Montparnasse: too old to rock’n roll, too young to die

denfert rochereauI keep hearing that Montparnasse is no longer what it used to be, that the old spirit is no longer there, that the Montparnos, these bohemian artists aren’t around anymore. Well, all the nay-sayers are at it to show that Montparnasse is a thing of the past, dead and buried. But rest assured you lovers of French culture, this is not true. Fine, ‘official’, government-commissioned artists may have all buggered off to London or NYC (there are nay-sayers in both these cities too mind you, there is never a shortage of winging ready to spoil your day) or even Samarkand for that matter but who cares.

the Colin workshopWhat I know for sure is that all around me here are workshops and artists, bubbling with creativity and the desire to set poetry in motion. What else? Thanks to nice Mr Malevich who managed to sell a white painting on a white canvas in 1918 (white on white on the MoMa Website) – was that ominous of the Great War chaos? – we artists have been freed of our obligation to be ‘different’ and provocative. I know that there are still people who think that slicing sheep (read ‘is it Art‘ on Knowledge Art) and keeping it in formaldahyde is a great thing to do. Plus it sells well. Schmap is a new online tourist/cultural service which publishes information about sights and they have just released their new page on Montparnasse, which proves that it’s still well and truly on the map.

Port Royal As a matter of fact, one photograph from the Antimuseum (see above) was chosen to illustrate the page dedicated to the lion of Denfert Rochereau, the area where I live and create. Much as I regret it, the lion hasn’t been split in two pieces and its cast iron doesn’t need formaldahyde or any other chemical to stay in good shape. Bartholdi certainly wasn’t provocative enough. Actually, his lion – although it was meant to pay tribute to the courage of the people of Belfort on the German border for their heroic resistance in front of the Prussian invader of the 1870’s – is looking in the opposite direction as if to show that we have no hard feelings against our former foe. And indeed he was right to do so for now we are the world’s best friends and this is a really good idea by the way.

This natural reserve of Bartholdi’s is not going to prove sufficient to change the minds of the afore-mentioned nay-sayers but the lion still serves as beacon for many of us located around its pedestal and the nearby catacombs.

Salon des arts de Paris 14èmeI have added a few illustrations in this text which describe the area, but I still have to write up a review depicting the 300 paintings which are displayed each year in September by the artists of the well-famed fourteenth arrondissement, not to mention the courageous artists keeping their booths in the windy shadow of the tour Montparnasse every Sunday.

Sisyphus at rest and other pictures

Niemeyer's Volcano in Le Havre

These are 3 miniature watercolours [10cmx10cm] which I have just finished painting.

La roseraie Blésoise (Blois)

Brazilian architect Oscar Niemeyers Volcano in the Normandy city of Le Havre (left) to start with;

Secondly, the Rose Garden in Blois, in the Loire Valley (right);

And lastly, more surreal and metaphorical, Sisyphus at rest (below).

For the benefit of those who don’t know about the myth, Sisyphus is Aelous‘s son. He proved shrewed enough so that he was able to thwart death itself, which he managed to shackle so that he wouldn’t be sent to Hell. As a consequence he was punished for eternity, a punishment known as Sisyphean Challenge, whereby “Zeus displayed his own cleverness by binding Sisyphus to an eternity of frustration. Accordingly, pointless or interminable activities are often described as Sisyphean. Sisyphus was a common subject for ancient writers and was depicted by the painter Polygnotus on the walls of the Lesche at Delphi (Pausanias x. 31)“.

Sisyphe au repos (Mythe Grec)

But the The Myth of Sisyphus is also the title of Albert Camus‘s first , and famous, philosophical essay, an essential piece of literature in which the author is depicting his cynical, yet optimistic, view of the world that surrounds us. In this essay, Camus postulates that the world is absurd, and that all human activity on the surface of this earth is no less absurd. He therefore likens the human condition to that of poor Sisyphus, who was forced to push or carry a heavy boulder uphill on an interminable slope. Yet, according to Camus, life is good despite all this, and it is deemed worth living. This is what I imagined in this picture. Sisyphus, a man of today but also of all time, is rolling his boulder upwards as if nothing happened. But in this picture he is also taking his time to breathe before his task is finished. As it will never be finished, the picture shows a scene which is in theory impossible, but as the world is absurd anyway, it doesn’t matter that much. Sisyphus understands that this task is useless, that it will take him nowhere and he decides to have a short break before resuming.

