Three Ring Circus

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Good Times, Provence, 6×8 plein air oil on linen panel

I’ve been home from teaching painting in Burgundy and conducting an Artistic Adventure in Provence for two months now. The old days of writing reflective blogs in France have metamorphosed into teaching/touring sessions every afternoon. If it weren’t for Instagram/Facebook bites, there wouldn’t have been any on-the-spot record at all! But my goal of leading half a dozen artists/francophiles about the countryside has been achieved.

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Joyful Welcome, 20×24 oil on linen

Since returning home, I’ve undertaken a new challenge: to paint larger paintings from the small pochades(sketches) which I created on site. In so doing, the original moment comes to life in an astounding way: the subject, the weather, the brush strokes, as well as the lessons and students(oh yes, we can’t forget the passersby!). Of course, I continue to use photo references of moments that went unpainted for new works, as before.

Additionally,there’s been the business of preparing for my new show, Summer’s Sun,  featuring paintings from this summer abroad. I hope to include a video this year. If you can’t make it to the preview or on one of the Saturdays in September, you can always peruse them  online.

On top of those two projects, I’m back where I left off when I want to France in May, struggling to gain the technological savvy needed to increase my online presence. If only, I found learning the language of technology half as interesting as French or German. Perspective, Bruce! It’s been an artist’s three ring circus, to be sure.

In weeks to come, I’ll reveal more Summer’s Sun in paintings and tales untold while in France. Whether you were with me on tour or follow from home, know that you are a vital part of one happy artist’s life!

 

The Move: Rumor Squelched

1435937649892OK, 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.

10x20 Stebner painting. "Morning Sun"

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!

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Paintings: June in France

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.

Bookends

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.

1970401_10206194761086566_1741745792181170749_nRinging 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.

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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.

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Good to the Last Drop

0105151409aHaving settled in our little hotel in Paris, I’ll take some time to catch up. Since our day in Aix-en-Provence, internet service was sketchy, causing a blogging hiatus. Now to make amends…

Our last two days were another geographical yin and yang.

Monday we headed northwest into the Laguedoc-Russiollon department to the enchanting town of Uzes, whose grand stone buildings glow with the sun. Lunch was taken in a tiny bistro specializing in local produce. How can you beat a meal high on local flavor set against a sunny town square? Pretty perfect.

0105151337Leaving Uzes, we side-stepped on our way home to visit one of her neighbors, the little jewel of Lusson. Much smaller, but equally charming, this intimate bastide town perches atop a hill offering some spectacular views -360 degrees about. Perfect town for painters.

0105151413aIt was only fitting to head back south to the Mediterranean on our last day in Provence: this time to the Camargue. This marshy region near mouth of the Rhone River is home to cowboys, bulls, white horses and flamingoes. No surprise that it was fuel for Van Gogh’s paintings. The ocean town, Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer, was our destination. A town full of tourists in summer and religious legends year-round, in January we had it to ourselves.

1420554883536This morning we hit the streets of Arles one last time to scour the flea market before taking the TGV back to Paris. My suitcase is a little heavier than when we left home 10 days ago. Maybe a little trunk show will be in order once we’re settled back in our wintery Ohio nest. Warming ourselves with memories of the sun and blue skies of Provence, we’ll remember new friends as we sit around the fire with our band of “besties”.

 

Arles: don’t ask, don’t tell!

unnamedTwo years later, I was walking about Arles almost like a local. With Wendy’s assistance, we were wending our way through the quaint Roquette district of Arles in no time, searching for l’Aubergine Rouge, my former b&b. Further on, we slipped down numerous narrow streets wide enough for three people and a bicycle; narry a car to be seen. Tipping my hat to memories was balanced by new year encounters with friends of Wendy, beginning with Charlotte, who invited us to see her comfy nest, after recognizingWendy as we regarded the sweet creche(housing a proper Christ Child instead of the previous Donald Duck) in her window. We ambled the tiny byways of Arles the rest of the day, pausing for crepes and coffee late in the morning before visiting the Van Gogh Foundation and enjoying an incredible lunch of delicious homemade pasta dishes.

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Who knows what bridge this is?

