There are two oval shaped rooms where Monet has created enormous paintings of the water and trees, lilypads of his garden.  They are so radical in person.  Not just for that time, not just to debunk the nice little image of impressionism we have in our contemporary mind's eye but as paintings right now.  The darks sing and the sense of space is constantly shifting on the viewer.  It reminds me of how it felt to look out on the ocean above.  Fantastic paintings.

In the lower galleries there were a few little gems from artists working around his time.  It was a nice collection and the crowds allowed for some concentrated looking.  Here's a picture I snapped secretly of a favorite Andre Derain:

I think Guston must have seen this painting
 The next place we went was the Musee d'Orsay.  I have been there before and knew I needed to see a few paintings again.  What a (excuse my french) shit show that was.  Even with a pre-bought ticket you wait at least 45 - 1 hour to get in.  Fine, let people have time with the work, regulate the number of viewers.  Just kidding.  You get in and you can not stop to look or you will be stampeded.  I'm not sure why so many people chose to wait in that line to then literally run through the museum, maybe their legs had cramped from standing still for so long that they needed to break into a full on sprint but for whatever reason it was insanity.  

Sorry.  But with that as the preface, I really only got to do a cursory look at much of the collection.  Where I did put my foot down and just stand obnoxiously in front of everyone was with Manet.  Which I didn't expect.  I walked by the Bonnards and Vuillards that I fully thought I would need to be pulled away from without much feeling.  They were earlier works that really were not strong.  But I got to Manet and felt the power of the strangeness of these paintings.  The clarity in shape and flatness -- wow.  The polarization of the lights and darks. I always knew academically that Manet was good and important and understood why.  But seeing these it felt personal, like I need to own these and look at them and wonder about them.  To see them in person is such a better experience than reproduction.  More so for these Manet's than of any artist I can think of.  I was in love.

Edouard Manet, Le Dejeuner sur l'herbe, 1863
 We were only in Paris for 3 days so after the Petit Palais was closed that was all we got to see there.  While down in Provence we went to Aix where Cezanne spent much of his life painting.  We went into his last studio in life up on a hill with a small courtyard.  

Grinning like an idiot...about to go in
Dappled light was everywhere in France, but nowhere more than Cezanne's garden

It felt instantly like walking onto his palette, walking into the space

The vases were like celebrities to me -- I recognized many from different paintings

The big excitement for me for the last destination of the trip, Nice, was to visit the Bonnard Museum in his home town Le Cannet.  I had researched it a bunch before leaving and did a quick double check of everything the night before going. I had that secret feeling that this was going to be the best day of my life. CLOSED for 3 weeks.  Major sadness. AHHH.  

Next to Alex's wedding ring being left in the Mediterranean Sea for eternity, that was the only thing to go wrong.  Oh well. Can't dwell on things like these on vacation of a lifetime.  Plus, I have a really quality husband who instead of high fiving himself for this lucky break in another beach day, insisted we go up to the Matisse Museum in Nice.  

I'm not going to lie.  It wasn't a good museum.  There were a few really nice paper cutouts.  But the majority was early drawings that were really actually dreadful.  I feel awkward saying that about such a force, such an artist whose work I love but it was true.

The main thing I came away with in terms of the all the work I saw was; its absolutely essential to continue to look and look without preconceived judgments.  As I did this, I started to realize it is okay to kill my idols a little.  They are still great painters that I admire.  But as my own work changes, the things I look at and take away change.  I always know this but it was so apparent on this trip.  All of these new approaches to color, shape, composition in the work and also in the physical place have me very renewed about the studio.


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