Changing Gears in Art by Jeannine Cook


Now that some time has elapsed since I finished my residency at DRAWinternational in France, I find I am still thinking about how to change gears. I went there on the premise that I wanted to explore the option of working on a larger scale in metalpoint, especially metalpoint on a black ground.

Setting out on a new path in art-making always takes time for one to readjust, I know.  It has happened to me before, but this time, other issues in life have complicated the "digestion period".  You have to filter all the advice, new thoughts and suggestions, new concepts, and try to decide which road to take and how.

This was one route, one way of changing gears, using graphite instead of metalpoint.

Caylus, 14th July, graphite, Jeannine Cook artist

Caylus, 14th July, graphite, Jeannine Cook artist

This was another experiment in graphite.

Caylus Stones II, graphite, Jeannine Cook artist

Caylus Stones II, graphite, Jeannine Cook artist

Eventually, I wanted to return to metalpoint, so I started trying to work larger and adjust - at least a little.

Maple Bark, metalpoint, Jeannine Cook artist

Maple Bark, metalpoint, Jeannine Cook artist

I am still going back and forth in my mind about the direction I want now to follow, but I know that the residency was good for me, jolting me out of ruts. 

I am at the stage where I can look back on the work I did in France and join philosopher R. G. Collingwood as he talked of his own artistic upbringing.  He said, "I learned to think of a picture not as a finished product exposed for the benefit of virtuosi, but as a visible record of an attempt to solve a definite problem in painting, so far as the attempt has gone."  For me, the operative words remain, "as far as the attempt has gone".  Still more changes to come, I hope!

Mingling Gothic Architecture and Contemporary Art by Jeannine Cook

One of the delights of finding kindred spirits is that when they suggest a place to visit, you know that there is a very good chance that you too will find the place to be special.

This happened again to me the other day, during my artist-in-residence stay at DRAWinternational in Caylus, France.

John and Grete McNorton, who established DRAWinternational as a centre for artistic investigation, research and practice, are two very special people, along with their lovely daughter, with whom I rapidly felt deliciously at home. They told me of the Abbey of Beaulieu, a Cistercian abbey decommissioned during the French Revolution and now a National Monument and contemporary art centre.

Nestled in a green winding, wooded valley just north of Saint-Antonin-Noble-Val, in Ginals, in the Tarn et Garonne Department, this is indeed a magical place to visit.

Abbaye de Beaulieu (artist's photograph)

Abbaye de Beaulieu (artist's photograph)

Originally founded as an abbey in 1144, the church was destroyed during the religious wars against the Cathars at the beginning of the 13th century. It was rebuilt from 1275 onwards, but was destroyed and rebuilt during the religious wars between Catholics and Protestants in the second half of the 16th century. From then on, until the French Revolution, the Cistercians had a difficult time surviving as their abbots were appointed directly by the King, as opposed to the Cistercian way of selecting an abbot.

Politics seem to enter every facet of life!

Then absurd hubris nearly destroyed the building as the new owners, after the Revolution, from the town of Saint-Antonin-Noble-Val; they wanted to move the whole structure, stone by stone, to their town. Luckily, the noted Prosper Merimee, one of the first Inspectors of National Monuments, stepped in and the building was saved by being classified a National Monument in 1875.

Rightly so, because after a joint restoration by the State and two enlightened citizens, Pierre Brache and Genevieve Bonnefoi, the abbey became a Centre for Contemporary Art, with the couple’s art collection left to the State as well. It is a wonderful, soaring, light-filled space in which to show art.

The day I visited, there was an exhibition of paintings and “boxes” by Montauban artist, Odile Cariteau, “Deambulations”. “Deambulation” in French means a strolling or a wandering, in this case a symbolic movement in time and space, linking an artistic and a monastic way of life.

Both modes of existence encompass realities other than the visible, experienced in solitude. Prayer and an artistic practice both dictate a particular way of life in their gentle unfolding of activity.

