Caves and Cravings

In June, I introduced my clients to Paris by ascending the Eiffel Tower in the afternoon, where we could gaze far across the sun drenched city to the Basilica Sacre Coeur, crowning Montmartre, only to ascend Montmartre late that night  up the steps of that monument and look back the opposite direction to see the illuminated city and tower twinkling back at us. Yesterday bore similarities mirror images. We made our way to Roussignac, one of the many pre-historic caves within 30 miles of here, to see absolute herds of mammoths, horses, capricorns, rhinoceros and bisons drawn 15,000 years ago on the caves ceilings and walls. What overwhelmed me traveling several kilometers underground to see such ancient drawings, was man’s intrinsic, inescapable need to create and tell his story in some visual form. When these caves were inhabited by middle Magdalenian people, they were only high enough to crawl in. Like Michelangelo, these first artists drew their stories lying on their backs.

Back on our hilltop medieval village, a mere 8 or so centuries old, we ambled under a clear and starry sky to a lovely restaurant near the top of Limeuil. Sitting comfortably upright on the terrace under ancient wysteria arbors and garden lights, we savored a perfectly prepared repast of Périgord gastronomic delights. Silently licking the last morsels of walnut cake and crème anglaise from my fork, my mind ambled through the day-compressed tour of civilization, from burrowing underground to the beginning of man to this sublime moment of evening exhilaration. And my soul, whatever that enigmatic thing is, felt as full and satisfied as my stomach.

Breathing Deep

Being in the French countryside is a paradox for me. On one hand, my senses are on overload. My eyes are analyzing everything I observe. It’s just so beautiful on a superficial, basic tourist kind of  level. Then there’s the art stuff added like a cherry on top. Shadows. Light. Shapes. Lines. Capturing the three dimensions in two on a little piece of canvas. Reducing all the beauty to its essentials. That’s the challenge of every artist, wherever they find themselves; I can return from the market at home and find painting material in the vegetables I load into the fridge. Some end up directly in my studio as models for my next study. All’s well as long as I remember to return them to the kitchen.

Speaking of markets, today is market day. As Rochelle and Mike get ready to go, I’m here by the river using the town internet. Imagine having to come to the town hall garden by the river to check your email. Sitting in the chill of the morning as the sun comes up, listening to the rustle of the river to my right[The second option is  going to the restaurant next door which still picks up the connection and have a coffee, beer or wine(if not lunch or dinner) to check your internet]. That’s the other part of the paradox. Life slows down. Many things are less convenient. The rat race melts like chasing tigers turning to butter. Suddenly, with more powers of observation, I better detect the light change as I watch the sun rise and set, not to mention the star-gazing far from any city light or smog. Oh my God, the stars! Last night the sky was so clear, I saw some I’ve never seen before over the ancient rooftops which are my home for these three autumn weeks in the Périgord. Strikes, leaks and missing bed sheets melt like circling tigers to reveal a delectable, buttery experience I’ve come to call, for good reason, Artistic Adventures.

I’ve been slow to blog because I can’t get pictures from my new phone to my laptop. After vacillating, I’ve decided to post blogs without pictures. They can be seen on my Facebook page this time around. I’ll insert them in the blog when I get home. Maybe.

Strike Two!

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If you followed my blog through Burgundy this past June, you’ll recall I was trapped in the “little” train strike that turned into a “big” one. Isn’t one strike a year enough?! Obviously not, since I found myself maneuvering the current “grève” of the french Air France pilots this past week. Thanks to my french Facebook friend, Valerie Pillot, for giving me the heads up early in the week and Julie Kapper, my Delta flight attendant painting student, who advised me to follow my gut and rebook my Delta reservation through KLM instead of waiting to see if you-know-who would cancel my flight or not. They did and I was able to side-swipe what could have been a 4 or five day delay and loose only one.

Add to that snafu a complication of assembling a new traveling easel that put me in a last minute tailspin. That set saws spinning and three trips to Lowe’s for wood and Best Buy for the right tripod. What if I hadn’t been organizing my suitcase packing strategy for over a week? Yoga breathing and repeating the mantra “Everything is going exactly as it should” protected my from my own predisposition to simply collapse in a puddle or scream in outrage. Self-pity, is never flattering and I was determined to stay in the moment and increase my stamina for problem solving.

