Monday, December 14, 2009

At last, I’m home. Actually, I arrived Saturday night, nearly midnight, beyond tired but happy to be here. If you have ever been away from your home for six weeks, you know the mixture of familiarity and strangeness that greets you on your return. Everything has a kind of dream reality about it. You recognize your surroundings but it all seems a little smaller or larger or brighter or duller than before. Things seem misplaced, though they are exactly where you left them. The trees are completely bare. There are patches of snow on the ground and Christmas lights on many of the houses on our street. I’m not in Vallauris anymore.

The adventure is over. Or, perhaps I should say, one adventure is over, another begins. I have no idea how the experiences of the past six weeks will affect my life or my work. I feel sure that they will have an effect and I feel sure that it will be positive. Other than that, I haven’t a clue.

The studio is ready for the next phase. Empty walls and cleared work tables will allow me to jump right in. Drawing, for sure. Clay, maybe. I have to find a place and a technician to make that possible. Encaustic, yes. Doors, possibly. Color, definitely…Matisse, as mentor. Communication with my colleagues, Mikang, Lucie and Sally, of course. We just have to figure out how to do it.

Thank you all for coming along with me. Your comments and emails have been so important, keeping me linked to the life I love here at home. And thank you for wanting more, but I don’t think I can do that right now. When there is another project that I can share with you, you’ll be the first to know. Just remember that au revoir doesn’t mean goodbye. Au revoir, mes amis.

Not Quite Yet


Friday, December 11, 2009

OK, so that’s not me on the surfboard. This is the picture that comes up everyday when I am constructing the blog page. Normally I drag and drop something to this spot and, voilà, it is there for you to see. But today, or actually yesterday, I was stuck on a plane for four hours, in the Nice airport for seven hours and ended up staying at the Novotel near the airport along with a hundred or so other disgruntled travelers. I could tell you the details, but it’s only interesting to those who experienced it. Sort of like Grandpa’s war stories.

No pictures. Nothing to say. But I didn’t want you to think that I had gotten lost over the Atlantic. I hope to be home tonight. Think good thoughts, please.

Au Revoir Doesn’t Mean Goodbye


Thursday, December 10, 2009

Golfe Juan is a town on the coast abutting Vallauris. They are so related that they are often mentioned in the same breath as if they were a three-word town. Sometimes it’s Vallauris Golf Juan. Sometimes they are hyphenated. The train station for both of them is actually in Golfe Juan, a ten-minute, hair-raising bus ride from Vallauris. When we were at the train station yesterday, on our way to Nice to see the Matisse Museum, I saw this sign and thought that, yes, it was nearly time to exit Vallauris.

Today was a day of packing, broken up in the middle by a trip to Biot for lunch. Biot is a lovely old town that has figured out how to be welcoming to tourists without being disgusting. I don’t know what it’s like in the summer, but at this time of year, it’s charming and quiet without seeming sleepy. We had lunch at an outdoor restaurant under a large sycamore tree. They seemed to be much more interested in Christmas than is Vallauris and we saw decorations in many of the shops and streets.

I had almost forgotten about Christmas, so few are the decorations in Vallauris. But this morning, the crew was out, putting up the large, maybe 15’, tree in Place Lisnard. It is flocked or in some manner made to look as if it has snow on it, which is highly unlikely to happen naturally here. Later in the day, the same team applied gold bows and balls to the tree. That’s pretty much it. I actually appreciate the low-key approach to the holiday. Much less of the hard sell we face at home is seen here.

While in Biot, we also visited the Provençal Poterie. This a fairly large operation that has made large garden urns and utilitarian pots for three generations. They really are beautiful. But this pottery faces the same problems with competition from cheaper products as does the entire ceramics industry here.

What really interested me, however, was the area where the really large pots are made in a process that uses forms and rope. The forms are assembled in a vertical fashion and a rope is wrapped tightly around them. (The rope is only partially wound here.) Clay is applied to the outside, formed with the aid of a template and smoothed and allowed to begin to dry. Then the rope is removed by starting at the top and unwinding it, pulling it out of the space between the forms and the pot. The forms can then be removed and there is this enormous pot that would have been almost impossible to throw on a typical wheel.

The wall of templates used over three generations looked like a Franz Kline painting, but more subtle. The age of things here combined with the magnificent light makes everything look artful.

