Hanging With my Besties in the Hood

IMG_1971 “Yes,” I said, pointing to my faux Matisse which was drying on the floor, “We’re having a workshop today on Matisse decoupage”.They gave me a blank look. This was the third couple to drop by yesterday morning who clearly had no idea who this “Matisse” might be. We stared at each other. I pointed to the book on the chair. “C’est un peintre francais.” “Ah oui?” the husband said as the wife frowned.

IMG_2053

She was trying to imagine a world  in which people know about different painters and try to make things inspired by them just as I was trying to imagine a world in which they don’t. They left and I bustled around mixing paints and spreading paper on the floor. I was sad to think about people going through life not knowing about Matisse. Obviously, his work is the thing, but knowing about his life, his struggles and how he prevailed is enriching, too. That was the idea behind the workshop.

imagesimages

“Painting with scissors” was Matisse’s  primary focus for the last 15 years of his life. Too ill to stand at his easel, and on a quest for simplicity and flatness in his work, he took great pleasure from his cut-outs as we do today. images

imagesimgres

In my own “Matisse” I included a blue nude (but pink in mine), the undulating leaf-shapes, and stars and suns. What fun.

IMG_2011 Here Renalee starts the process by covering large sheets of paper in colour. Matisse had his studio assistants do this.

IMG_2012IMG_2045Phyllis and Suzanne deliver blues and pinks.

IMG_2020A floor full of lovely Matisse colours: the colours of summer and happiness.

IMG_2061 First the canvas is divided into asymmetric areas with masking tape. Then squares , rectangles and rhomboids are painted on, in the same happy colours.

IMG_2086Working on the floor turns out to be the best way to do it.

Before we can continue, the paint must dry. This gave us a chance to see slides of Matisse’s work, to discuss his ideas, his place in the story of art, and his life. It was great to share his story with this lovely group of women. I could see that they were moved by Matisse in the same way I am. I don’t know these gals very well – some hardly at all. But there was a great feeling of fellowship in the room. We had a common purpose and interest. We trusted each other. We were sharing ideas and making art together in freedom.  We ended this part of the workshop by thinking about some of the things Matisse said:

“(My aim is) to present emotion as directly as possible and by the simplest means.”

“Exactitude is not truth.”

“Everything is new, everything is fresh as if the world had just been born…”

This last statement  was made by Matisse following the illness that left him bed-ridden. His child-like excitement at the beauty of the world and his vocation of expressing his feelings through cut-outs is touching and inspiring, no? “That’s the spirit I want you to bring to your cut-outs,” I said.

IMG_2126 Cutting begins. Faye works on placing and moving things around. Everyone is silent as they concentrate on their compositions.

IMG_2135IMG_2118 Christiane’s colour choices are original and stimulating.

IMG_2109 Elaine knows a thing or two about composition.

They are all coming together so well.

There’s a lot of moving shapes around before the final gluing. IMG_2136

By the end, we’re all exhausted, but everyone has a really beautiful work to take home. One of the new-comers said,  “That’s the most enjoyable afternoon I’ve spent in a long time.” Others murmured assent. I was filled with the glow that comes at the end of a good class. And the delight of getting to do what I need to do – share knowledge, share art, make things, nurture people, express myself. How lucky is that?

Tope Trope

We all have our little quirks. In the spirit of no-holds-barred, here is one of mine: I love topiary. I do get it that topiary is, well, silly. Why trim the heck out of some poor plant in order to give it a shape Nature never intended? The French would scoff at the idea of respecting nature’s intentions. They unabashedly fly in the face of nature. In fact, friends were shocked when we explained that we simply let the trees on our country property  grow without interfering. It just seemed bizarre to them, “You mean you don’t keep them trim?” The expression on the faces would have been the same if they were saying, “You mean you never wash your hair?” Below is an example of what untrammelled French slashing leads to:  the deformed stumps they call trees in Limoges.

IMG_0877Public square, Limoges.

 Seriously. Why would you do this? Looks like Edward Scissorhands ran amok.

Still, the sculptural possibilities of trimming plants into shapes delights me. For example, Levens Hall in the U.K.

levens Admit it, this is fun. images

 

 

 

 

His Royal Highness Prince Charles has some pretty good topes at his garden Highgrove.imagesThe-Thyme-Walk---Andrew-Lawson-2011---G395-11D-79These are yellow holly topes. So cool. How enchanting it would be to walk this allée, enjoying the artistry of the many forms these shrubs take while waiting for the White Rabbit to pop out from behind one of them. Of course, the Prince bought the topiary along with the Elizabethan era mansion that is the heart of Highgrove. I have been less fortunate. In the financial sense.

