I remember thirty-some years ago, flying to Europe at the dismay of many, when airplane high-jacking was just beginning. Less than a year ago, Jim and I were on a train to Paris from Provence the day Charlie Hebdo and his team of artist/journalists were murdered on the job in that city of art and culture. We walked the streets unknowingly that night, enjoying a wonderfully romantic dinner not all that far from the scene of the crime. It was later that night, tucked in our hotel room near the Gare de Lyon, that I read many of your concerns for us on Facebook. Now, once again, terrorism has tried to darken the City of Light. But its inhabitants seem to refuse to buckle. Nor would I.
Autumn Bliss, 11×14 oil on linen, Stebner
It’s public knowledge that I’ve been fighting a personal terrorist called cancer for over two years. I’ve refused to cave in to its assault on my happiness and creativity. Facing that assailant within has only strengthened my resolve to drain the last drop of life out of every day. This autumn it’s been a season to paint my childhood stomping grounds on the Cuyahoga River as well as French memories. Our move put teaching in France on the back burner this September.
Everett Bridge, 12×16 oil on linen, Stebner
In a little over a week, I’ll host my thirty-sixth holiday open house and sale. In an effort to add at least a drop to aid world peace, I’ll be donating 10% of all sales through December 19th to the Gandhi Institute. So, should a Stebner painting call your name as a gift to yourself or a loved one, you’ll be doing your part, too. Thanks.
Returning to Childhood, Cuyahoga River 8×12 oil on panel, Stebner
OK, we really are moving. We bought and sold in a week. But not France. Almost, but no. Why? It’s true, we tried. Look up “red tape” in the dictionary and it will describe anyone outside the EU trying to take residency there. But that’s OK. It got us out of neutral and in gear for change.
All our travels there will be easier in a few weeks, when we move to our new home in Highland Square, Akron’s closest neighborhood to what we crave. A smaller, charming turn of the (twentieth) century house on a much smaller lot, where we can still have a tiny front garden and a secret little courtyard in the back, without being enslaved to its upkeep. The organic grocery, library, pharmacy, restaurants and more are all easy walking distance. Just like we were seeking in France.
10×20 Stebner painting. “Morning Sun”
Of course it isn’t France, C’est ridicule! But it’s our new adventure, all the same, just a mile from Dorchester. Crazy but true. Now when I do cross the Pond to have a proper baguette, gorge myself on French cheese(and wine) and teach painting in the French countryside, whoever housesits(Jim’s increasingly France-smitten with each visit!) will have a lot less to care for. In the meantime, I can always strike up a French conversation at the coffee shop a few blocks away with my young French teacher, Nils.
Did I mention I’ll have a painting studio on the ground level of our new digs, to boot? Pas mal, pas mal du tout!
Tomorrow marks two weeks home from my summer painting/teaching excursion in Burgundy and the Périgord. Blogging was minimal because we had very little wifi. Also, there’s been a problem with my blog site domain name, which I’m happy to report was corrected yesterday. If you’re reading this, you’re back in the fold. Welcome!
I’ll try to write more about the trip in hindsight, but for now, sit back enjoy this little video of some of the finished paintings from the trip. I’ve taken time to tweet them from their raw state which you might have seen either here or on Facebook while I was gone. They are all either 6×8, 8×8 or 8×10. Now they’re ready to find their home. Feel free to contact me for prices. Shipping is free.
Yesterday’s pilgrimage to Rocamadoor ended three hours south in Cathar country in the foothills of the Pyrenees. Our nest in St. Ferriol is a fabulously restored medieval house next to the town chateau. This morning I awoke to the town rooster’s crow being echoed by a distant cuckoo; a call to brew the coffee(taking longer than any American can imagine) to accompany crepes, yogurt an melon, all fortifications for the escapade before us.
The escapade? Chasing two key venues of the Holy Grail. First is Rennes-le-Chateau and second, Chateau Montségur, the last stronghold of the Cathars. Although we don’t expect to find the elusive treasure, we have treasure of our own to pursue, beyond the obvious bliss of walking history: landscapes to paint and a geocache or two to discover! C’est parti!
Leaving Burgundy, Suzanne and I had the sublime joy of picnicking in the Auvergne, surrounded by wildflowers framing the mountains and volcanoes in the distance. Yes, sublime about sums it up. Approaching Limeuil some five hours after departure, I wondered how I’d feel upon returning. No need to worry. As we rounded the sharp bend in the road, tight against the stone wall, all the joy of this little gem shone anew. In the heat of a sunny June, the bridges and stone buildings glow golden while the rivers sparkle. Our ancient stone house, which has sustained centuries of plagues and pleasures, is even more charming than I remembered. Renovations are underway to make it even better.
There’s an extra thrill about coming to town and seeing your poster on shop windows and your picture in the paper. With the help of my trusty student and great friend Suzanne, the show is up and I’ve had a few painting sessions in the Jardins Panoramiques which surround the chateau hall at the top of the town. Tomorrow night is the official opening, le vernissage, as the French say. I’ve choked and woken several nights after hearing that I’m expected to say something after the mayor and the president of the Rives d’Arts. I feel pretty comfortable muddling through daily life in France, but never imagined a public address. Luckily for me, the president is Dutch and will speak in both English and French, so i can follow her lead, after the French mayor. There will be English speaking people at the event, anyway. The Périgord is riddled with them. And my mantra is “short and sweet”. I’ll smile my way through it and keep you posted!
Although it only takes three hours to get from Paris to Mougny- Bazolles, it’s a trip from one world to another. All the overt stimulation of civilization Paris offers is usurped by a subtle, gentle one which seeps into your pores unknowingly in very little time. It’s the act of coming in tune with the rhythms of nature instigated by the gentle Burgundian breeze and sun.