These are kiln props, used to stack shelves and pieces in the kiln to separate them in the firing. They are beautiful in themselves but against the stone wall in the dusty light of the very old building, they are somehow transformed into magical forms of great beauty.

Before and after our trip to Biot was the reality of packing up and cleaning the studios, taking down the show in the gallery and trying to fit everything in our suitcases or boxes for shipping. There was a touch of Brigadoon in the process. This place, for us, exists only when we are here. We arrived and it had no history before us. We leave, and it ceases to exist. So the little bedrooms will have nothing on the shelves and nothing in the closets. The kitchen will be clean and efficient with no cheese, bread or wine. The studios will be empty with no art in process. And we will go to our four corners of the world, making way for the fortunate ones who come after us to make it their own.

Au revoir means something like “Be seeing you” or “See you again”. I like that much better than goodbye. Au revoir, Vallauris.

Learning from Matisse


Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Quick. What famous 20th century French artist do you think of when you see the colors in this picture? If you say Henri Matisse, you’re right. (Actually, if you said about a half dozen other 20th century French artists, you’d be right, too, but it’s Matisse that I’m looking for.) Only two days until we leave Vallauris and I was determined to get to the Matisse Museum (or le Musée Matisse en français) in Nice.

I don’t know why, but Matisse has been a favorite of mine all my life. Other artists have come and gone but he is always there. I admire Cezanne, I adore Monet, I respect Picasso, but it’s Matisse that captures my heart. I think it’s because he appeals to my intellectual sense of design and invention but he also pleases me. Pleasure is his subject matter and his effect. This museum has had the cooperation of his estate and so has many works from early years, objects from his private collection, sketches, photographs and some major works.

What I particularly enjoyed was getting a sense of his process, planning drawings for large projects and repetitive sketches for a single book illustration, for example. You can see that the ease of his images was hard won. He worked very hard to create his seemingly simple line drawings and prints. A single line that describes a figure or a face is meticulously rendered over and over until it is the apparently natural contour needed to describe his subject. The final result seems to have come from a sudden inspiration that flowed effortlessly from his pencil or pen.

There is something comforting in knowing that even Matisse (or Picasso or Monet or…) worked hard at what he did, that making art as a life’s work is not easy. I think that there exists the notion that talent and inspiration are somehow enough. And conversely, that if you do not have sufficient talent and inspiration, you can never create art. He created paintings, drawings, illustrations, bronze sculpture, stained glass windows, designs for tapestries and cut-paper collages in his 85 years. And he worked at all of them.

“I have always tried to hide my efforts and wished my own works to have the lightness and joyfulness of a springtime which never lets anyone suspect the labours it has cost”, he wrote in a letter to Henry Clifford, February 14, 1948. It is that joyfulness that I find affecting and important.

Tonight was our last proper meal together at the residence. Tomorrow night we will eat what is left in the refrigerator in a more casual free-for-all. It was a touching evening for all of us. Think of the last night at summer camp when you knew that you would be leaving friends whom you may never see again. Or the last evening before your freshman college friends leave for the summer. It had that feeling about it. Sweet and a little sad. But we all knew that this time will be important for each of us and that we are tied together by that feeling. And we’re already planning a reunion in two years.



Identity Revisited


Tuesday, December 8, 2009

You may have wondered what has become of the idea of identity. It is still with me. It is still the lens through which I am looking at my experience here in Vallauris. My fear is that, the more I look into it, the more there is to see. It could be overwhelming, sort of like deciding that Life is a subject worth pursuing. Almost anything I consider can be colored with the idea of identity, so I have been trying to be more stringent in my thought process and, at the same time, less prescriptive. In other words, I am trying not to look for examples of identity but to recognize them when they occur.

Within the first two weeks, Mikang had made the piece, “Little Women”. It represents the four of us. (I’m a little afraid to ask whose smile is whose.) The amazing thing is that we have all read the book, Little Women, by Louisa May Alcott. Young girls in The Netherlands, Korea, Australia and the U.S. read this same story. And the characters seem to be archetypes that all young girls respond to. She had recognized each of us as one of the characters from the book. Meg, Jo, Beth and Amy have become Lissa, Lucie, Mikang and Sally. Not specifically, you understand, but in general ways of relating to each other and the world.

