|Payne Art and Paris Dreams||
I checked out "Paris Was Ours - Thirty-two Writers Reflect on the City of Light" by Penelope Rowlands (and 32 writers) from the library the other day. I couldn't put it down, reading it cover to cover - that is, until the last chapter. At that point I had to stop. I couldn't read the the last story, whatever that may be. I had to stop and reflect on what SHOULD have been the last chapter; My contribution to the reflections on the City of Light.
I'm very aware of being one of "les etrangers" in Paris. Mostly from my college experience living near the American University in the 7th., hanging with other students from all over the world, each of us bringing a part of our country and ourselves to our collective group. I ran around Paris feeling like I knew the city like the back of my hand (with my trusty Paris Par Arrondissement in the palm of my hand), but, at that tender age, never realizing the depths and layers of history the city had to offer.
After college, many years later, I began to immerse myself in french history. I read every history book I could find at the library, read Proust and Zola and Maupassant and everyone I could get my hands on. I studied the minds of Voltaire and Rousseau, read and re-read countless biographies, and know Napoleon as if I served in his Grand Armee. And then I turned my attention towards the Americans who loved Paris. I read Hemingway, Henry Miller, Edith Wharton, and yes, I even READ Gertrude Stein, among many others.
I became an endless bore to my family and friends spouting french phrases, facts, and generally claiming everything great in America is French in origin. But mostly I dreamed of becoming French. I collected all the (what I refer to as) "how-to" books. I looked for my "Inner French Girl" and tried to become "Impossibly French"
I walked through "Lost Paris" , "Quiet Corners of Paris" and "Literary Paris". When reading "Paris Was Ours" today I saw myself in every author's chapter. I had LIVED every one of those chapters. And the thing the authors had in common were that they are all etrangers seduced by the city of light. It's really true that once you've been to Paris you can't go home again. Paris changes a person. I've accepted the fact that I will never truly be a French woman, much less a Parisian, no matter how well I speak the language or if I own a pied a terre in the Marais. But I'm willing to be myself in Paris. Because that's where I left myself years ago when I was a college student. I will live in Paris again. Because now is the time for me to write my own chapter on being seduced by the city of light. Stay tuned.....
The Norton Simon Museum in Pasadena, California has an exhibit this summer called Surface Truths: Abstract Painting in the Sixties. Since I have recently been painting abstract pieces myself I decided to visit the exhibition at the Norton Simon this past weekend. Prior to visiting the exhibition I spent several days thinking about the shifts that art has gone through, particularly since Impressionism shocked the world in the late 19th century, and wondering how did we go from the bold painterly brushstrokes of implied form that we see in Impressionism to the cold and linear approach used by artists such as Frank Stella and Robert Irwin Maybe studying Surface Truths in person will help me understand.
Upon entering the exhibit I immediately felt a cold shoulder and distance from the works of art. There were no crowds of people, no tourists with cameras, no students with notebooks. If anyone cares about these significant works of art, is it only because the critics told us we can move away from the aesthetic of recognized figures and forms?
In Tolstoy's essay on art written in 1896 he states that art must create a specific emotional link between the artist and the audience. Thus only REAL art unites people through visual means and communication of such art. But I wonder, If the artisit is sincere in the creation of his art, will society accept and revere what the artist produces?
So I started searching for my personal, emotional link to this exhibit.
I tried to see the color as a sensual experience. In fact, up close and personal these works of art did exude what I would imagine would be the personality of the artist. This soothing piece is titled Adriatic, done in 1968 by Helen Frankenthaler. Her use of acrylics thinned with water acted like a wash over the canvas giving it mood, atmosphere and movement.
This painting, by Thomas Downing in 1966, produced a very strong reaction in me. I was craving Dots Cupcakes!
But upon study and reflection I was thrilled to see, not only the pencil lines on the canvas, but the occasional drip of paint which made me feel that maybe I was watching the artist at work. I don't know if these drips of paint were accidents, but it made the painting feel more painterly to me, rather than seeming like a marketing package for cupcakes.
In Tolstoy's essay he also said that "art in our society has been so perverted that not only has bad art come to be considered good, but even the very percepton of what art really is has been lost".
If perception is fleeting, shouldn't we all take time to look at art and figure out what makes it meaningful for each of us in our own personal way? Next time you race through the modern art museum laughing at what you perceive as ridiculous or unimaginative, stop and see if anything connects with you. Maybe connect with color or form or movement or anything that might touch you. Then, in your own way, you will understand.
30" x 40" Acrylic on Stretched Canvas
A recent request to paint a contemporary piece for a specific place, above a specific sofa, in a specific home, has led me to question not only who is buying art and why, but Does the art collector connect with the art he purchases? Or is he just filling wall space?
