As I return to my less art-oriented daily life after my artist residency at La Porte Peinte in Noyers sur Serein, Burgundy, I realise that the time I have spent there, this year and last year, has subtle results. Something I would almost define as a state of mind.
There has been a curious combination of magical, positive elements to achieve such a state. The set-up at La Porte Peinte, first of all, was felicitious in the extreme for me: I thoroughly enjoy being with Michelle and Oreste Binzak who own and run LPP. They are delicious citizens of the world and ensure that artists are made most welcome and comfortable. My room, which I also used as my studio for drawing, was perched high above the Place de l'Hôtel de Ville, the main square in the village, and provided a marvellous sight of what was going on and taking the pulse of the village. My view of timber-framed medieval houses around the square reminded me of those long-distant times during which monks were diligently using leadpoint to prepare their illuminated manuscripts in nearby abbeys whilst other agriculturalist monks were furthering the cultivation of vines and making wines already famous beyond Burgundy.
Beyond the walls and gallery of La Porte Peinte, the actual village of Noyers adds to this special state of mind I experience. A medieval village recently listed seventh among the twenty-one most popular villages in France and one of the hundred most beautiful French villages, it is a bustling place that is on the go. A cafe, butcher, baker, even a candle-stick-maker hardware shop, two groceries, four restaurants and two tea rooms, diverse accommodation in restored homes, elegant shops for ceramics, leather or wool goods, antiques -- even a hairdresser -- all for under 700 residents and those lucky enough to visit. So in a very small village enclosed by medieval walls and towers, you soon know people and find yourself greeting them as you saunter along the cobbled streets. As you use your key to come and go at La Porte Peinte, you begin to feel that at least for a time, you belong there.
Within an hour's drive for Noyers in any direction, there are wonderful places to visit and learn about Burgundy's history, heritage, agriculture, achievements. From Fontenay, Vezelay, Pontigny or St. Germaine in Auxerre, all world-famous medieval churches and abbeys, to Renaissance châteaux or far earlier -- the Arcy sur Cure cave where man has sheltered for the last 200,000 years and adorned its walls 28,000 years ago, Burgundy beckons in astonishing diversity and richness. Letting all these diverse aspects of this region seep into one's mind and spirit is an uplifting and enriching experience. The long, long presence of man, bellicose and peaceful, in this area - Neanderthal Roman, Gaul, Viking and on down to present-day French - has imprinted the area with a sense of time that is good to re-meet in our short-term-optic world.
Overarching all these outside influences and richness of heritage is the experience of being in the most beautiful countryside. Wide fields and pastures dominate the upland plateaux and vineyards swoop down the slopes to the meandering, bounteous rivers. The land is tilled and used with a deep sense of good husbandry, through long centuries of man's familiarity with this region's soil and climate characteristics. One's sense of wellbeing is enhanced by the "fitness" of these landscapes, the respect shown by lack of rubbish thrown carelessly away, a feeling of the land being always there, unchanged beyond the normal ebb and flow of natural influences.
These aspects of Burgundy feed subtly into one's state of mind as you work there as an artist. For me personally, deep, quiet happiness and delight at being back in beloved France are amplified by the songs of Burgundy, both literal from the many birds, to the metaphorical ones about which I have written above. Reversing a quote by the sculptor, Antoine Bourdelle, I think that Burgundy's "grand lines of nature" help to foster art.
Burgundy is a very special state of mind for me.