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Wendy’s backstreet tour led us not only to favorite architectural gems, but also favorite shops and potential hubs for future painting sites and courses. Secret courtyards, churchyards and dead-end paths will be ultimately recorded on canvas by any number of future Patois students. Serendipitous meetings with an array of Wendy’s friends punctuated a day which began with a visit to the bridge above, instigating conversations commencing with the question “What angle would you choose to paint the bridge?”

unnamedAs we ended the day savoring a homemade roquefort tart and perfect époisse cheese with armagnac, reminiscing over the events of the day turned to anticipating an overnight in Aix tomorrow, made possible by a phone call early in the morning from Wendy’s daughter, who was leaving Aix for the Swiss border on a skiing weekend. Mi cassa es su cassa. More artists, art supplies, museums, antiques and great food are waiting to be discovered. It’s only a question of following our muse. Time to sleep so I’ll be ready…

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Brushing up on Provence

IMG_5709Yesterday the Mistral receded and we scoured the provençal hinterlands, scouting out painting locations for future painting classes. Winding to higher latitudes past rocky cliffs, snow became more and more prominent in the landscape. Not the masses of snow I met several years ago as I hairpinned my way up the mountain to Tours, but chilly all the same. Beautiful, but chilly.

Our New Year’s celebration was a delightfully intimate dinner with our new friend and guide, Wendy and her husband, Robert. We shared a deliciously simple meal around the table, regaling one-another with life-stories which, by the end of the evening, led to toasts to new friendships and future joys to be lived.

unnamed 2With a new year ahead of us, the sunny Mediterranean coast beckoned us this morning. At the last minute, Wendy snuck off to her studio and packed some art supplies “just in case”, before Robert fired up the Peugeot and we were on our way to make an artistic pilgrimage to l’Estaque, the harbor town at the western edge of Marseille. Early in the twentieth century it was a haven of creativity for a famous array of impressionist and post-impressionist artists, writers and musicians. The “Painters’ Path” is a well marked route about town, identifying locations where may well-known works were created. I took 15 minutes to paint a little plein air sketch, which Wendy documented on video. A homage to edit when I return home…

Tomorrow it’s off to the secret corners of Arles: places and streets Wendy assures us no one else knows. Who can resist a secret?unnamed

Voila!

We have a little joke amongst ourselves about having to go to the office. It simply means we’re going to the little cabana between the tourist office and the river where there is town-supplied wifi. After breakfast I headed on down to catch up on email and maybe write a post while everyone else was getting ready for the day. As I walked through the stone arch into the town garden, five beautiful white swans took flight off the river. That little moment turned out to be a good omen. After cleaning out email, I decided to try to transfer my photos to the computer one last time and, voilà, I now have over three hundred images of this magical place on my Mac Air! Still more to go but I’m on the way. Yeehah!

1411312867407Yesterday as we made a nice loop through the countryside village-hopping, we managed to take in an open-air market, the high gothic cloister of Cadouin, several bastide towns and romanesque churches, not to mention an incredible lunch which included tourin, a local specialty of garlic soup. I think it’s the Pèrigord’s answer to Chinese egg drop soup, a creamy garlic soup with egg whites stirred in. returning to home base, I gave a painting demo at the river as the sun began to set before heading back to the kitchen to cook up fresh fare for our candlelight dinner on the terrace. Whatever problems the garlic didn’t cure the abandoned laughing must have, sending us all to a glorious night’s rest.

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Intermission

After a slow start, my first little band of Artistic Adventurers barely made it to their Paris-bound train in time yesterday morning. As I unloaded their suitcases and bid them goodbye, I realized that I’ve been fascinated by this ritual ever since I rode my first train in Europe. As I retraced my tracks from Bergerac back to sleepy little Limeuil, the realization that I was alone in a foreign country swam through my mind. Though it’s a little jarring on one hand, on the other hand, I felt my body decompress with each kilometer I traveled along the swan-studded Dordogne. With nothing but swans, sun and autumn breeze, I realized how exciting it is to be here alone. As much as I love showing this amazing country to other artistic-minded souls, I love the exhilaration of the solo adventure, too.

Back in Limeuil, I began the routine of house-cleaning our medieval, hillside stone house for the next band. Surrounded by drying bedding on the terrace, I pulled out my dozen paintings of the week and began to tweak them, correcting the little details that I missed in the fast pace, beat-the-sun race of painting en plein air. Lunch in the garden and it was time to head up the Lézère River to Chateau de Losse. I snuck in the door on the last tour of the year much like my morning travelers got on their train at the last minute. The country renaissance chateau didn’t disappoint, from the formal gardens of hornbeam and boxwood to the finely furnished chambers. Best of all, as I came back outside, was the low lying sun casting its rays on the banks of the now dry moats filled with cascades of wild cyclamen. Their mauve blanket led me all the way to the rocky foundation of the chateau at the edge of the lazy river. Meandering the gardens one last time filled me with a little twinge of desire to see my own simple garden. Being here, I’m missing its last show of blue and white anemone and belladonna. C’est la vie!

p.s. Well, with the help of my brilliant, computer savvy, French friend, Laurent, I nearly got my photos on the computer. He led me to the app, but it only loaded photos taken at home. Why won’t it recognize the several hundred I took here?!?!?

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.