25 June 2020

Anatomy of a picture made in Provence

This painting was boxed in storage for several years after arriving with many other things form France. It was among many flat packed cartons which I had not opened, so it was a great surprise to re-discover it. I am pleased to have it here in Australia where light and colour are so vivid, and it fits in so well.

It must have been around the year 2000 when a girlfriend of mine was working as a chef at the Bard Lacoste School of Art in the small town Lacoste in the Vaucluse. I often went on weekends to stay with her there, and I was there for the exhibition of the students' work done that summer. They each showed in their small studio spaces where they had worked. It took place on a weekend in late August, and it was screaming hot. I walked into this small cubby hole of a room where an American from New York, was showing about a dozen things. I immediately loved this and he was happy to sell it, I forget how much, a student price for sure. 

He explained that it was a small cabanon in the valley below which he could see from the small dark room he used as a studio. I squinted off down into the hazy blue valley below Bonnieux and indeed I could make out the small stone house. For me it was a unique kind of vision, selective, and totally eccentric. An original, I could tell, a Black guy from New York, a gay actor, and capable of seeing something so differently, more differently than anything I had ever seen done in this iconic region. It was Canal Street meeting the route to Apt.

What I see is certainly not clear and which is one reason why I like the picture. It is specifically ambiguous. The luminosity of the pale, sun-kissed stone walls of the cabanon catching the afternoon rays is probably the most provençal visual truth of it. The sea in which the entire picture seems to swim is the big blue sky of summer in Province. The emerald green stripes running up and down across the painting are either the delineated fields so typical in Europe, or maybe hallucinations of  mature Cypress trees ubiquitously alining  small roads everywhere in France. Are  the small white popsicles lined up diagonally pale bluish olive trees? Or could they be small pickets holding up fences in lines along the field of grapes? Are the the black lines fields in deep shadow? Again, so much allegory of colour and form in here which allows a continual surprise.

Of course I have made all this up because I cannot for the life of me remember how he described any of this, though he certainly did at the time. I should check the back of the painting to see if he wrote his name by some chance. I could write him a card and ask what he remembers about his painting.

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