Wednesday, June 13, 2007

plein air

julian merrow-smith.JPG

‘Would you like to go for a walk?’ My breakfast refrain was running thin but I still tried.

“OK”. The reply surprised me, being different from the usual “No, I’ve really got to get on darling. I’ve got loads of paintings to pack and prints to get off and the server is down again and the prints are all coming out funny colours and besides I don’t know what I am going to paint today.”

Having crept out the side door to avoid our cats following us, we made it as far as the end of the road before Julian said: “ Shall we go down to the sea today?”

This time it was my turn to say OK.

“I’ll tell you what. You go for your run and I’ll have a third coffee and get everything together by the time you get back.”

Thirty minutes later I zipped uphill past the whispering wheat-field faster than I have ever done and in through the front door. I almost tripped over a plastic box containing an easel, paints, a cap, brushes…..All I had to do was shower, get my bathing suit and sun-cream (5 for me and total block for him) and we were off. We would be at the Côte d’Azur in time for lunch. Mmmm, I thought, fresh fish in a little port…...

We stopped en route at the art shop in Avignon to see if we could find an umbrella to provide shade when there was not a convenient tree (most of the time) but it seemed such a thing as an artist's umbrella does not exist. Is anyone painting plein air these days, we wondered, and would Cezanne have done with photoshop available to him and a nice high res mac screen? Julian came out with a fold-up stool instead.

Meanwhile, because it was getting late, I scoured the neighbouring health food store in the hope of finding the perfect picnic, but couldn’t imagine eating quinoa biscuits and molasses on the beach.

Half way down the A7 towards Marseille Julian realised that despite his careful packing he had forgotten the board on which to clip the gessoed board, the clips with which to clip it, and the glasses with which to see all three, so we found ourselves in the midday heat in the N'importe-ousville mall. It was already one-thirty so while Julian went in search of his tools I browsed the shelves of Carrefour for enticing lunch but found nothing. I was still clinging on to the idea of my fresh fish but by now the restaurants would be shut and we still didn’t know where we were going.

Clouds were puffing up over the Mont Saint Victoire. Would it end in disaster, we wondered: No light, nowhere to sit, no painting, too many miles, no lunch and in no mood for supper. It had happened before.

"You'll have to excuse me" Julian said. "There's a certain amount of tension before I paint. I'm nervous, but also excited. My fingers are twitching to get out there and get to work."

Of course I understood. I lived with this tension every day while he did what artists have to do - wandering around the house, doing email, working on the website, cooking, whatever it took to stoke the build up of creative energy. Sometimes it was unbearable and I had to go out. However, today I was on the way to the sea and I was happy.

We took a turn off into Cassis, remembering the ‘Route des Cretes’ the curves of which I had cruised on tour in an open top car and always wanted to show Julian. Now, here we were in our own cabriolet.

There was still the question of lunch and at three o'clock on no breakfast it was starting to be an important one. Julian deposited me very kindly on the beach to swim my first plein air sea strokes of the year and went in search of sustenance. He returned with, apart from his (beef and mustard) and hers (grilled veg) sandwiches, two delectable oil drenched artichoke hearts and a box of tabouleh.

“I said to the guy” he said, proud that he was out and had actually spoken to another human being “‘Ma femme essaie de ne pas manger trop de pain’”.

“Thank you” I said “for thinking of my diet.”

Up on the Route des Cretes, the views from the highest sea cliffs in Europe were spectacular: Red lacy cliffs diving down into tiny spume pools at their distant base, and islands like cardboard cut-outs against the azure sky, all framed by yellow curry flowers. However, the view that had the light in the right place had no tree to stand under and vice versa, and the good cliff had no path and the perfect boulder no sea, and the horizon was too high to the perfect crag…and our petrol tank was on the red. It was already six o'clock.

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Finally, we found a spot but it was not the idyllic one I had hoped for. "It never is" said Julian, setting up on the slope alongside the well frequented road amidst prickly rosemary bushes.

julian merrow-smith painting.JPG

“I’ve known more comfortable toboggans” he added as he perched on his new stool to sketch the coastline. Meanwhile, I lay myself out to dry on a smooth rock overlooking Cassis and her 'calenques' silhouetted against the fading sun, breathing in salt air and seagull screeches and watching my husband dip his brushes in colour and begin to paint.

No sooner had Julian started, however, than a large white touring bus drew up in the middle of his view. He swatted a fly and asked the seagulls to shut up. “No wonder I sometimes work from photographs”.

An hour later he called me over to see. “I’m doing a little Euan Uglow sky”. To me the painting was flat and unconvincing. “You don’t like it do you?”

Shit, I thought. I did like it, but I didn’t love it, and there are so many paintings about which I rave immediately and spontaneously, that a mere ‘it’s nice’ never quite convinces him. “What I see is that the tree is amazing because it is sort of lacy.” I said. “The land is solid but you can see the sea through the tree. That’s where the magic is for me but that’s just me….” Was I just another punter demanding life-like paintings with clichéd perspective and reflective dabs when Julian wanted to dare to paint flat, to paint less, to stop at blocks of colour? I felt like I was letting him down.

julian merrow-smith painting.JPG

Two hours later the flat paint covered board had transformed into The cliff path above cassis. "It was so much easier standing up. I think I will leave this here for people wanting to admire the view" Julian said, pointing to the stool and getting out his tripod to photograph the little painting in the last of the days' rays....

postcard from provence.JPG

....And then, it being already eight thirty, we made our way down to the little port for fresh fish which we found in the fisherman's restaurant by the bright matt painted boats (all tarted up on government money, we reckoned)and their gently rocking reflections, and which we accompanied with a very nice bottle of rosé.