But even Prince Charles cannot manage the largesse of some other royals. Louis the XIV, for instance. One of the pleasures of Versailles are the hundreds of perfect topiary specimens that line the major axis of the gardens. I think I photographed half of them.

IMG_1651 IMG_1637IMG_1633IMG_1631 Beautiful, no?

But, having shown you Levens Hall, Highgrove and Versailles, you are no doubt breathless for a view of my own topiary, introduced some years ago in my country garden. This plan was hatched after a typically long Quebec winter that I spent poring over the very compelling book by Bunny Guiness, Highgrove – A Garden Celebrated. So what if Prince Charles had a crack team of gardeners to help him keep the Thyme Walk Topiary in trim? I had to try. And, as usual, short on time and cash, we went to our own woods to dig out baby fir trees. I chose tamaracks for their bluey-green feathery foliage. Examining our work in progress, our friend the forester, Justin, helpfully pointed to the 50 foot tall tamaracks of our forest and said, “You do realize that they get quite tall”? “I will keep them trimmed,” I said breezily.

IMG_1883 Here is half of the main axis of our garden that runs parallel to the south side of the house. The topiary were to provide structure and demarcate the axis,

IMG_1884Gulp. Here you have it . Four topiariy-in -training, one half of the topiary walk.

IMG_1875Here is my best one. I said this to a friend recently and she said, “Aren’t they supposed to be, well, round? ” “Getting there!” I responded testily. It’s OK.  Lots of other friends come to visit and say, “I LOVE the topiary!” And they smile and squeeze my hand. I think what they are saying is, I love it that you are the kind of crazy person who would conceive and try a topiary walk in a frozen little Northern garden when you are not Louis XIV or even Prince Charles. Right.

Open for Business

Somehow, it happens. After weeks of imagining, calling, emailing, paying (and paying) discussing, deciding, listing (not a verb in the sense that I mean it, I know), shopping, cleaning, plastering, painting, framing, nailing, hanging, writing, translating (alas, badly), we finally made it to the opening night of our beloved artefact gallery. I just checked my to do list and somehow all those things happened. Now our summer can truly begin. IMG_1889 IMG_1893IMG_1895IMG_1891IMG_1888IMG_1892

 

Many friends and family members came. A number of folks new to artefact came, too. Elaine and Jim cooked up a storm despite the fact that the food is SUPPOSED to be lousy at a vernissage. Let’s take a look at what we are up to in artefact this summer.

IMG_1887Fabulous pillow collection. Faithful readers will recognize the Paris fabrics on the pillows made by wonderful Laure Bonneville. The shelving units are neat and were whipped up by talented friends.

 

IMG_1796Laure.

At the serious end of the gallery, fine art rules. The exhibition is called “Atila et Moi”. Moi is me. I’m showing the works I did in France – mostly acrylic and pure pigment on paper. Have a look.

IMG_1913 This is one of the  ones that sold.

IMG_1865IMG_1866IMG_1867

 

Do you see some of the influence of the art I was looking at in Paris – at the Art Fair, and the Drawing Salon? Here’s a reminder:IMG_1270IMG_1272 I saw these intensely coloured works and got interested in trying out the use of pure pigment in my work. The colours are so rich and deep.

The Atila of our show is a surrealist painter whose works came up for auction at Drouot in the early spring.  I acquired several lots thinking, I could build a show around this stuff. It is really good. The show is about surrealism and the influence one artist has on another. Go here for more info on the gallery, the show, and for my artist’s statement. Man, was this  fun: conceiving and curating the show and hanging it, aided by friend Alison. I think Atila would have liked it. That idea has been important to me. Have a look.

atila croppedIMG_1904

 

Atila and an etching from 1980.

IMG_1907The etchings look great clustered together in the black gallery where you can really get up close. The work on the easel is one of mine, inspired by Atila Here’s a close up. IMG_1901IMG_1903 IMG_1868 More Atila’s from the 1980’s. I love their mysterious symbolism. I come back again and again thinking who are these people; what stories are they acting out? You feel on the verge of comprehension and then it slips away again.

It was a great night and a good party. Today in the gallery it was blessedly quiet and I enjoyed the peace and the alone time. IMG_1908

We are open for business. Damn! Is that painting crooked?

Here We Go Again

Yes, I’m back. I’ve missed the blog, and it feels great to tell you that many readers have been saying that they miss it , too. Time for a fresh start and a new focus, without forgetting the fun we had before, in Paris.

IMG_1778 Ferns emerging in mid-May.