“the fight for any summit, is in itself sufficient for a man to feel contented. One has to imagine that Sisyphus could be a happy man.” (Albert Camus, The Myth of Sisyphus)

A philosophy I can relate to, disillusioned but certainly not in the least pessimistic.

a watercolour of villa hallé in Paris in several stages

la villa Hallé depuis la nouvelle maison du 8bis rue Halléhere we are with my latest watercolour in the making. i have decided to present the various stages of the design of that watercolour. this watercolour depicts a ‘villa’ which in Paris speak means a privatised dead-end street (not the usual meaning of villa as in other parts of France or southern Europe).

on the left-hand side is phase zero of the watercolour with the main structure laid out for the drawing. the original idea came from a visit to the designer house which was temporarily opened to the public in Paris’ 14th arrondissement, rue Hallé (number 38b for those who might still be interested in visiting the house). for memory’s sake i took a quick snapshot of the villa from the top bedroom of that house with the camera of my mobile phone. it’s a pretty bad camera but as my purpose is not to reproduce exactly what i see, it doesn’t matter at all. the format of the watercolour is rather small, and aimed at fitting into an existing frame.
La phase 1 de l’aquarellage de la villa Hallé

next comes phase one with the first colours being laid out. At that stage i have already spent a couple of hours on that watercolour, despite its small size. some of the areas of the watercolour have been left without colouring in order to give myself time to think about the colours that i will want to use on that painting. this is namely the case for all these areas which will be kept very dark at a later stage such as the tree on the right-hand side. they will be coloured in phase two. at that stage i don’t know yet whether i will use India ink to highlight some of the areas of the drawing and i keep my options open at that stage. it will somewhat spice up the process by bringing a bit of unexepcted.

the following stages will be shown as i go along in the production of this watercolour

Waking-up in Saint-Jacques (Paris 14)

Saint Jacques au réveilthis is my latest watercolour depicting the early morning hours in Saint-Jacques,our area around Montparnasse and Denfert-Rochereau in Paris. The idea was not so much to describe the area but rather to tell a story – as long as brushes can tell a story – about a day in the life of the people around us.

To a certain extent, this picture has nothing to do with Paris, it could have been made anywhere where people are living close to one another. Some may think that being so close to one’s neighbours is really awful. In fact it’s not. It makes you feel part of a community and that feeling is certainly very strong here where the old ‘village-spirit’ still prevails. I believe that what this picture reveals is that feeling that we are very close to one another but that it is rather nice because – in spite of our differences – we are all part of a community sharing the same space, going to the same shops and restaurants and eventually, it makes you feel very much in synch with your environment. At least this is what I feel. (click picture to enlarge)

The Eiffel Tower (Before the Fireworks – final version)

La tour Eiffel, version finaleHere’s the final version of the Eiffel Tower that I was mentioning in the previous post. In this version, a few final elements have been added such as the foreground crowd namely.

I will show this watercolour together with my other most recent drawings at the open artists’ workshops day due to take place in Paris on May 13, 2007, rue Edgar Quinet (right at the foot of the Tour Montparnasse) where I will be in a booth for the day. Click the thumbnail or this link to enlarge.

The Eiffel Tower (before the fireworks – unfinished)

the eiffel tower before the fireworksthis is the latest watercolour that i am currently working on. it represents the Eiffel tower a few moments before the kick-off of the fireworks on Bastille day last year. the characters in the foreground aren’t finished yet but they will be soon. this is number two in a series of watercolours representing the Eiffel tower. people familiar with this blog already know about my passion of this big tower of metal, which i never cease to find fascinating. i am not sure whether i will manage to make 36 different views of the tower tough, like Rivière and Julliard, but over a long period of time, i might get there anyway, time will tell.

The London Eye seen from Plantation Place, Fenchurch Street, London

The London Eye From Plantation Place in London

Here is a sketch of a view of the London Eye seen from Plantation Place, Frenchuch Street in the City of London. The drawing was made using an EF Artpen by Rotring and crayons. The hatching and cross-hatching technique is meant to give the drawing an etching look, similar to what Rambrandt used to do. The hatching technique was remarkably mastered by Rambrandt as shown in a recent exhibition in Paris, at the national library in October 2006 (see following article in Le Figaro). A list of Rembrandt’s etchings is available from this website.

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