When you travel to a country so entirely new, different and utterly amazing, how does one even start to translate those experiences into art? This is the conundrum with which I am grappling after a recent trip to Western Australia.Read More
Light footsteps flying down the spacious stairway, sunlight flooding through the big windows, laughter and a welcome soon sealed with a glass of wine: my stay at Hotel Sainte Valière began deliciously.
I soon learned that this gracious house, one of the main homes built in this small hilltop village during the 19th century wealthy heyday of wine culture in the Languedoc Roussillon area of southern France, was originally called a “winegrower’s folly”. The Cayla family knew how to make a home of gracious proportions, and today’s guests at Eloise Caleo’s Artist Residency are the lucky beneficiaries. The family lives on the top floor, with wonderful views out over the Minervois area and the green, bountiful vineyards, and on the middle floor are three spacious rooms and private bathrooms for the residents. Meals, if you chose to take them with the family, are out on the terrace or in a front room warmed by a wonderful fire framed by a local marble fireplace. Needless to say, the meals are seriously delicious.
My two-week residency flashed past but it was the perfect place to get down to working really hard. I wanted to complete two big silverpoint drawings for an upcoming exhibition and this was the ideal situation simply to push through and finish them in dogged fashion. My quiet and privacy were respected delightfully.
So many enticing trips, nonetheless, beckoned. Sainte Valière is in bounteous wine-growing country, a world punctuated by blue mountain ranges, dwarfed – one has to admit – by the snow-capped Pyrenees peaks floating in the distance to the south west. Lovely golden-stone villages all have their own “caves” or wine-growers where wine-tasting is offered, plane tree avenues shade and wind along roads that invite the explorer. The Canal du Midi, serene and winding in stately fashion though the vineyards and past small towns that have known considerable wealth from the canal transport and commerce in the past, is now bringing new economic activity to the area. Biking, boating, small restaurants along the water – so many attractions to delight, and all close enough to hand to Sainte Valière that an artist can slip off for a while to change gears from creating to celebrating life in France.
Another wonderful side trip from Sainte Valière is the Abbey of Fontfroide, a mighty Cistercian twelfth century monastery that was restored and reinvigorated at the turn of the 20th century by Gustave Fayet. Art lovers know his name as a major late 19th century collector of Gauguin and other contemporary artists. He was a wine grower from the area, an artist himself, painting and creating lovely ceramics and carpets. He was also an experimenter in the astonishing stained glass windows that he and a master glazier, Richard Burghstal , created for the church and dormitory at Fontfroide.
Not only is the abbey itself beautiful, with its rose garden and hillside gardens framing it as it nestles the forest-clad valley in the Corbières hills, but its library hides another gem. Gustave Fayet commissioned Odilon Redon to paint two huge canvases, each of three panels, in the vast stately library above the cloisters. Night and Day, they are considered his ultimate masterpiece. Complex, highly allusive and full of symbols, they are a symphony of colour and lyricism. A special guided visit to see them is well worth the effort; in truth, they are so many-layered that one could see them innumerable times and see something fresh each time.
Narbonne and Carcassonne are other visits well worth making as excursions from Sainte Valière. But – remember –Hôtel Sainte Valière is an artist’s residency! So, ideally, the creative juices should flow too and the side trips can be the rewards. I certainly found that to be the case. As I rolled my two big silverpoint drawings in a tube to pack and take home, I felt I was packing far more than art. The two weeks were a gift of gracious living, fascinating regional beauty and, best of all, the formation of new and delightful friendships.
Silk has always been my favourite material, sensuous to wear yet so practical and comfortable in all weathers. It is always beautiful, whether patterned, plain, embroidered or subtly woven with textures in it. Even its names - shantung, habutai, tussore, chiffon, taffeta, dupioni, tussah - sound exotic and alluring. One of my earliest connections with silk was the realisation that mulberry leaves, from a tree that I loved and knew well at my home in East Africa, were what feed the silk worms for 35 days, before they are ready to spin a cocoon with their continuous fine silken thread that eventually measures over a mile when it is carefully unwound, prior to being woven into cloth.Read More
It was a strange feeling. Suddenly, I was asked to become the subject of someone else's art-making. And not just to sit for a portrait in the usual sense of the word. Portraits are usually fairly straightforward affairs, either commissions or records of friends and colleagues. Artists tend to use their fellow artists as subjects because they esteem them, share creative time together (such as Edouard Manet painting Monet working in his studio-boat) or even, sometimes, because they need an inexpensive model. But my request to be the subject was a little different, I learned.Read More
Whilst I sit drawing in the vineyards around beautiful, historic Evora in Portugal's Alentejo region, I am constantly aware of the myriad birds flitting from one perch to another, down the ground, up into the cork oaks edging the vineyard and off somewhere else. What impresses me is their wonderful camouflage, especially during the winter season. Unless they move, they are virtually invisible. Perhaps I have been paying their aspect closer attention than usual because I have just been reading about Lucien-Victor Guirand de Scévola, a French artist and soldier fighting the Germans during the First World War.Read More
Since I share many Europeans' profound shock and dismay about the Brexit vote in now what is becoming rapidly "Little England", I found myself thinking back to a wonderful series of carvings I had seen the evening before. They helped me regain a sense of perspective and reminded me that down the ages, every country, especially here in Europe, has gone through so many upheavals and shocks. I was exploring the wonderful little Burgundian village, Montréal, near Avallon.Read More
Every artist must at least occasionally have moments of doubt about whether work being created will stand the test of time or whether it will even be appreciated by other people. It is inevitable, I suppose, given that most creative ventures are fairly solitary. You work away at your desk, your potter's wheel, your easel, your sculpture table, your musical score, your ballet bar or whatever the work might require. Your vision and your passion, you hope, carry you forward to creating something that is good, worthwhile, meaningful to others. And something that will stand the test of time.Read More
One of the serendipitous bonuses of my explorations in winding Pyrenees valleys near Bordeneuve was a church not even listed clearly in the maps I was using: Notre Dame de Tramesaygues in Audressein. Two impetuous rivers join in their rush downstream, ultimately to swell the Garonne river, and the small village borders these tumbling waters. In fact,Tramesaygues means "between the waters' in patois. On the UNESCO world heritage site list, this 14th century Romanesque church is graced with some really wonderful frescoes in the entrance portico. Since they are roofed over by the bell tower, they are protected to an extent, and thus much more impressive.Read More
As so often happens, delicious coincidences have again come along to enhance life for me. When a fine day suddenly burst through from the clouds of rain and snow, I decided to give myself a break from silverpoint drawing at my wonderful artist's retreat perch at Bordeneuve, in Betchat in the French Pyrenees. My hostess, Noelle, extremely knowledgeable and a lover of all things natural, historic and beautiful in Ariège, confirmed that my plans for the day were good.Read More