Six weeks have passed since we returned from our Winter in Paris. We have picked up our many responsibilities: houses, gardens, aged mothers, adult children who still need us, and the extended circle of friends for whom we wish we had more time. During our absence, a member of the extended family died, leaving us a lovely bequest but also the  ton of work it takes  to settle the many details of an estate. Our car died, too, and it was not a clean and painless death. But while our Uncle is missed, the car is not. Good riddance. Never buy a Hyundai.

How does it feel? I LOVE it here. Here is me. Here is who I am.I adore Paris, but I can never be a Parisienne, however fascinating  that idea may be. All this baggage of home and its people and the things that go with it  doesn’t quite define me, but it is a big part of my definition. It all expresses a myriad of choices made over decades, and all the work and nurturing and trying and imagining that has gone into crafting  my life. It all stands out in relief now that I have been away and I must say that I like what I see. Pretty much.

IMG_1809 Our country garden..

IMG_1802 We came home to primroses.

IMG_1779

 

Things are different here and so am I.  For one, I am less good-looking. Here’s what I mean. I was going through some of my Paris pictures with my friend Hannah, who will be  in Paris soon and wanted to get my thoughts on Versailles. So I was showing her pictures of me and my friend Alison at Versailles and she pointed to one and said, “This must be Alison”. “Uh… no. It’s me.” She looked at the photo again in disbelief and then back at me.”Okay,” I said. “I up my game when I’m there.” She reacted the same way to several more photos. I vowed to start wearing make-up again. And accessories.

IMG_1626Me at Versailles. Note foulard, tight pants, vintage belt, Chanel (not really) jacket, everything matches.

baggy pantsMe at home with Sophie. Note baggy pants,  dirty hair tied back so that I look like a ninja, sensible red boat shoes, glass of wine.

I’m less focussed on food here. It’s just a lot more difficult to get the very best ingredients and usually involves getting in a car and takes time which I may not have. Meals are simple, usually grilled fish, a salad and a glass or four of wine. Chocolate is a must because I insist on healthy eating. I hope to be eating from the garden soon and more on that later.

IMG_1849The gallery with new banner flying.

What I am very much focussed on is the art gallery, my beloved artefact, 255a Knowlton Road, Town of Brome Lake. We open in less than 5 days! Yikes. Any readers living in the vicinity are invited to join us for the Grande Ouverture, wine and cheese at 5 pm and a  chance to win a framed work on paper. That just rolls off my tongue because I have been repeating it over the phone so much and now even in my sleep I can be heard muttering, “framed work on paper…” I am so excited about the opening exhibition, “Atila et Moi/Atila and Me” which features the surrealist works on paper that I bought on auction in Paris and many of my own works, also in a surrealist vein. Here’s a preview.

 

IMG_1865One of my works.IMG_1868One of Atila’s works.

More to come, on every front. Gallery website: http://www.artefact-bromelake.com.

 

 

Au Revoir, Paris

Sad. Can’t help feeling it, saying good-bye to beautiful Paris. Tomorrow we will be winging our way home, looking rather like this.

 

Image from www.alovelybeing.com

  Image from http://www.alovelybeing.com, with thanks.                  

 

The first thing we do on arrival is retrieve this wonderful being, my “son”.

IMG_0072

Then we will light a fire, even if it is rather warm.

IMG_0062   But the Christmas tree will not be there. I hope. I did take it down, didn’t I?

I hope that these two people will come over right away.

IMG_0030

And we will open presents from Paris and a bottle from Bordeaux.

I will fix them a dinner that looks something like this.

IMG_0013

In a kitchen that looks like this.

IMG_0141 Not like this.imgres

Then in a day or two someone who looks like this will come from Toronto and we will give her big hugs.

IMG_0116  And we will have visits with mothers, and sisters and pay our taxes late – first time ever, I swear and it will all feel wonderful. It does already.

Dames d’un Certain Age II

Don’t think I have ceased researching my soon- to-be best-seller on the beauty secrets of middle-aged Parisiennes. Au contraire.  I know that in this time of resurgent Cold War and financial uncertainty, when a SARS-like epidemic out of the Middle-East (coincidence?) is heading our way, the primary pressing concern of the average North American woman of a certain age is how to stave off the ravages of time, shed wrinkles and extra pounds,  and achieve the insouciant epitome of chic that is the natural state of women over here. I have dedicated myself to this research (a fact I particularly insist upon in the expectation that I can write off all of my expenses on this trip in my 2014 tax return). I cannot give away all the book’s secrets, but to whet your appetite I would like to begin with a general discussion of certain myths concerning the aging Parisienne.

#1. It is not true that all  Parisian women are young-looking and chic. Not at all. They often  show their age. Every one of those Gitanes they smoked as they mounted the barricades in May 68 is written on their faces in wrinkles as complex as the Paris metro map. They often wear nondescript outfits and sensible shoes. Their hair is in  a bun, and  not a chic messy-bun as seen in the advertizing for Aesop skin care products. Not at all.

