Olive Groves

 

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Renoir’s Olive Grove, 18×36 Stebner oil on linen

In the oppressive heat of early August, I took refuge in the studio, painting from photos taken at Renoir’s house in Cagnes-sur-Mer,  high on a hill overlooking the Mediterranean, one hot day in June.

Painting from photos is tricky. But I think I’ve come up with a little battle plan to overcome the problems intrinsic to that process: I use the photo to capture the main forms and composition, then I look at it as little as possible. Instead, I call on my memory to relive the feelings I had at that moment to make up for the lack of being on site.

As an Ohio boy, olive trees aren’t part of my visual memory bank. Sure, I’ve seen them over my years of traveling France, but never warmed up to them until I found myself on Renoir’s turf. Walking the grounds, I was smitten by their rustic, craggy silhouettes with leaves fluttering in the breeze, and the cool shade they provided. Suddenly, they were paintable!  Now, armed with tubes of colors, brushes and palette knives, I’ve been pursuing their illusive beauty. As a lover recalls an erstwhile romance, I’m wooed by the memory of their willowy presence.

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Cool Shade, Renoir. 20×36 Stebner oil on linen

I paint with eyes wide open, but remember with eyes shut, the sun, shade, breeze and scents of Renoir’s olive grove, a sacred space in my book. This man’s determination to paint beauty in spite of war, loss and crippling illness inspires me to never give up. I have many more olive trees to paint, but these two will be ready for my show,

For anyone wanting to go one step further into the world of Renoir, I repost three minutes of original footage of the crippled master painting(and smoking, of course!), late in his life.

Rear View

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Summer Bliss, Bavaria. 12×16. Stebner oil on linen. Price on Request

These first six months in my Hereford studio have been productive and happy. Scarcely a day slips by without a painting session. New students have found their way to the door. It’s a lovely life-rythmn.

Falling leaves finally turned to snowflakes as we had last week. The beauty of studio painting is that I can be in any place in any season with the scroll of the computer mouse. Taking position in front of the easel, I might as well be in the boarding line at the airport and lifting a brush is a safe landing anywhere I want to be.

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Wellies and Wheelbarrow, 16×20 Stebner oil on linen, price on request

This week was a time to revisit favorite memories while welcoming students and a favorite client, returning for new Stebner’s for his collection and gift giving.

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Afternoon Aperitif, 12×16 Stebner oil on linen. Price on Request

Snowy January afternoon warming by the fire on a farm in the Auvergne. A sunny June on the bavarian Chiemsee. Strolls in a walled secret garden in Burgundy. Or watching a Burgundian gardener.

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Paisley, Peonies and Iris. 16×20 Stebner oil on linen. Price on Request

Finishing the second of these two garden folk, I realized something was going. I’d painted two out of three of the subjects from the back. I first questioned my inner world for doing so, but then realized it’s the mystery of what isn’t seen as much as what is that draws in the viewer. You can follow these gardeners safely into their private worlds without being confronted face to face. You can look through their eyes rather than into them. That’s another subject for another season.

Who dares follow me to Burgundy or Provence to see France through my eyes in June? Time is running out!  Click here or contact me directly to open the door.

 

 

The Bliss in Ignorance

I have no insight to offer the insidious crisis of  Je suis Charlie. 

But Jim and I walked into the 11th arrondissement of Paris Wednesday afternoon totally unaware of the shooting of Charlie Hebdo and his staff. We were simply spending the last night of our delayed “honeymoon” in Paris after our sunny week in Provence, before returning home Thursday morning. Having been without internet service for several days, it wasn’t until we settled into our room in a little tourist hotel near the Gare de Lyon that I had a chance to open Facebook and read your entries of concern for us.

1419846990401Jim is a Facebook voyeur: he gets the scoop secondhand from me. But no grass grows under his feet. No sooner had I read him the entries, than he was scratching at his iPad, as I blogged, to scout  out the news. At that point, only the bare facts were available so we went on our merry way.

