‘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.
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.
“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.
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....
....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.