That made me think about other literary references to identities. Immediately I thought of The Wizard of Oz, another children’s story that speaks of universal characters. Dorothy is the seeker. That, of course, would be me. If I’m creating this story, I’m going to be the star. My three colleagues here are the other characters, each as one would find them at the end of the movie, when they had found their true “identities”.

Sally is the Cowardly Lion. She is the brave one. She is the one who, when asked at 8:30 in the morning if she would like a ride to Nice, grabs her purse and says, “I’m ready to go.” She is the one who stops a shoplifter in a store. She begins her work with no particular plan and finishes it with assurance that it is exactly what it should be. And then she confidently moves to the next one.

Lucie is the Tin Woodsman. She is the intellectual one. When we need to be sure that we take the right bus to meet the train in Golfe-Juan, we call on Lucie. She can actually read a train schedule. She has an idea for a piece before beginning and then matches it with the material and techniques she needs to make it work. Every piece has a story and is resolved and yet still has an openness that makes it accessible to the viewer.

Mikang is the Scarecrow. Her heart is full and sure. She knows human behavior by instinct and sees the small moments that make a day, a week, a life. Her work is both personal and universal. And it touches the hearts of those who see it.

I’m not sure I’m saying, “There’s no place like home. There’s no place like home…” quite yet, but I am thinking that, yes, there is something to the pleasure that Dorothy felt when she realized that everything she needed was on the farm in Kansas. I look forward with a sense of sadness at leaving Vallauris and the friends I have found here, but also with the prospect of delight at being home in Maine. These friendships will be with me forever. And Toto, too? And Toto, too.

The Day After

Monday, December 7, 2009

What a difference a day makes. This morning, before leaving Lyon, I took this picture of Vieux Lyon from the same balcony from which we watched the fireworks the night before. It’s a good lesson in so many ways.

First of all, lighting is everything. It’s one of the things that I have been so struck by here. The colors of the buildings don’t change. Just the light changes. And therefore everything changes. Some colors come out in the bright sun, some in the overcast, some near sunset. You just have to pay attention. This is the same place on different days. The first one stopped me in my tracks. The second one was only of interest because I remembered the first one. The play of light is the reason that a walk one makes every day can engender different experiences every day.

Special occasions are often created by special effects. Normally I would look at the morning picture and think it was really wonderful. But having seen the fireworks version with a dear friend, in the midst of a city-wide festival, after a few glasses of wine, it seems pale. That’s not really fair. It’s quite a beautiful scene. But we associate more than what we are really seeing with an image. Our experiences color what we see and what we remember. That’s very powerful. As artists, we can use the power of experience, ours or the viewer’s, to imbue our images, realistic or not, with more than what is actually there.

And, maybe most importantly, I am struck by how different this place is from anything I know at home. It doesn’t really make any difference whether there are fireworks or not. It is an image of real life, from real history, for real people. If someone took a picture of the view across the Back Cove near my house, people in Lyon or Vallauris or Timbuktu might say, “Wow, that’s really amazing!”, just as I say about the places I have seen here. I’m not clever enough to come to some fine point about that, but I know it’s important.


After a long train ride and bus ride, I returned to the residence at about 4:30 to find a note on the kitchen table that said, “Gone to Italy! Sally, Mikang, Lucie”. For just a fleeting moment, I thought, “Oh, how could they go without me?” And immediately I was so happy they went off on an adventure, much as I had done.

At around 6, they piled into the kitchen with bags of chocolate and clothes and gifts for loved ones, all bought in Ventimiglia, Italy, an hour’s train ride from Antibes. As they told of their escapades, we all laughed until we cried. Friends from the U.S, Holland, Australia and Korea talking about one day’s experiences in France and Italy. It makes my head spin and my heart warm.

J’adore Lyon


Sunday, December 6, 2009

No, that’s not Vallauris. This morning I took a bus to Cannes. It left fifteen minutes late but cost only one euro. In Cannes, I caught the train, the TGV (Très Grande Vitesse which translates to something like “really fast”), to Lyon, which left forty minutes late. It seems that there were some people assembling on the tracks in a tunnel somewhere and they needed to call the police to disband them. There was some speculation that it was a manifestation, a demonstration, but that seems not to be so. And today it was the Pas Trés Grande Vitesse. Five hours later, I arrived in Lyon to the welcoming arms of my friends, Françoise LeRoux and Richard Good.

