Tuesday, 30 March 2010

Clouds and Flowers Opening

   As we left the market Sunday morning, our vegetable lady called smiling that we were spoiled.  We were laden with armfuls of flowers and fruit, cheese and vegetables.  The flower man gifted me a bunch of mimosas, and we bought ourselves a pot of jasmine trained to grow around itself.
   A guest arrived in the evening.
   Today was a day for walking and walking.  I watched as eight or twelve types of perfume were sprayed on different places up and down my arms or hers... and then reaching arms out to the man in the store... 'What's this one?    And this one?' We each bought a bottle in the end, what choice did we have? The nice man threw in lots of things for free, so I guess he wasn't too angry after all.  There were flowers on all the trees.

 Plum blossoms...


And cherry blossoms swathed in soft, fat-bodied bees...

We walked along the Viaduc des Arts, peering into windows at copyists painting the day away, luthiers, restorers of gilded articles and ceramics, and inspecting the bouquets on secretaries' desks.  Also, we came across a deerman as tall as me.

Onion soup and artichoke  for lunch outside, and then up to walk along a raised garden pathway with the rooftops by our sides.

And when the sky blackened and the thunder and lightning came up, we ran and were swept up in the crowd that gushed into Notre Dame, the place where it was decided that Joan of Arc was not a witch.  The enchanted bit at the back behind the altar was closed off today though, and so we didn't get to glimpse the crown of thorns tucked away in its box.

   And now it is tomorrow and I'm the only one left awake.  Time for me to head off and take my sleep with the breeze and the rain calling at my window.


Thursday, 25 March 2010

Salt and Sablières

   This post was going to be about salt and salt marshes.  I dropped our little salt grinder from Brittany the other night and it smashed into a million pieces all across the floor.  During the summer, the salt in Brittany (from the city of Guérande) is harvested from marshes which are filled with water once a month when the tide is highest.  During the month, the water is channelled into different sections of the marsh, and as it evaporates salt is raked out of it.  Brittany is one of the few places in the world where salt is collected this way.  And the salt from the marshes comes in big grey lumps and is always moist, so a special salt grinder with porcelain gears is needed.  (Salt marshes are lovely to bike through!)
   This morning my husband told me that we say someone is (or isn't) 'worth their salt' because Roman soldiers used to be paid a salt stipend, and that the world salary is derived from the Latin word sal, which means salt.  So it seemed like a great day for a salt themed post... but when I went through my old photos looking for pictures to add to the post, I found that in all my bike trips through salt marshes, I've never taken even a single picture.  So all I can offer you is this short video, in French, about salt marshes and the paludiers who work in them.  Even if you don't speak French, you can get a look at how it's done.
    But while I was looking through old photos from Brittany I found some nice pictures of carved sablières, which are the wooden beams that sit below the ceiling and above the stone walls of churches.

(Click to enlarge.)

  The photos in the above collage were taken in the Church of Notre Dame in Quimperlé, the Trémalo church near Pont Aven, and in the Church of Saint Germain in Pleyben, with the majority of photos being from the latter church.  In fact the church in Pleyben is probably one of the most gorgeous churches ever made.  Outside, there are statues depicting biblical scenes, as is often the case in Brittany.

As we were leaving that church, two people pulled up on two huge horses.  I didn't know it was possible to travel from city to city on horseback anymore, but they were making their way through the Monts d'Arrée (a mountain range in the west of Brittany) and stopping in the little towns along the way.

(Interior and ceiling of the church in Pleyben Click to enlarge.)

   The church outside of Pont Aven is also quite nice.  It's quite small and sits all alone atop a hill surrounded by very old oak trees, and rather looks as if it is sinking into the ground.