When I paint a pear I am told "I don't have space for it in my kitchen". If I paint a nude I hear "I can't put a nude in my home where everyone might see it". If I paint a horse will I be told "I don't like equestrian art"? As the artist, do I paint what I'm feeling or what I hope to sell (in order to fund painting what I feel)? Lately I have been contemplating efforts to have my art hung in local galleries. I am told that "a cohisive collection" is requested. Must I paint 18 pieces that all look alike if I want to be shown in a particular gallery? My suspicious nature tells me that only designers looking to fill wall space in office buildings or looking for a particular color palette to match a clients interior are buying art. Who will buy the painting of my shoes? Where would a patron hang such a piece?
Websters Dictionary defines Art as "the quality, production, expression, or realm, according to aesthetic principles, or what is beautiful, appealing or of more than ordinary significance". That definiation leaves me asking: Who is to say what is beautiful or appealing, or does that even matter? If the artist is sincere and compelled to create by his or her need to express, why should society expect something else from the end result?
So what happened with the large contemporary piece I painted? She didn't want it. In spite of it's contemporary nature and fullfillment of color requirements, she felt the piece was too tender and is looking for something more bold. Was I disappointed? Absolutely not. As an artist, I felt I had connected with a patron who was able to project her personal self-expression onto a canvas with paint. This revelation was the ultimate compliment for an artist. Suddenly the patron became the artist and I felt my job had been completed. In the real world, what I hope that would translate to is "can't we all just appreciate (or not appreciate if the mood strikes us) and FEEL art rather than purchase it to match our theme decor or fill wall space?" If art moves a person, it moves them whether or not the piece was created by a well-known artist or an unknown artist, or what the subject matter may be, whether it's modern, abstract, realism, a pear, or a urinal. And when a person is moved by art, they become the artist.
(UPDATE on this piece of art: It was ultimately sold to the original patron.)
I read lots of suggestions on the internet of what to do in Paris if a person is only going to be there 3 days. So for what my opinion is worth, here are my ideas. First of all, I would truly avoid the Eiffel Tower. You'll see it from everywhere in Paris but there isn't any reason to stand in line for 3 hours to go up the tower. Half the day is gone doing that. If you only have 3 days in Paris don't spend the days standing in lines. It's better to spend the day sitting in parks and soaking in the sites.
One evening in Paris I would suggest taking a Bateaux Mouche boat ride along the Seine. It's a good way to orient yourself to where the major monuments in the city are located. and seeing them lit up at night is breathtaking.
Day 1 Morning:
You are bound to stand in some lines so if you want a view of Paris from above I would suggest standing in line to walk up the towers of Notre Dame. You will be right in the center of Paris and still have a beautiful birds-eye view and be right next to the magnificant gargoyles. I hope you have read Hugo's "Hunchback of Notre Dame". After the towers you can grab a crepe across the street before you go into the magnificant cathedral, or visit the underground crypt of Notre Dame or the nearby Conciergerie.
Don't forget to rest in beautiful Place Dauphine on Ile de la Cite and enjoy the park behind Notre Dame as well as prowl around the smaller Ile St. Louis
Day 1 Afternoon:
Stroll the Bouquinistes along the Seine
I would also visit the Cluny museum, which is about a 5 minute walk from Notre Dame. The museum houses the medieval history of Paris and the spectecular Lady and the Unicorn tapestries.
Day 2 Morning:
I would never miss a visit to Pere Lachaise Cemetery. Pack a sandwich and a bottle of wine for lunch and enjoy dining with Colette, Moliere, Gertrude and Alice, Proust, and countless others
Day 2 Afternoon:
My favorite museum is The Carnavalet Museum, located in the Marais not far from Notre Dame. This free museum houses the history of Paris as well as being located in one of the most charming and historic areas of Paris.
Day 3 - Morning:
Take the metro to stop Abbesses (an iconic Art Nouveau station entrance) and walk up the hills towards Montmartre and Sacre Coeur. This is quite touristy but the views are breathtaking and if you leave the area surrounding the basicila and Place de Tertre you can wander through some wonderfully historic streets. I do love this area of Paris.
Day 3 - Afternoon:
I may be the only person in the world who would suggest skipping the Louvre, but then I've also spent countless hours there. Besides, the line to get in will waste half your day unless you have a museum pass. Go see the Louvre but stay outside and enjoy the surroundings.
Walk through the Tuileries Gardens and enjoy the beautiful scenery and head towards the fabulous Musee D'Orsay. This is the impressionist museum now housed in the old D'Orsay train station. It will be crowded, but less so than the Louvre and quite a bit more manageable.
Afterwards, walk across the most beautiful bridge in Paris, Pont Alexander III, and enjoy the sunset behind the Eiffel Tower. Now wouldn't you rather enjoy the Eiffel Tower like this than be inside of it?
Do you have another day for a Day-Trip?
That's a quick 3 days in Paris and you haven't even begun to scratch the many layers of this beautiful city or it's surrounding countryside. If you are going to take a day trip out of Paris I would suggest Veaux Le Vicomte rather than the overcrowded Versailles.
As for what and where to eat in Paris...look for small authentic restaurants. Review the menus posted outside and check out the kind of people who are inside. Most of all, try something you don't eat at home. I've never had a bad meal in Paris doing this.