Success. All packed. Decent sleep. Rising early to take care of those last loose threads, I kissed dogs goodbye, rode smoothly to the airport with Jim at the wheel. A line-less bag checkin and I found myself pre-qualified for TSA, to boot! Here in Atlanta I sit a satisfied soul, having savored a lunch of watermelon salad, roasted cauliflower and a dish of giant italian white beans and peppers. And a glass of white wine. There’s nothing like that first glass of vacation wine. The switch flips and the world is right. When everyone in Ohio is sound asleep or awake with insomnia, my students Rochelle, Mike and I will be settling in to our stone house in the Périgord.

Yes, Jim, “I love our life!”

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Success Unexpected

 

Peaceful Times, the Perigord. Stebner 30x40 oil on linen.

Peaceful Times, the Perigord. Stebner 30×40 oil on linen.

 

If one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams, and endeavors to live the life which he has imagined, he will meet with a success unexpected in common hours.

 

Henry David Thoreau

 

10620553_10204206482980856_1105625780484781155_nHere in my sixth decade, more and more, I find myself surrounded by remarkably comfortable cushions of success. Labor day weekend was one of them. The most delightful assortment of people, familiar and new, arrived throughout the afternoon to see my art show, “Blissful Bounty”. As much as I love the act of painting, there’s a marvelous fulfillment in seeing viewers response to my canvases and watching my paintings find their home. I’m just a facilitator in that process. Success.

My good health report earlier that week. Success.

Making final preparations to return to France next week, I realize that I spend about two months  a year discovering and sharing the beauty of that special country with others. Something that I only dreamed about as a child has come to fruition beyond my imagination. It still fills me with boyish glee to pack my bag and anticipate the adventure. Success.

Packing one more art event in the days before departing, I’ll be at Chentini Gallery in Hudson, Ohio tomorrow, September 12th, from 5-7 or so, as a featured artist for the monthly town art walk. If you missed Blissful Bounty on August 30th, why not take in the Art Walk? Laura Centini has done an amazing job creating her own jewel of a place. I’ll have more paintings as well as my easel in tow, painting a new canvas. Lovely people, places and art all in one spot are just one more success unexpected.

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SANTÉ!

Patois Garden, 10x10 oil on panel.

Patois Garden, 10×10 oil on panel.

The big week is here. My Double Header. Tuesday I had blood drawn for the PSA test which would determine my future health course. So much was depending on this test result, in my mind, that I must confess it was the singular nervous moment of my cancer journey. Maybe I was still just subconsciously remembering the bad test of March. However, when I sat down in the chair and felt the tourniquet tighten around my bicep, as the needle entered my vein, a premonition came over me that everything was right. The number was going to be next to nothing.

Of course I couldn’t wait to find out. So by Wednesday afternoon, when I hadn’t heard anything, I rifled an email off to Dr. Abouassaly. How many doctors answer your email within an hour? Je suis très Dr. Abouassaly. But he had nothing to offer. In my germanic need for efficiency, I wanted that report in hand by Thursday when I saw him. Rattle-bang-boom, text and call mania, and by Thursday morning at 10:00 I had tracked it down and trekked back to Labcorp, leaving the lab with the results in hand. Seated in the car, the drum rolled in my mind as I opened the envelope. Trumpets fanfared as I saw >.1 on the value line. According to Dr. A, that puts me out of the need for further treatment! It was a upbeat checkup that afternoon. And an intimate celebration that night at Larry’s, our favorite hang out.

Now it’s Friday and almost time for lunch. Focus is on prepping for the studio sale tomorrow. I’ve run inventory, priced and framed the last two paintings. Know anyone looking for a large painting of french countryside? I have some yummy brushy ones to offer! All sizes really. Including the paintings done en plein air in France this past June. Whether you’re purse has padding for a painting or not, I hope you’ll bring a friend and stop by. Corks will pop and light snacks will be waiting. Help me celebrate a successful summer of travel, surgery and sun.

Make a comment below and I’ll give you a special discount in the event one calls your name!