ParisZagat2013_ChezPaul_photoJessicaHauf__17It wasn’t just us. Such tragedies are so surreal it takes time to absorb their meaning. Life on the streets of Paris continued to appear normal, in spite of the shocking event. Students, tourists, business people and mother’s with strollers filled the sidewalks as always, as we walked northward to have one last romantic dinner at Chez Paul, only blocks from the Hebdo headquarters. Much to our ignorance. Had we been better informed, we probably would have taken a different tack: maybe a pilgrimage back to the Rue de Mouffetard across the River in the Latin Quarter or even dined close to the hotel. But we were still on honeymoon mode. Our brains were filled beyond capacity with our own happiness. Dinner was a dream.ParisZagat2013_ChezPaul_photoJessicaHauf__11

In spite of more murders the next day, our flight was early enough in the day to roll off the runway on time, without a hitch. Since then, the media has made it clear that it isn’t the end of the story. What appeared to begin as an attack on freedom of thought, speech and artistic expression has taken the life of innocents beyond. The end? I don’t know what it’s like to be in a massacre, but I do know what it’s like to have my body attacked by disease and fight with all my fiber to get my life back to a “normal” I will never again know. Normal continues to morph, exchanging unimaginable treasures for every copper penny it takes. I’m not at all sure that applies in this case.

Je suis Charlie. Vous êtes Charlie. Tout le monde est Charlie.

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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”.

 

Looking down on Creation

IMG_5718It’s a wonderful thing to be in Aix-en-Provence, the home of Cezanne, under the protection of Mt. Ventoux. From almost anywhere in town it’s possible to look about and see the famous mountain standing guard. The city itself is a picturesque, provençal, mini-Paris: friendly yet chic, rooted in historic yet youthfully progressive.  And then there’s the food…

unnamed 2Just 45 minutes from Arles, it would have been an easy day trip. But with an invite from Wendy’s daughter, who was leaving town for a skiing weekend, we were packing the Peugeot, Viggo, the cocker, and all, for an overnight in her 200 year old family cabane, high above the city. What could be more romantic than turning off the busy road on the edge of town only to cross a narrow, one lane, stone bridge, le Pont des Trios Saulets, immortalized in paint by another famous figure, Winston Churchill? It was just a foretaste of the rustic pleasures in store at the stone cottage up the mountain, where we could look down on the city or across the valley to Mt.Ventoux, itself.

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Saturday in Aix, as in many cities, towns and villages in France, is a time to faire les magazins- go shopping, whether for necessities or luxuries; and we did our share. From open air markets to antique art boutiques to Hermes, we covered the gamut. That night, after Wendy and I had a little paint-out in the garden, we all relaxed around the fireplace with Robert’s favorite pizza and wine, resting up for our big Sunday walk down to Aix and back. Viggo was in heaven and we weren’t far behind.

unnamed 3Back in Arles, after a late afternoon trip to the hill town of Les-Beaux to scout out more painting sports for future tours, we were once again at table, dining, wining and plotting an autumn Artistic Adventure not to be missed.

Who wants in?

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

Provence: Oranges to Concrete

Provençal bowl with mandarins, 5x5 oil $100, unframed, $150 in a big chunky frame

One of the joys of being a traveling artist is sharing the trip with friends like you. It’s such a thrill to let you see what I see through my paintings. Some of you have stopped by to see the paintings in person; some of you have to settle for the blog entries.

But with two of the interior paintings already sold, I’ve been at the easel creating more memories of my winter in Provence.

As I paint, I’m back there, myself.

Wine and Honey Bastide, 6x8 oil, $175 unframed, $245 framed

This little landscape was done on my first day painting en plein air. I never go out painting without a visitor or two. This day, both the owner and neighbor stopped by to check out my strange outdoor studio in the snow. I wish I had photos of the silly little turquoise Ford something-or-other with door flung open, my easel next to it and me painting in my get-up at this curve in the road. But the photo-fish that really got away was the owner of this bastide. He was a marvelous, craggy character: a Belgian ex-pat. The highest compliment he paid me was saying he thought I was a foreigner as well, by my accent. Thank you! I just couldn’t destroy that moment by asking if I could take his photo.

6x8 oil. Olive Grove in Snow $175 unframed, $245, framed

Here’s a little slice on Monfort in the wintertime. The town boasts olives, wine and water. The water of Monfort is bottled commercially, at the source. But Monfort’s real claim to fame, I was told by Pierre and Fabrice, is Joseph-Louis Lambot, the inventor of ferro-cement, which led to the development of reinforced concrete. Somehow, this fact explains why Monfort’s population is stable rather than seasonal, like so many Provençal towns. Wikipedia has confirmed this French fact about cement, which I took with a polite smile and nod in the conversation for three reasons. First, I was a guest. Second, was I really understanding the drift of things and finally, as much as I love the French, they do seem to have their own inventors of everything, from electricity to… to concrete!