Shop in the neighborhood markets and buy a baguette and hunk of cheese and a bottle of wine. Enjoy it in a park or by the river. And don't forget to eat many many crepes.
In the evenings get to know a neighborhood. Have dinner in one restaurant, drinks in a cafe, listen to jazz in an underground cave, frequent the same bar and get to know the patrons. You will make friends if you visit the same bar or boulangerie every day.
And then GO BACK to Paris. Go back MANY TIMES. You will fall in love with the city. Bon Voyage!
Please let me know if you would like me to blog about other things to do in Paris.
I just finished reading "Barks and Purrs" by the wonderful French writer, Colette. This book is fabulous and fabulously funny as the entire story is told from the point of view of the cat, Kiki, and the dog, Toby. I looked at my own two cats differently after reading this book.
Colette famously loved animals, particularly cats, and lived here at what is now Place Colette in the middle of Paris in her later years.
People always talk about the dogs in Paris but everywhere I go in Paris I see cats. This lovely girl (she looks like a girl) was at a window in Montmartre asking to be let in.
This friendly kitty was sitting in a tourist shop in Paris letting everyone admire her beauty. She even made the tourist prints look attractive and more "Parisian", in some way.
Rue du Chat Qui Peche translates in English to "Street of the Fishing Cat". Built in 1540 it then ended on the bank of the river Seine and now has the status of being the narrowest street in Paris. I wonder how many cats went fishing on this street when the Seine would flood?
If you can't read the French sign on Rue du Chat Qui Peche, you can figure it out by the painting on the wall of the street. The cat sits under the umbrella guarding a fishing pole.
Everywhere you look in Paris you will see the famous Chat Noir. I'm still drawn to the iconic image even though you can buy it on every mug and kitchen towel in the tourists shops.
I took this photo of a hanging sign of a black cat at the Musee Carnavalet, one of my favorite museums in Paris. This musee in the Marais is dedicated to the history of Paris.
Back at Colette's grave at the Pere Lachaise Cemetery in Paris I wonder how many cats visit her in the dark hours after everyone has left for their homes and cafes. Many cats are known to roam Pere Lachaise, and I keep my eyes open for them every time I visit. Maybe they are just ghosts.
I checked this book out of the library today: Permanent Parisians; An Illustrated Guide to The Cemeteries of Paris by Judi Culbertson and Tom Randall.
One of my very favorite places to visit in Paris is the Pere Lachaise Cemetery.
With it's beautiful paths it is a perfect place to picnic with some of the great people in history. Such as Colette, Chopin, Moliere, Balzac, Gertrude and Alice, Marcel Proust and so many more great men and women
MANY years ago Jim Morrison's grave was the easiest to find in this large cemetery. You just followed the smell of pot until you found aging hippies lounging alongside Jim, smoking weed, listening to The Doors, and scrawling their love for Jim all over the tombstones. There was even a weird bust of Jim atop his stone. I wonder who the artist was.
Unfortunately now Jim's grave has been sandblasted clean and there is a little gate around it to keep away all the middle age American's in Dockers with cell phones clamped on their hips. I'm sure Jim has turned over in his grave. I'm sure Jim would've preferred the graffiti.
People come from all over to kiss Oscar Wilde's grave out of admiration.
My friend and muse, Marie Jean, kissed the grave and I immortalized it in this painting.
Acrylic on canvas board.
I thought Spatz was a "writers" cat because he's a polydactyl cat and Hemingway collected polydactyl cats.
See his giant paws with THUMBS! I think he believes he can hold a paint brush. He always likes to participate while I'm painting.
But he didn't like this painting of my other cat, Disco, which is in the works here.
Spatz thinks it's a good idea to help me paint in case I walk away and leave a glass of milk unattended
Hummm....."why did she put paint brushes in this glass?"
If Spatz sits still long enough he'll get his portrait drawn. But he thinks he looks a little crazy in this charcoal sketch.
Ah, finally a photo of Spatz that I can paint! I love his long white whiskers.
His whiskers are exceptionally long and his paws are exceptionally huge. Spatz is an exceptional cat.
And here is the final product.
8" x 10" canvas board
Palette knife + brush technique
Sometimes I just want to use my pretty things. The wine cooler bunny is so handsome. Salad bowls in the shapes of leaves! Brilliant!
Mes amis came over for dinner. I'm not much of a cook, but they are good friends and eat my cooking anyway.
In fact, they help in the kitchen. Veronique did most of the cooking while I snapped pictures.
The pasta is full of cheese and looks delicious
We dig into the salad
Wine, salad, and bread with the pasta
Don't forget dessert. Strawberries, blueberries and ice cream. Yum!
Yummmmm...too bad we didn't have this with our dessert.
Cappuccino & Spoon
8" x 10" acrylic on stretched canvas.
Palette knife technique
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I believe everyone is an artist. If you appreciate beauty, love, life, food, art, friends....the list goes on....you too can be an artist.