IMG_5501THE WAY I read a letter’s this:
’T is first I lock the door,
And push it with my fingers next,
For transport it be sure.

And then I go the furthest off
To counteract a knock;
Then draw my little letter forth
And softly pick its lock.

Then, glancing narrow at the wall,
And narrow at the floor,
For firm conviction of a mouse
Not exorcised before,

Peruse how infinite I am
To—no one that you know!
And sigh for lack of heaven,—but not
The heaven the creeds bestow.

Emily Dickinson

August Angst

Peaceful Times, the Perigord. Stebner 30x40 oil on linen.

Peaceful Times, the Perigord. Stebner 30×40 oil on linen.

The end of August has a lot at stake for me. I’m nearing week eight after surgery, when I have a PSA test to confirm that surgery was the last step in my cancer treatment. And since the beginning of July, I’ve been painting up a storm for my end of summer art sale August 30, two days after my checkup, which carries with it some of the same anxiety as the unknown blood test result, believe it or not. No matter how you plan the event, you never know who will show and if you’ll have a piece they find irresistible. Insecurities can bubble. All the stars have to align just so. It seems that, art aside,  a good show requires the perfect mix of faithful followers and new devotees. Throw in a great gallery contact for the future and it’s a winner!

Early Hours. Stebner 18x24 oil on linen.

Early Hours. Stebner 18×24 oil on linen.

Anxiety aside, there’s a certain exhilaration in taking blood tests and planning art sales, that’s like a good trip. The unknown created by hills, valleys and turns are what make a journey memorable, paintable even. Whether it’s wondering what your blood draw will reveal, or watching to see who has responded to the invitation to see your new art, the antennae are tuned. In truth, it’s why I prefer Normandy, Burgundy and the Perigord over the plains between Paris and Limoges. Seeing for miles ahead becomes all too predictable. But just as I hope for that irresistible hamlet around the next bend, I long for success unexpected those last days of August which usher in a clean slate and full coffer in September as I set off for a new Artistic Adventure on the Dordogne River.

Boats and Water Lilies, Giverny. 20x30 oil on linen.

Boats and Water Lilies, Giverny. 20×30 oil on linen.

Birthday Wishes

IMG_5425Yesterday, I looked out the door to see if art supplies had arrived and noticed two strange looking tubes sticking out of the mailbox. As my eyes focused and my mind wheeled into gear, I realized that my paintings from the week spent painting with Antonin Passemard at the bend in a country road called Mougny, in Burgundy, had arrived. Eight canvases perfectly rolled into the tightest two tubes imaginable had safely traveled over three thousand miles. 

Today’s work became a return visit to obscure parts of the Morvan where I spent a week painting with 10 other painters from around the world, as I spread out the unrolled canvases and restretched each one in preparation for tomorrow’s  framing session. Those days spent painting barns, fields, mediaeval churches and sleepy towns unfurled in my mind as I was transported back to the pleasure and heat of that chapter of life that led up to my cancer surgery.

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Come to think of it, the days of this summer have been packed just about as tightly with life as those cardboard tubes. Through the mind’s cleverness, I find myself in so many different places at once. June’s Norman countryside, Burgundian villages and vineyards are as real and vivid as Cleveland’s University Hospital and doctor’s offices. Images of this week’s birthday garden party morph into  balmy evenings spent dining in french country gardens just weeks ago. I can’t remember the first time I made a wish and blew out candles on a birthday cake.

All the same, I’m aware of wishes coming true. Deftly, I slip in and out of each place as I paint my dreams, here in my Akron studio, preparing for gallery deliveries as well as my August 30th summer’s end art sale here in the Patois garden on Dorchester. All this contorts like a Disney Fantasia scene, with the realization that in, two months time, I’ll be back in France’s mysterious Perigord and Quercy, painting winding rivers, cliffs and stone villages I haven’t seen for over two years.

That little boy who dared to daydream of castles and cottages years ago, swells with exhilaration, seeing how dreams come true.