Françoise started an online French language course a number of years ago, just as I was looking for an online French language course. Et voilà, I enrolled in her course and over the next few years, we became friends through our online email correspondence. Since then, I have visited her several times in Lyon and she has visited us in Portland. Richard is her English husband who has a website design company and also works for Euronews.

It seemed impossible that I could be so close without visiting them and so I made the reservations for the train to come to Lyon on Sunday and return to Vallauris on Monday. Not much of a visit but better than nothing. Little did I know that this weekend is the Fête des Lumières in Lyons, a time for fireworks, vin chaud (a hot wine beverage patterned after glog) and tourists, tourists, tourists. It really is a wonderful event with many churches and monuments lit with special lights, the streets lined with lights and even children blinking with lights.

But the most amazing thing is that the fireworks were directly across the Saone river from their apartment. I mean directly across. We watched the entire show, standing on their balcony, glasses of wine in hand. The action took place in Vieux Lyon, the oldest part of the city. After the fireworks, we walked around, watching light events including projections on churches that told the history of the building of the edifice or that imagined the effects of time. It was wonderful.

Tomorrow I return to Vallauris and the last week of the residency. It’s truly hard to believe. I’m so happy to have seen my friends in Lyon, and I will be happy to see my friends again in Vallauris. Have I mentioned that I am lucky?


Le Vernissage


Saturday, December 5, 2009

And here we are on the morning of the show. I am taking the picture, of course, but Mikang, Lucie, Sally and Andrea are parading along, taking important items to the gallery which is about a block and a half from the residence. Food, flowers, a computer for music, and wine. By this time, everything was set up in the space, ready for viewers. At 10:45, we toasted our success with champagne. And at 11, people appeared to see what we had made.

But at 9, a mere two hours before, we were still far from finished. André was there with his trusty level and hammer. Dale was mopping the floor right after Sally had swept. Bit by bit, it took shape, one piece at a time.

I like to think that I am an optimist by nature but I really wasn’t expecting many people to come to the opening. The best thing about being a little pessimistic is that, if there is a surprise, it is a good one. And, indeed, I was pleasantly

surprised. Quite a steady stream of people came throughout the two hour opening. I talked with many in French, some in English, and many I didn’t talk to at all. There just wasn’t the opportunity. Most were supporters of AIR Vallauris and come to all the openings. But there were those who came because they had seen the announcement and wanted to see the work.

The show is wonderful. I know that that is a strong statement but if the work had been curated by one person, it couldn’t have been chosen more successfully for holding together as a whole and yet having such strong, individual work. We were all quite proud of our own work and of each other.

I promised pictures and here are some. I tried to get pictures of everything and I generally succeeded but some are out of focus and some are not well-lit, or some have a head or arm obscuring a part of the piece. So what I’m showing here are the best pictures. All the work is good.

Sally has four sculptures in the show, all in natural clay with black iron oxide. The elements in each were suggested by what she saw here, the cobblestones, the shutters, the curved ironwork and the patterns in manhole covers and wall surfaces. Nature plays a large role in her work. In her native Australia, she is surrounded by water and plants and stone, and they show up in both her painting and clay sculpture. Her website is www.visualarts.net.au/gallery/sallywalk.

Lucie had a theme for her work. She called this body of work “Echoes”. She was considering the reverberations of her experiences here, the sounds and sights and how they echoed throughout her stay. This piece in the “well” is a self portrait, with round ear-like forms emanating from the inner space. A head shaped object sits on a shelf, the surface flowering where the brain is contained. Lucie is ardently intellectual. Her work can be seen at www.kunstenaars.nu.

Mikang had seven pieces, five with multiple elements. The interplay between the elements is an important part of her work. Seven days of the first week she was here. Seven sets of cups or cups and pitcher in different colors. Three painted standing sculptural pieces, reflecting the buildings in Vallauris. Each piece is made with care and placed with sensitivity. Each is a direct result of her having been here, in this place, with these people. Her website is www.limmikang.com.

And I have already gone on and on about my own work. I was especially pleased with the drawings and they were received well. The surprise piece was the two tea bowls, one made in the raku workshop, the other coiled, with a painted paper surface. It was fun to do and was surprisingly successful in its conceit. My website is www.lissahunter.com.