Fruit on My Labor

This week I feel sort of like Dorothy after returning to Kansas from Oz. It’s great to be home with family, friends and pets, sleeping in my own bed, but part of me is still back roaming the French countryside, munching baguette and cheese. That part that missed that plane home is waiting, more or less patiently, for me to return for the next French painting adventure. I wake to floods of memories and sensations from the past two weeks which will take form on canvas in the weeks to come. Until then, I thought I’d let you see some more of the little paintings I did while we were in France together this time. Days it was too cold to layer up like the Mighty Quinn and paint en plein air, I was able to do some interior scenes at Le Chat Luthier. Here they are, without editorial comment.

Lake Carcés, 6x8 oil on panel, $195 unframed, $245, framed

Lake Carcés, 6x8 oil on panel. $195 unframed, $245 framed.

Around the corner in Arles, 6x8 oil on panel, $195 unframed, $245 framed

Missing You. 8x10 oil on panel, $365 framed SOLD

French Regency. 8x10 oil on panel. $295 unframed, $365 framed

A Place to Hang My Hat. 8x8 oil. $325 framed SOLD

Belle Provence

The balance of my hours in Provence were happily spent doing what I came to do. In the morning I made a pilgrimage to Thoronet, a Cistercian abbey built at the end of the 12th century. Beyond the visual beauty, the highlight was hearing a priest chanting in the church. He sounded like an entire choir of men. Later, he sang a triad slowly, which the vaulted ceiling tuned into a chord. I’ve never experienced that in my life.

Still a little chilly to paint, I picnicked on a small baguette, left over cheese and olive tapenade on the grounds, washing it down with some San Pellegrino. Too many hairpin turns and paintings to go before it would be wine time.

The afternoon proved to be cool but calm, with enough sunshine to enjoy painting at le Lac de Carcés. Evening gave way to a marvelous farewell french dinner prepared by Pierre.

6x8 oil, Lac de Carcés

By the time you’re reading this, I’ll be back in Paris at my silly little hotel at Place d’Italie, where the wi-fi is capricious but a delightful patisserie is right around the corner. As much as I want to return to Jardin d’Artemis for dinner, I’m also tempted by the little place next door which specializes in couscous- as long as it’s not bio!

If Ever I Would Leave You

I’m up early today with ringing bells and cooing pigeons, comme d’habitude. Tomorrow morning at this time I’ll be von Trapping it to Aix to snag the wonder-train back to Paris.  Maybe I’ll check the train schedule this time for delays.

Lying here in bed, listening to the town wake up, I have a “make a wish” sense about the day. It’s a wistful sensation. Not just because my Winter in Provence is almost over and I need to choose how to spend my last day here, either. The greater heartache is this; as amazing as this time has been, I may never see this place again. It’s rather like a romance break-up… I did that once in eighth grade. Tried it in college but it backfired and I got married. Oops.

But with my wandering, adolescent, artist’s eye, there are more regions in this lovely country to see so I’m still playing the field. My next fling could be the Aquitaine, the Alps, the Auvergne,  southern Burgundy, or another round with my first love, Brittany.

Except there’s a place I’ve been dying to go: the Perigord with the river Dordogne. I’ve lusted after it for several years.

Each region, like people, has unique beauty and charm. And in France each has a gender, too. Way back whenever, most of these regions were baptized with the feminine article la: la Normandie, la Bretagne, la Provence, la Loire… But my next round with la France may be southwest through l’Auvergne(the gender’s in the closet with the apostrophe) to le Perigord, and even le Basque. Guilty, as charged.

Even when I return to la Provence some spring or fall, will it be Monfort and this charming cat, Luthier? It’s been a delight, but this blue-eyed  wanderer is a fickle fellow, easily seduced by the promise of the unseen vista waiting around the next bend. But brev, I’m staying in the moment. Sun’s up. I’ll shower,breakfast and paint today away. Tomorrow, I’ll be lost in the City of Light.