16 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Reading your blog usually makes me so uneasy. Are you happy? Other than playing music under the most particular circumstances, are you really happy in your everyday life? Maybe it's my unhappiness that makes me imagine yours.

4:52 AM  
Blogger ruth said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

7:28 AM  
Blogger ruth said...

mmmm mr/ms anonymous. I think it is most definitely your unhappiness, and if my blog makes you uneasy then don't read it.

11:46 AM  
Blogger ruth said...

-Mystified by anonymous? - ; on a drizzly Dublin day when even the Wicklow mountains are totally obscured by mist/cloud, I respond to your tale of heat and creativity by a definite exaltation of my own spirits. I could hardly wait to turn to the painting of the day - and it did not disappoint.
Neither does your writing, on this or any day.

12:32 PM  
Blogger Anne & Kirk said...

What a pleasure to join you and Julian on a lovely jaunt to one of our favorite places!
I loved the photos and the tale - thanks for including us in a painterly day!
So glad you're blogging often now - I always look forward to your posts-
Anne

2:43 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I’m curious about the post you deleted right after my comment. I must have really offended you. That was certainly not my intention. I love your writing and your beautiful photos that make me want to jump on a plane and fly to France immediately. I’ll continue to read your blog, try not to read melancholy into it, and keep my mouth shut.

4:58 PM  
Anonymous fifi said...

what's wrong with it if your blog makes someone uneasy? It's still affecting them in the same way that a novel (or a painting?) might make someone sad or angry. Or are blogwriters more sensitive to perceived criticism because their writing is more personal?

6:24 PM  
Blogger Louis Boileau said...

Hi Ruth,
Great narative of a nice little day trip. Thanks for that.

10:14 PM  
Blogger Beth said...

Wonderful post, Ruth, thank you for taking us along on your trip to the sea -- so far from me right now! - and allowing us to see Julian's process and your interaction.

4:05 AM  
Blogger The Late Bloomer said...

I, too, look forward to your amazing writing and photos, and you have such a gift! And plus you're a musician, and you're following your bliss in so many ways that I envy...

I thought this was so lovely, and I live vicariously through you, I have to admit! It sounds like an amazing day that ended just as incredibly. Almost like a movie. You certainly sound very happy to me! But I imagine we all interpret things differently.

11:24 AM  
Blogger Jean said...

I makes me uneasy when people choose to remain anonymous, especially when responding to someone who identifies herself as openly as you do.

I think you have a great gift for conveying the complex, ever-changing experience of the moment, Ruth - what it's really like to be you: place, time passing, mood, relationship. It's powerful writing, whatever you write about.

And thank you for sharing so evocatively the bright sunshine and the rocky Mediterranean coast, which feel rather far from me too, right now.

5:44 PM  
Blogger ruth said...

thanks jean, you have hit the nail on the head. for me it is that such a personal (and such a complex) question should be asked by someone unwilling to convey even their name, let alone anything about themselves.

i have not been blogging much recently and the main reason has been that i have had the feeling that a lot of people 'out there' - some of whom i have even met - think they know me or, even more difficult, are entitled to a piece of me. i have had a sudden need to guard my, and our, privacy a little more, which is why such a direct question as 'am i happy?' from an anonymous source can upset me.

fifi - i hope this goes some way to answering your question. furthermore, personally i would only want to feel those feelings you describe in the safe container of art, and not in the ramblings of an ordinary person.

5:57 PM  
Anonymous fifi said...

Thank you Ruth, yes, it does. But writing a blog does put you out there, whether you think of it as art or not, and people will respond to the things you write. It is a risk, surely, that sometimes they will be moved to respond in a way other than the gushing adulation that often appears in the comments. While we're on the personal, personally I prefer the prosaic and more modest posts about the tribulations of life in France than the artistic ones about music and form - they feel more human to me.

10:15 PM  
Blogger Guanaco said...

I found your blog some time ago through a link from Mig, when I was gathering a list of blogs by cellists. I have enjoyed both your ruminations about your music and your observations about life in rural France - as well as your intriguing photos.

Blogging is such an unusual form of communication, isn't it? In one sense we are trying to describe the external world around us, yet in another we are writing so intensely personally about what it all means to us... It is hard not to inject a lot of our "self" into our descriptions. From reading your blog for so long, now, I feel I have come to "know" you in a way - at least that part of you that you have chosen to share with us in your blog.

I am in complete disagreement with "anonymous" and I hope you don't let his/her comments interfere with your wonderful blog.

4:53 AM  
Blogger Bitterroot said...

Hello Ruth...your post here transported me to another world, and I loved seeing how your day unfolded. I enjoyed the photos of Julian and his art.

I do so hope the first comment by "anonymous" under your post will not dissuade you from continuing to share your experiences. Every one of my visits to your blog is rewarded by nuance, beauty, and richness of texture. Your blog is authentic. This is very important.

I will say also that I have never read anything like the descriptions of the music you play. You bring words and sound more closely together than any writer I've encountered. Please keep doing this as well!

6:07 AM  
Blogger Jean said...

Just want to add that Bitterroot's last paragraph goes for me too.

2:43 PM  

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