Blenheim Palace, Oxfordshire (Great Britain)

Blenheim Palace Fountain

Blenheim Palace Fountain

Back in the saddle after quite a few months in which I haven’t produced any new pictures. I have just completed this new postcard format watercolour of a fountain at Blenheim Palace.

Blenheim Palace is the “home to 11th Duke of Marlborough and the birthplace of Sir Winston Churchill” according to the Blenheim Palace website. It is located in Oxfordshire, north-west of Oxford.

The palace, an early 18th century mansion built by the Duke is “set in 2100 acres of beautiful parkland landscaped by ‘Capability’ Brown” and it is “surrounded by sweeping lawns, formal gardens and the magnificent Lake”.  I have only chosen to reproduce this fountain with its caryatids in this picture, but the main landmark at Blenheim is the bridge and the view of the palace from the river (see the top picture at http://www.blenheimpalace.com/thepalace/untoldstory/)

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.

Villa Hallé – new version in acrylics

draft rue Hallé à l'acryliqueFollowing a previous post on a watercolour of the Villa Hallé (situated near Denfert Rochereau, in the 14th arrondissement of Paris) in several stages, here is another variation on this theme in acrylics. The Villa (not a house per se, but a private street in Parisian lingo) is a small passageway with housing developments on both sides, dating 1830, which used to be called “Village d’Orléans”.

A new designer house was built there a couple of years ago. This time I used acrylics on a canvas for this new version. Acrylics are on the one hand as convenient as watercolours and they are also as versatile as oil painting, enabling soft and hard touches, thick and thin etc. Besides, they require water as a main medium (additional mediums are possible) and this is making the painting exercise a lot more pleasant and easy going. No wonder so many painters have opted for acrylics nowadays.

vignette finale rue HalléIn this post I have uploaded 2 pictures of the painting therefore showing two different stages of the canvas. Stage one (on top) involved a high level of dilution of the colours so as to lay out the background and basic colours, stage two (right) shows the end result.

Click the thumbnails to enlarge the pictures

shopwindow cat in Douvres (Normandy)

White-legged shopwindow cat in DouvresI spotted that white legged shopwindow cat in Douvres (not Dover, but its Normandy equivalent, Douvres la Délivrande, near Caen). This little town is mostly famous for its art nouveau pharmacy and its beautiful church but what caught my eye on that Easter day when we were taking a stroll over there is a cat who was merely basking in the sunshine behind a weird shopwindow in the high-street. the shop itself was a bit weird and I am not sure what they were selling in there.

Corner Cat

The owner was apparently an excentric English gentleman, for at least he spoke French with an accent. Maybe it was a shop where they sold cats and where you could pick you next pet from the window?  This reminds me of another cat – dubbed corner cat – which I had spotted in Tunisia, perched on top of a small local building.

I made a postcard of that corner cat  by the way, together with 7 other pictures (the pack of 8 postcards with 8 different pictures on them costs only 5€)

Klima’s glow-in-the-dark star-spangled wallpaper

Klima - Angele David Guillou - watercolour Klima, aka Angèle David Guillou is a young and promising French songwriter who lives and works in London. I discovered her latest opus – the eponymous debut album Klima – at my local record shop (thank God some of them still exist and they still sell indie stuff like this) and I immediately fell in love with her very atmospheric and beautifully arranged record.

I picked up one of my favourite songs, fluorescent stars, in which Angèle is dreaming on her bed looking at the glow-in-the-dark stars on her wall paper in London while her friends are having drinks at a nearby pub. It reminded me of a similar night I spent in Brewster Gardens, near Shepherd’s bush a long time ago. I painted a small watercolour postcard depicting Angèle and her star-spangled wallpaper. I have also reproduced the lyrics of the song and provided a podcast excerpt (other bits available from her myspace page). Don’t forget to buy this beautiful record by clicking the amazon link or even better, go to your local record shop and buy it from them.

Angèle has a myspace page at http://www.myspace.com/contactklima and here is what the Sunday Times have written about her:

” Breaking Act’ in the Sunday Times KLIMA

Who is she?

A London-based French musician, Angèle David-Guillou. Her eponymous debut album thrums with haunting atmospherics, strange textures, lyrics about solitude among the multitudes – part chamber pop, part sepulchral electronica, it’s sprinkled with beautiful vocals, alternating between intimacy and aloofness. For fans of Cocteau Twins, Björk, the Knife, Sol Seppy, Hanne Hukkelberg and Cathy Davey, tracks such as Fluorescent Stars, Her Love Is Happy and Neverending are like the soundtrack to a private diary whose writer wanders round a sultry city, observing others and, crucially, herself before drifting home to write it all up and set it to music. The perfect summer album for people who like their music a bubble off plumb.

Dan Cairns

From The Sunday Times

April 29, 2007 “

Klima - Angele David Guillou - CoverIt’s Saturday night and I don’t want to go out

I’m staying in bed, watching the stars on my wall

my friends are in a bar

drinking beers and telling jokes

I’m here on my own,

counting the stars

so many of them

my eyes are closing.

1, 2, 3, 4 hundred

the noise from the street

is coming to my ears

but they have decided to be deaf tonight

concentrate on the stars

so many of them,

my eyes are closing

so many of them,

1, 2, 3, 4 hundred.

a mediaeval house in Blois, in the Loire Valley

première phase d'aquarellage de la rue Pierre de BloisThis is my latest watercolour.  In this post I have represented the three stages of its completion.  The subject is one of the oldest mansions in the city of Blois, in the Loire valley, France. The mansion is situated at the top of a hill opposite the cathedral overlooking the Loire river.  It was erected in the late middle ages and its style is the French equivalent of Tudor architecture.  The name of the street is Pierre de Blois, (literally the Blois Stone), because a large stone must have been there in the middle of the road, forcing passers-by to circumvent the obstacle, but the stone must have been withdrawn since then.  Stage one shows the first layer of watercolour, and as this is a rather classical picture this time, I started with pale colours moving into dark ones. At the time when the picture was taken, I had already added a few of  the timbers of the house.

première phase d'aquarellage de la rue Pierre de BloisStage two is actually about the second layer of watercolour on the house and its surroundings.  Still, some areas have been left blank intentionally at that stage, such as the area behind the window.

première phase d'aquarellage de la rue Pierre de BloisStage three is about adding all the details and the shadows in order to make colours more vivid and bright and contrasted.  The funny thing about this watercolour is that it will be sooner hung on one of the halls of the house that it depicts at number 13, rue Pierre de Blois in Blois.