There is something wonderful about openings. I have always said that everyone should have two hours when his friends say how wonderful his “work” is. It might be her cooking, or his storytelling, or their gardening. Everyone goes to an opening to enjoy the work, to celebrate the artist. Rarely would someone say something bad. Not out loud, anyway. It’s a moment to hear other impressions of your work, to make connections with the people for whom you do this work. Even in another country, in another language, this is true.

The Men in Our Lives


Friday, December 4, 2009

You may have noticed that the four artists here at AIR Vallauris this session are all women. Add in Andrea, the go-to person for everything from light bulbs to train reservations and there are five of us. But that doesn’t mean that there are no men in our lives here. No, indeed. We have Dale and André.

Dale Dorosh is the founder and director of AIR Vallauris. I have mentioned him before. He is from Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. Through a somewhat circuitous route, he found himself in France with a desire to start a ceramics residency program and did just that. That was about eight years ago, I believe, and he has been working incredibly hard ever since to support and develop the program. What he has accomplished is truly amazing.

And then there is André. I suppose you would call him the handyman. He fixes, constructs, paints, assembles, installs. He does what is needed to keep the physical aspects of AIR Vallauris going. He has built over sixty houses, so he tells me, and is familiar with the structures and materials common to the area. More importantly, he is familiar with the ways of working and getting things done in France. He gave me a full explanation…according to André…of the political reality of leftist workers and the conservative Sarkozy government. He has opinions and he has a sense of humor that comes across in French, even when I’m not sure I understand him. I know I’m being teased, I just don’t know how.

André helped us install the show today. He painted pedestals and installed shelves. He pounded nails and measured spaces. But we’re still not finished. The opening is tomorrow at 11 a.m. It will be an interesting morning. The problem is that the space does not have any electricity, so we had to stop at 4:30 this afternoon when the light was too low to continue. The electricity was applied for eight months ago, but no one has made it there to hook it up.

We all pitched in, helping to carry the work from the studios to the gallery space. Lots of advice as to what things looked good with what and how high that piece should be hung was exchanged. We painted, dusted, hung and generally did what needed to be done. We just had to stop too soon. Tomorrow it will be pulled together and it will look terrific, I’m sure. Trust me. You don’t really have to do that. I promise to take some pictures!

Here We Go


Thursday, December 3, 2009

Tomorrow we hang the show. And here you see Le Cabanon, the gallery space. We have been there twice, once on the days we arrived and once two days ago. The first time, it was all very abstract. Medium sized white room with skylights, no electricity, a few pedestals. But the second time, it was much more concrete. What size are the walls, who goes where, each person in one area or all mixed up, who needs wall space and who needs pedestals and what size pedestals? The decisions seemed pretty easy, since we are all equally accommodating and we really do have a good combination of two- and three-dimensional work. Tomorrow, of course, will be the true test.

Sally has four three-dimensional sculptures that will go on pedestals. There is a slice of skylights down the middle of the gallery and her work will sit below them. This piece now has some monochromatic drawing on it, but all the work is subtle in coloration and architectural in form.

Mikang has one piece that is seven square plaques about 8” x 8” to hang in a row plus a couple of other wall pieces.. She will have the wall you see straight ahead in the picture above. She will then use two or three pedestals for three-dimensional work.

Lucie will have a corner area directly in front of the entry that includes a “well”. It is a cubbyhole in the wall, about 2’ wide by 6’ high by 1’ deep, stone lined, that actually opens at the bottom into a pool of water. She has created work especially to use this spot. Then she will have the walls on each side and a couple of pedestals. To the right you can see the top part of the well.

My wall is to the right of Mikang’s and to the left of Lucie’s. I plan to show two large bird drawings, four small basket pieces and maybe another large bird drawing, if there is space. This is the drawing that will be shown if there is enough room.

I really don’t know how the others feel about this show. For me, it is a part of the process of being here, but not the same as a typical show. I often say that the work that an artist produces is merely a byproduct of the process of making. She doesn’t make this piece and then that piece and then another. She has a process which accommodates her skills and interests and intentions and it is that process that is important, not the products that come out of it. I really feel that way about this work. It is the process of being here, of working and living with my colleagues, of exploring techniques and allowing the place to influence me that is important. The work is more artifact than art. But I do think it will be a dynamite show.