Monday, December 14, 2015

Et en fin

The last leg of my French sojourn, I continued to build on esoteric knowledge of this incredibly rich region.

My new friend Jeannette Rogers, another Fellow at Moulin a Nef, is a translator of medieval troubadour poetry from the original language of Occitan into both modern French and English. I never knew of this language, nor of the Cathars, the peace-loving, vegetarian Christian sect that was wiped out during the Inquisition.

The Cathar cross, which you will see everywhere in Toulouse.



After 2 and a half weeks in Auvillar, I spent three days in Toulouse, a city I fell in love with. The rest of the Fellows were all set to go home and I would have been alone at Moulin a Nef. I couldn't face it, so I booked myself a little side trip to this fascinating city. It seemed to me to be about the size of Providence RI, and a river runs through it, too.

Toulouse, France
That is where I was when the Paris attacks of Nov. 13 occurred. In fact, I only knew about it because my friends emailed me to ask if I was ok. I saw the messages upon waking on Saturday morning and my stomach dropped. I quickly reached for the remote control and turned on CNN in my hotel room.

Words are insufficient to describe the horror.

There was a pall cast over the whole country. Elliot, my husband, arrived on Sunday to join me on the last week of my journey and we rented a small car for day trips in the area. We persisted in our plans, the only noticeable difference in security was a group of armed soldiers at the Toulouse airport.

Our first day trip was to visit the prehistoric cave paintings at Fond de Gaume. I would not have known about the caves in southern France had it not been for the fantastic Werner Herzog film, Cave of Forgotten Dreams. With a small group of other tourists, we spent a half an hour viewing 17,000 year old paintings on the walls. The little town of Les Eyzies featured an excellent prehistoric museum that helped to put into context what we had seen.

A bison painting at Fond de Gaume
Photo © N. Aujoulat-CNP-MCC.
As an image maker, I felt very akin to this ancient artist. And clearly, this was someone who practiced painting before hitting the rock walls. You don't just walk in and pop this out without some previous work. Did he or she practice in sand, mud, or on tree bark with chunks of ochre? And why? A human living 30,000 years ago would have been indistinguishable from you or me - humbling and awe-inspiring.

"Isatis tinctoria02". Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Commons - https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Isatis_tinctoria02.JPG#/media/File:Isatis_tinctoria02.JPG
 And finally, I can't leave out our trip to see a woad "factory". Woad (Isatis tinctoria, or pastel, in French) was the plant based pigment of choice to make the color blue before the cheaper, faster manufacture of indigo in India  killed the industry. We visited a little woad artisan shop that demonstrated how the plant was turned into a very light fast and excellent blue dye, which made a lot of people in the south of France very wealthy. I consider myself pretty up on pigments, but I'd never heard of this one.

Plus encore...

Continuing the story of my French adventure... thanks to my wonderful high school French teacher, Jean Price, I was able to both understand and make myself understood. Incroyable!

This was France Profund, or "deep France", as the natives call it because it is so non-touristy. It was especially quiet in November. The thousands of summer pilgrims on the Chemin de St. Jacques had dwindled to just a few, and there were many times when walking around Auvillar that we felt we were the only ones around for miles.

Among the many esoteric things that I learned about this area: pigeonniers, otherwise known as "dovecotes" or places for pigeons to hang out. Seriously, the wealthy landowners of old built these exquisite buildings on their land much to the dislike of their tenants. The smell and noise was probably obnoxious. But look how beautiful!
Square pigeonnier.

Octagonal pigeonnier.

Square pigeonnier.

So what did I find to photograph, what drew my visual interest? In no particular order here are images that I took because I was spontaneously drawn to them, but I do think you can see how the architectural details, some from the middle ages, found their way into the work that I made in my studio at Moulin a Nef, VCCA's French residency program in Auvillar.
Architectural details.

From the church at Moissac, stone carvings from 12 century.

From the church at Moissac, stone carvings from 12 century.
From the church at Moissac, stone carvings from 12 century.

12th Century church in St. Antoine, all details are hand painted.

12th Century church in St. Antoine, all details are hand painted.
12th Century church in St. Antoine, all details are hand painted.

This piece, 12" x 12", was exhibited at Projects Gallery during Art Miami 2015

Installation in my studio, including free hanging elements. Acrylic on Yupo, cardboard. Approx. 40' x 15' x 10'

acrylic on aluminum and Yupo

Installation in my studio, including free hanging elements. Acrylic on Yupo, cardboard. Approx. 40' x 15' x 10'

Detail of installation in my studio, including free hanging elements. Acrylic on Yupo, cardboard. Approx. 40' x 15' x 10'

Detail of installation in my studio, including free hanging elements. Acrylic on Yupo, cardboard. Approx. 40' x 15' x 10'

Auvillar 10, acrylic on Yupo. 36" x 24"

La Belle France

This November, I was fortunate to have a residency in Auvillar, France in the south west of the country. Part of the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts, this residency is only available to past Fellows of VCCA. It had always been  my dream to do a residency in Europe. Though it is challenging to make art while also trying to absorb a new place that strongly beckons you to engage with the culture and history, I did manage to respond to my surroundings.

Auvillar's famous granary, built in the 1800s and now the site of the Sunday market.
Auvillar itself is a charming, medieval village once famous for painted pottery and goose quill pens. Now it is a sleepy, magical village on the pilgrimage trail, known as the Chemin de St. Jacques de Compostelle. 


The view from the top of Auvillar, overlooking the Garonne River.
Novelist and ceramicist Betty Joyce Nash, left, and Sabine, who lives in Auvillar. Fantastic photographer!
Random beauty: seedpod of Chinese Lantern plant.




So much exotic food at the local markets.
The cheese guy. Le frommagier.
My fellow Fellow, Marilyn Kallet, poet, purchasing her favorite cheeses.