   Back to the subject of sablières, this tradition of carving and painting them is very common throughout all of Brittany.  The imagery depicted within this medium can range from biblical themes to obscene grotesques.  At some churches children were (maybe still are?) forbidden to raise their eyes as they were entering the church so they would not glimpse the carvings above them.  There also many carvings which depict classical mythology, satrical scenes, depictions of both heaven and hell, and folkloric pieces.
    Theres a really nice book full of gorgeous photos of sablières from all over Brittany called Trésors cachés s sablières de Bretagne by Claire Arlaux and Andrew Paul Sandford.  It really puts my blurry little photos from a few churches to shame.

Friday, 19 March 2010

A Day in December

   Last Thursday I posted a sort of sneak peek of today's post, and I'm very happy to be able to follow it up today, because it means that I have finally completed an etching started what seems like ages ago.

                                        (click picture to enlarge)                                         

   Back in December I posted about cards I'd made for the holidays, and how the inspiration for them came from looking through old vacation photos from a trip to Romania.  The reason why I was looking at those photos was to see pictures we'd taken in the town of Sighetu Marmaţiei during a big Christmas festival as a reference for making this etching.  We happened to arrive in town the morning of a a big yearly festival where people come from all the surrounding villages wearing their towns' traditional Christmas pantomime costumes and then they perform local songs and things in front of a judge (a man dressed like a king from a fairy tale, crown and all).  I can't be sure if anyone won anything though... because we got too caught up in the swirl of things.  Costumed men sweeping women up beside them on decorated horses, little groups of musicians playing together, children tearing about through the crowds, and everywhere things to wonder at.
   For this etching, I picked out some of my favourite things from that day, and put them all together.  I don't even want to think about the things which made this such a long process (from late January until now)... things melting on my copperplate, etc. If I pull another print of this, I think I will make it a bit darker, because I'm afraid that some of the shading gets lost when the print isn't so dark.  For example, the shadows in the folds of the accordion.  But generally, I like it and I'm glad to have something I can hang up to make me think of that lovely day.

Wednesday, 17 March 2010

Giant Weekend

    Last Saturday in Lille four giants roamed the streets under a grey sky.  People in handmade costumes danced in the streets as brass bands battled with percussion groups.  A parade wove slowly away from the market square, down the small streets of the town.  Confetti was thrown, and at least twice, whole handfuls of it were eaten by too-quick, curious children who regretted it immediately.

  The giant on the left is called Jeanne Maillot. She is based on a woman from the 16th century who is considered a heroine in Lille.  In 1582, when Lille was attacked by Protestant armies, Jeanne Maillot led the women of the city in battle against them.
  The giant on the right was made to honour Pierre De Geyter who grew up in Lille and is famous for having composed the music for the anthem of the Communist Party, L'Internationale.
   As for the giant in the middle with the wheat, I can't find anything about her.

   This giant is called Cordéonneux after a song written by Raoul de Godeswaervelde (who was from Lille and also has a giant made in his honour), and his appearance is modeled after a local accordion player who used to play during festivals.

(A video taken at the start of the parade, which is why there aren't so many people around.)
    Lille has a lot of giants, and these are just the ones that happened to be out on Saturday.  The city was even founded by giants (surprisingly it is not the only city to have this distinction in northern France).  At the bottom of a huge belfry, at the door of Lille's city hall is a depiction of Lydéric and Phinaert, the city's founders.
   And a nice city it is too... with a very nice art gallery, beautiful old buildings, and even a zoo.  But now it's time for me to head off to bed.

Thursday, 11 March 2010

Fingers Crossed

This crowd should be marching by next week.

Spring Coming In

     Last February I began the painting of nuns you see in the sidebar. I don't love talking about why I paint the things I do, but I felt I should probably not just tack it up there in small format with no explanation at all. So here is a somewhat larger version of it that you can click to make larger still. 

Spring Coming In

Still, I like to keep my motivations for things to myself.  In high school art classes I sat next to a friend who would just chat all class long and then right before any deadline would throw something together in five minutes with a purposefully pompous, mocking explanation.  While I found him hilarious and respected his wit, I think he is also my polar opposite.  If I work for months on a painting I'm almost afraid to talk about it after all that.  