#2. It is not true that the French don’t try to be beautiful. Believe me, they try. Take cellulite creams. In the pharmacies of Paris there is hardly room for any drugs because of the amount of shelf-space devoted to cellulite creams. And honestly, who would be naive enough to think that a cream would get rid of cellulite, anyway?

Imagined conversation:

Pharmacist:   “Desolez, Madame, but I cannot give you any antibiotics for your oozing sores to-day, because we ran out of room for them.”

Customer: “Zut, what shall I do?”

Pharmacist: “Perhaps try some cellulite cream? It’s very effective.”

#3. It is not true that Parisiennes do not use botox. At a dinner party I attended recently, a truly beautiful fellow guest was so botoxed that when she spoke, she sounded like she had no teeth. It was painful to see her try to form words, and discover that her upper lip just wasn’t going anywhere.

Exercise for those considering botox:

Go to a mirror. Stuff four cotton balls under your upper lip. Notice that those witchy lines do disappear, but also notice that  you look like Bugs Bunny. Now try to talk. Say words like: wonderful, please, and why would I want to look so ridiculous.

Enough myth-busting, although there is much more to be said. Time for stalking the chic Parisiennes we do admire. Let’s look at some photos and analyze.

A few weeks ago, at the Paris Art Fair, I noticed that I was surrounded by the subject types we are most interested in. Ah-ha, iphone 5C at the ready!

IMG_1299 Here’s the setting. The beautiful Grand Palais. Chic Parisiennes are everywhere, selling, buying, discussing, seeing and being seen.

IMG_1282   Our first subject shows that you need not be young nor happy to be chic. She has style, she matches the paintings, the grey hair was a good choice and she understands that if you are going to go grey you have to wear lipstick.

IMG_1276 Perfect. The figure on the right has orange everything – jacket, hair and hem. And it’s really working. She looks vibrant, chic – er than thou. Her friend has the most gorgeous coat. The purse and pants are right.

IMG_1241 Some art. Just to raise the tone of our discussion.

IMG_1245 Oh, the young Moms. Jeggings, leggings, great knee-length coat, large hand bag, white platform running shoes. Copy that.

IMG_1253 Running shoes again. Now this hurts a bit, because no running shoes unless at the gym, used be a central tenet of the Parisiennes’ creed. But things have changed and running shoe culture has come to Paris. Still, as your teenagers know, they have to wear the RIGHT running shoes. White or black lace-ups. Look like Keds. Could be platform if you want a little height.

IMG_1243 More art. Improve your mind.

IMG_1246 Yes. Camel and perfectly coiffed. Oxfords are another good shoe choice and they are everywhere here.

IMG_1295  Arty, shawled, dark tights. Take notes.

IMG_1277 Dashing about. She’s working but always coordinated in the great Paris non-colours that are a no-risk choice for the chic.

Okay, there you have it. More myths busted and more secrets revealed in “Aging Like A Parisienne”, by Christine Stonehewer. Advanced orders accepted.

 

 

Weird French Food V

Part of the fun of staying in Paris for a few months is seeing the changing produce in the markets. A sure sign of spring is the appearance of French (not Spanish – pah!) asparagus on the market tables. The most prized, and costly, is the fat, white asparagus that we seldom see in North America.

IMG_1063  Compare the girth of the white variety to their skinny green cousins at left.

IMG_1061 More skinnies and fatties.

IMG_1078 There will be no comments about the Freudian aspect.

We decided to have a taste test. We would cook up the tender, green, skinny asperges and the bold, white fatties and see which was better. Our young dinner guest, Caitlin, kindly agreed to do a blind tasting. She was too pretty to blindfold, but she promised not to look.

IMG_1079 Getting ready to taste. On the table you see the white ones dressed in a simple vinaigrette. On the right are the green ones with a topping of chevre, tomato, and vinaigrette. Was this tipping the balance in favor of the green?

IMG_1080 First goes the white. Caty’s father excitedly helps himself to one.

Next is the green. Hey, is Caty peeking? No, her eyes are closed. IMG_1081

The verdict? Caty comes in on the side of the green, which she says “tastes green”. I know what she means.

IMG_1148 Caty the next day, at the Jardins du Luxembourg, none the worse for her exertions with asparagus.

At the table, the vote was split. Some sided for green based not only on the taste, but for the beautiful colour it gives the plate. Good point. Personally, I thought the white was ahead by a nose because in addition to having all the flavour of green asparagus, it had an appealing texture: firm on the outside, nicely mushy in the centre. If you see white asparagus why not have your own taste test and let me know how it turned out.