Ringing Jim yesterday at his breakfast time, the first sound I heard at the other end was a singing cardinal. I was momentarily confounded, feeling we must be in the same place, hearing the same birds and feeling the same breeze. But no, they were Ohio cardinals chirping in one ear, while I was hearing unknown ones in the other. As a very late sun set about us that evening, Agnes assured me I’d be lulled to sleep by the nightingale, to which I asked if this part of Burgundy is also home to the cuckoo. As sure as the nightingale sang to me as I climbed the stairs over the donkey barn to my garret above the house, I awoke to the cuckoo at the sun’s rising.
The rumbles of Paris streets and subways are a distant strain as I finish my second painting of the morning. Soon I’ll be collecting the last three students from the train station to join this world of gentle beauty. Together we’ll learn from the capricious sun how to paint it’s light on our canvas.
OK, I blatantly stole the title for this blog from one of the three most annoying movies I’ve ever endured, just because it takes place in Paris. Happily, my agenda before sunset changed from a museum marathon into an attempt to see through the eyes of one of my favorite painters, Pierre Bonnard. Much more fulfilling than a day shredded away with Ethan Hawke-Julie Delpy hopeless misunderstandings.
So what if I only saw one exhibit? That one made me very, very happy because it was another chance to stroll with Bonnard, oblivious to the throngs of others about us. Several years ago, it was the Bonnard museum in Le Cannet, on the Mediterranean. Today it was the Bonnard exhibit at Musée d’Orsay.( If you followed that day on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram, you were right in my pocket. If you don’t I’ll plug for signing on. It’s going to be a much more direct way to feel like you’re right there with me, as my dear friend, Nancy Sampson, commented today.)
But the point of the day is this: although packing things in, as I mentioned yesterday, can sometimes be stressfull, it can also make any journey worthwhile. And as you know, striding through my sixth decade, I’ve snatched onto the concept of sucking the marrow out of the bone more than ever, because we never know when the sun will set. I’d rather be tired from doing than regretting I didn’t. When sunset comes in an hour or two, I’ll be sipping wine and savoring bistro fare with a soul as content as my belly. And that should be as good a remedy for jet lag as any. If I should waken, I’ll be seeing all the beautiful colors of Bonnard’s paintings as well as those of a sunset on the Seine.
Packed: The past weeks were scheduled “comme d’habitude”- as usual. Work. Concerts. Company. Parties. Add a last minute mural job that filled two days. Add a trip to Sharon Weiss Gallery in Columbus to exchange work which took one day. Round it out with a last minute overnight to NYC to pick up the paintings that didn’t sell at my show at the gallery of St. Mary the Virgin, and there’s a week’s worth of time stuffed into my last two weeks before leaving for France.
Packed: France this round adds one more dimension. Beyond 5 weeks of clothes and painting supplies, three weeks before taking off, a one-man-show was negotiated in the Chateau Hall of Limeuil in the Périgord. That means I had to figure out how to fit finished work into the suitcase, as well. And the days of two free suitcases for international travel are over, which means I’m on a fifty pound limit, plus carry on luggage.
Packed: Stress was mounting the last week, right up to the ticket counter, when I discovered my suitcase weighed fifty-seven pounds instead of the forty-eight it weighed on my scale at home. Of course that may have something do with the suitcase hanging over the sides of the scale. Thankfully, there was no line, so I had time to repack, transferring seven pounds from my suitcase to my backpack. But the mission is accomplished and I’m listening for my Paris-bound plane load in Toronto. Twenty minutes late so far. Happily, I have no connection to make. Just two art exhibits to cram into one day, before mounting the train Wednesday morning to head to Burgundy.
A week from right now, Jim and I will be back in New York meeting new and old friends at the church where we were married last January. This year we’ll be celebrating the opening of my first one-man-show in that amazing city. How honored I am that it will be in a place so dear to our hearts. Thanks to Father Gerth, Jose Vidal and our friend who put the bug in their ear, Suzanne Woods, one of my dear “Artistic Adventure” painting students, who was with me last fall in the Périgord.
I can’t wait to go. It’s been a long Lenten journey for me. My 40 days in the desert were spent on a cold, steel radiation table every day at 5:30 zapping some obstinate prostate cells that escaped the surgeon’s knife last June. As usual, I’ve planned all my medical attention around trips to France and New York. Nothing, but nothing, can interfere with the joy that fills my soul and drives me to create. My energy and determination are stronger than ever. So celebrate with me if you dare; I have passion to spare. New York April 17. Burgundy May 28. The Périgord June 16. Or my studio on Dorchester Rd. May 2.
“Sconset Cottage, Nantucket”. 5×7 Stebner oil on linen panel
Some paintings lurk in corners of the studio and even find their way into a frame just to keep me humble. They were good ideas. And decent starts. But, for some heretofore unidentifiable reason, they fell flat in the end. Why do I keep them there, reminding me of my failure? They’re waiting for a second chance.
Tile Roofs and Hedgerows, Burgundy. Stebner 11×14 oil on stretched linen.
More accurately, they’re offering me a second chance, as an artist, to get it right. These images are waiting for a voice to tell their story. This week has been one of those times when I take them back to the easel to see if I can instill what I wasn’t able to on the first go. Get it right. Happily, I’ve been able to apply things I’ve learned since January to make them sing.
Gloaming Chateau, Brittany. Stebner 6×8 oil on linen panel.
And now they’ve found voice, many will be part of my show, “Daily Pleasures”, which opens this Saturday at 7 p.m. at Every Blooming Thing, just around the corner. Others will go to the Big Apple with me after Easter for my show there, which opens April 17. Stay tuned…
Quiet Moment, Giverny, Stebner 6×8 oil on linen panel