‘Slow art’ comes to the rescue

Sunday, August 9, 2015

Life puts on roller skates when summer hits.

Winter is for hibernating by a warm fire or getting work done, but come summer in Europe and it totally flips. It’s the season for visitors and an excuse to get out and about and enjoy food, wine, the beautiful outdoors, and culture in general.

Here in Montpellier there is an enormously popular food, wine and music event held every Friday night over summer. We have an ‘esplanade’ in the centre of town where it all takes place. (In French ‘esplanade’ doesn’t have to be by the seaside, and in this case means a lush tree lined linear park where people go walking.) All generations happily mingle, eat together at the long tables set up outdoors, dance to jazz, rap or tango – your choice – and let their hair down. As the summer weeks progress one festival trails into the next – dance, poetry, classical music, jazz, street art…

Friends arrive and we head out onto the water and swim in the vast blueness of the Med, our waists attached by rope to a lazily meandering boat.

Sounds like the life? Yes and no. In the end I need to escape from social demands. The key sign is when I find myself going into overdrive, talking at what seems like a thousand words a minute. I am drowning in activity, and seriously missing my studio and the solo act of painting.

Serendipity shows up and ‘slow art’ comes to the rescue.

In the centre of town, nestling between masses of greenery, lies a small, old stone building. Just one room. It is called the Espace Bagouet and exhibits Montpellier artists, both past and contemporary. When I wander inside I gasp a vast lungful of calm.

The walls are peppered with small still life paintings, made with the utmost humility. 

Now is battery recharge time and I plug in for the next forty five minutes.

The artist currently on show is Georges Dezeuze (1905-2004). He is from an old Montpellier family known for its many (male) artists, and is the father of better known Daniel Dezeuze. Sadly, there is very little information to be found about Georges online. He studied in Paris, taught at the Montpellier school of art, and died at 99. There are around thirty of his still life paintings in the exhibition.

Here are some of my photos. (I normally remove the frames of the paintings in my photos, but this time I have decided to leave them in. They help show the scale and seem to complete the works.)

The tiniest works painted into thin wood panels are the reluctant stars of the show.

Just 16×22 centimetres (6×9 inches), they remind you of seventeenth century Dutch still lifes with their razor-sharp details, quiet energy and gentle humility. The artist’s son, Daniel, has labelled them ‘sparkling life’ (nature petillante) as opposed to ‘still life’ (which in French is nature morte, meaning ‘dead nature’)

Georges Dezeuze writes:

Les objets pour mes natures mortes, je les ai recueillis au hasard d’une longue vie, dans les caves et les greniers, dans les décombres et même dans les fossés bordant les routes. Ce sont rarement des objets de valeur. Je préfère toujours le verre soufflé d’un lampion à quelque cristal, honneur d’une vitrine précieuse ou prisonnier d’un placard jaloux.

And here is my rough translation:

I collected the objects for my still lifes during the course of a long life – in basements and attics, dumps and on roadsides. They are rarely valuable objects. I always prefer a hand blown glass oil lamp to precious crystal arranged in a glass cabinet designed to inspire envy.

This idea of using humble and everyday objects as subjects for art – taking the ‘invisible’ and making it visible  – is close to my own heart. 

My women with their spray bottles of cleaning products, cooking utensils and so on, borrow from this tradition. Yes, my pictures are big, not small, and there are other elements in play as well, but I just thought I’d mention the link. I prefer depicting everyday stuff instead of top end merchandise. I am sure that part of the reason is because of my childhood experiences – being surrounded with ‘precious’ china cabinets and useless objects that I was forbidden to touch, and the pretentious middle-class upwardly mobile aspirations that went with them. As a result I am now pretty allergic, or at least immune, to pretentiousness.

I wonder if artists mostly gravitate toward one approach or the other – using the mundane as a source of inspiration versus looking toward the world of glamour, slickness and the high life? Of course it must be possible and quite delicious to combine the two. Perhaps this is what I am striving for…



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