   But I can tell you about last February.  It was dreary.  I was sitting at a desk all day with no break, teaching English to business people, most of whom were unhappy with their jobs, and the ones who weren't complaining about their work were in the process of being laid off.  All I did was dream of being where I wasn't -- not at work, not on the smelly and crowded suburban train, not at home in Paris.  The painting was my cure, and I'll leave it at that.  The rest is up to you, and I don't think any background I gave added anything anyway.

   As for the way it was painted.  The only way I ever learned to oil paint was in a quasi-mische technique that may have been unique to the man who taught it to me.  I only learned from him for a few months on a once a week basis, so I don't have a very formal painting education.  Looking around on the internet is the only way that I found out that there was even a proper name for this type of technique... the man who taught me only said that he was painting the way Van Eyck had done and that it was the best way.  He used to sing along to recordings of opera while we painted too.  

   The people who have written about the mische technique on the internet tend to all under-paint layers in red, yellow, and then blue before going on to the final painting.  This is supposed to create a luminous, opalescent effect.  I wasn't taught to paint with so many layers as this underneath, but I was curious to try it out.  The pictures below are random pictures taken by my husband as I worked (before I cropped it, one of them showed the painting in the foreground and me sprawled out fast asleep in the background).  The colours aren't great here, even by internet standards. 

The top left picture shows the painting with its blue layer (so there is a red layer with the same highlights painted in white egg tempera and a yellow layer with the same underneath the blue... the reds and yellows shine through, but I'm not sure if that's really visible from the photo). The next three show the development after that.  I wish I had taken photos of the yellow and red too,  but I think the blue gives a fair idea of what they were like.  I'm not sure if I would use this many layers again, though I am happy with the result.  An added bonus was that it really felt like I was painting on a magical surface when I started in on the blue. 

   So there it is.  And maybe it's an appropriate post in a way, since tomorrow we are heading up to Lille to see GIANTS!  

Friday, 5 March 2010

Storms and Oranges

   The week has gone by so quickly, since we got back.  We arrived home on Sunday afternoon to blue skies, just after a violent storm swept through France.  The Seine had swollen up so that benches and lampposts appeared to be growing out of the river next to the Île de la Jatte, and the streets were a tangle of fallen branches.  Watching the news was shocking; on the west coast only rooftops showed above the water. It was sort of surreal to have come from Barcelona to Paris, hearing that this insane storm had happened in Spain and France but having felt no sign of it, only blue skies and a calm flight with a windy landing. 

   Barcelona was like a fairytale.  There were real orange trees standing in courtyards all dressed in fruit (my first time seeing that).  And then the narrow streets of the Gothic quarter with laundry hanging out of every window, the cathedrals, and, of course, the Gaudi buildings.  Not to mention, every evening after it got dark, a cup of chocolate so thick you could stand a spoon in it! 

We found lots of lovely stained glass windows, both new and old.  The top three are from the Basilica Santa Maria del Mar and the bottom one is from the Museu nacional d'Art de Catalunya:

And some lovely paintings in the cathedral:

Here is some of the inside of a house by Manuel Sayrach i Carreras which was also very beautiful.  It appears to be an apartment building with a posh restaurant on the ground floor.  No one was around when we passed by, so we snuck in to look around.  One of the residents came down the elevator just after the first photo was taken and she just smiled at us... so we didn't feel too bad about all our sneaking.

  Imagine living in there... it's like part of some sort of underwater palace!

   Anyway, since we've been back I've been working away on illustrations for a project I'm working on with a friend.  The only time I've let myself out is to visit a friend from my etching class at the studio where she works so we could drink wine and she could encourage me to take up a team sport and be less shy...  So, I've been working but  I'm too superstitious to show anything before it's done.   I think it'll be a long while before I have anything from that to post here. 

   Tonight I'll have to let myself off the hook again, since we're going to the Ballet Russe.  One thing that is really brilliant about Paris is that you can see the best ballets in the world in the most beautiful theatres for the same price as a movie ticket (or even less if you don't mind lining up).  Of course, the ballet can also go on strike.