Interior of Abbaye de Beaulieu, with  Odile Cariteau's work displayed (artist's photograph)

Interior of Abbaye de Beaulieu, with  Odile Cariteau's work displayed (artist's photograph)

The big black and white acrylic canvases held up well, if repetitively, in the high Gothic-arched, quite narrow simple nave, transept and choir. Niches were filled with boxes, “Interior Spaces” filled with divers material, alluding to alchemy. A little too claustrophobic for my taste, but interesting. Perhaps the most arresting were the “Primordial Walking Sticks”, complex ensembles of wooden twisted branches adorned with ceramic beads and threads.

In the cool 13th century Gothic cellar, apparently intact since it was constructed (a comment on French priorities when it comes to wine and wine-making!), Cariteau had echoed, to a degree, the convoluted forms of these walking sticks in huge kakemono paintings hung in staggered rows. “Writings from Afar”, some were elegant.

Vine outside Gothic Cellar, Abbaye de Beaulieu (artist's photograph)

Vine outside Gothic Cellar, Abbaye de Beaulieu (artist's photograph)

The Abbey ensemble itself was far more compelling. The grassy lawn demarcated where the cloister had once been, and off it was the wonderful small Chapter House, with early 13th century, still polychromed massive arches and a feeling of great antiquity. It was a delight simply to sit quietly in the cool of this House and draw, somehow connecting with the monks of yore in their strict observance of an orderly, simple life.

Chapter House, Abbaye de Beaulieu (artist's photograph)

Chapter House, Abbaye de Beaulieu (artist's photograph)

There is also a current exhibition of modern art in the upstairs former dormitory, a beautiful wooden structure with high, high ceilings. “Supports/Surfaces et Apres” examines this movement that started in the 60s and 70s in France, when artists wanted to break with painting as pure painting. Whatever the art exhibition currently on at the Abbey of Beaulieu, it is well worth a visit to this peaceful remnant of another way of life, still timeless and serene in feel.

Around, the grounds still offer beautiful walks, with flowers to gladden the heart and magnificent giant trees to shade one’s path.

A special place indeed.

Diary of an Artist by Jeannine Cook

Sometimes there are amazing obstacles thrown in the way of being an artist, I have decided.

I met one or two of them just recently as I set off on a trip to an art residency at DRAWinternational in Caylus, France.

Bell Tower of Saint Jean Baptiste church and houses in medieval town

Bell Tower of Saint Jean Baptiste church and houses in medieval town

I checked in to Vueling airlines for a flight from Palma de Mallorca to Toulouse, via Barcelona. All went predictably until I reached Barcelona. There, Vueling had blandly cancelled the flight to Toulouse, a flight for which a boarding pass had been issued to me not two hours previously!

No reason, no apology, no help from the extremely lackadaisical staff in the departure lounges.

Welcome to Vueling, the company that claims, "For us, flying is a true pleasure".

Some four and a half muddled hours later, I am boarding a bus for a nearly six-hour drive from Barcelona to Toulouse, courtesy of Vueling. The options offered had been a two-day wait for the next flight to Toulouse, or this bus ride – some choice!

A 3 a.m. arrival at the almost totally deserted and closed Toulouse airport enabled the bus/Vueling simply to dump us on the pavement.

Good luck, passengers, we hope you enjoyed your flight on Vueling.

I revived somewhat after some sleep and some strong coffee, enough then to pick up a delayed car rental and head off for Caylus.

I was perhaps lucky that the obstacles were not worse and that I could forget about the “invraisemblable” (unbelievable) trip as I was greeted at the delightful home of Grete and John McNorton, hosts of DRAWinternational.

The magic of the French countryside, the brilliant sunshine and cascading roses, the eloquent stone walls of a medieval small town that has seen much history in the Lot et Garonne, the indefinable savoir vivre that I so love in France. Despite Vueling’s nonsense and obstacles, I am conscious that it is delicious to be an artist again.