Lazy Bones, Mougny, France. Plein air 11x14 oil on linen. Stebner

Lazy Bones, Mougny, France. Plein air 11×14 oil on linen. Stebner

Pushing the Envelope

Dooryard. Stebner. 5x7

Dooryard. Stebner. 5×7

I’ve been home from France less than three weeks and I’ve been painting all I can in between cancer surgery, catching up on weeding the gardens and planning the next painting trip to one of my favorite regions of France, the Perigord. I leave in less than two months. Who wants to see it with me?

My Kind of Farm. Stebner 5x7.

My Kind of Farm. Stebner 5×7.

This morning I finally received the pathology reports from my brilliant surgeon, Robert Abouassaly. Talk about the nick of time. Those aggressive interlopers had taken over nearly sixty percent of my prostate and pushed right up to the gland’s edge on one side, ready to burst out. Happily, all lymph nodes were negative. So we can count surgery a success as long as my PSA test next week comes back zero. I’m already thanking the Universe for zero.

Twilight in Mougny. 6x8 plein air pochade. Stebner

Twilight in Mougny. 6×8 plein air pochade. Stebner

PSA zero and life full speed ahead. I want you all to see the work I did in France as well as new inspiration since returning, from little 5×7’s to larger works. So I’ll be painting and framing all I can, getting ready not only for galleries, but my summer’s end show on August 30. You’re the first to know. Mark your calendars. I’d love to see many of you!

Safely Grazing. 9x12 Stebner

Safely Grazing. 9×12 Stebner

Normandy Hedgerows. Stebner 11x14

Riot of Roses, Normandy. Stebner 11×14

Fourth of July 2014

20140608_143723Just over a week ago, I was savoring my last French coffee and buttery croissant in Paris before packing my brushes to return home from a month in France. I’d led two small groups on Artistic Adventures through some rural haunts of Normandy and Burgundy, as well as studying painting for a week, myself. The next day, I was sipping clear liquids from my sun drenched room at University Hospital in Cleveland, just hours after a successful prostatectomy.

20140603_112224You see, March’s blood tests were not what I’d hoped for. A spike in my PSA results called me to make decisions about new doctors and protocol. April’s MRI and biopsy only verified the fact that my Bavarian cancer cure a year ago was only temporary. All this was a parallel chapter playing secretly as we made final plans to celebrate our daughter’s May wedding and then take off on the French adventures I’d promised a dozen of my followers.

What changed not only my mind, but my FRAME of mind about surgery? At the end of my first consultation at University Hospital, after recommending surgery as my best long-term option(exactly what he knew I was avoiding), Dr. Hoimes said to me: “You’re a young man and you have many more paintings to create”. Brilliant! Ultimately, tail-gating surgery onto the jet-lag of my month in France was just another unexpected turn in the road and my mind was at that perfect spot to experience the unexpected and bring me to this blissful moment, today, snacking on dead-ripe watermelon in the garden. Quintessential Fourth of July fare.

The potager at Chateau Chatillon.

The potager at Chateau Chatillon.

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La Bohème to Bloomsbury

20140617_065601Sleeping in a top floor garret in the old walk-up Hotel Esmeralda à la Bohème last night was all the more intensified by Parisian thunder storms. The perfect punctuation to the end of the first chapter of my French sumer trilogy. However, getting my gear to the station and making sure I was on the train to Burgundy was a bit stormy, itself. Staying calm and allowing ample time paid off. That and remembering that life is just the ultimate adventure.

Any guesses what famous Parisian literary spot this is? My room looks down on it's back window!

Any guesses what famous Parisian literary spot this is? My room looks down on it’s back window!

 

So the three hour train ride turned into five. If railroad construction didn’t thwart the trip enough, come to find out, it’s an obscure French holiday- and the beginning of a train strike. Surprise! There’s a french expression that essentially says the French are either on strike or holiday. Today was both.

Tomorrow’s another day and I’m settled with my new painting buddies at Table-Tableau in the Burgundian Morvan. It all seems so Bloomsbury out here in the country with the only humans being artists. One mission accomplished. More artist contact.

Salsa music is playing, the sun is shining and it’s almost dinner time. I can’t wait to see what our Dutch host, Agnes, has prepared. The table under the patio awning is beautiful and it smells divine.

Bruce is happy and content.

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