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Archive for the ‘Art’ Category

Would you feel insecure and self-conscious if you sat down in a crowded public place and started to sketch? Most adults would feel that way. It would take a really good instructor to get them so excited about drawing that their inhibitions disappeared and they could lose themselves in a few blissful moments of creation—probably like a child feels when creating art. Romain, my instructor for two sketching tours in Paris, was that kind of instructor.

Romain Olivier Thieulot is an energetic and engaging 29 year old artist in Paris. He teaches art at the University of Paris and has his own art studio. As with most artists, though, money is tight, so he conducts sketching tours as a kind of “side hustle” to earn some additional money. Although he is quite young, he is devoted to a traditional style of art rather than digital art. That, he believes, is one of the reasons why he was chosen to teach at the University of Paris. He did not go into a lot of details about the curriculum at the university, but he described the style that is taught there as “academic,” and it sound like it is a regimented system with very specific rules.

Fortunately, that is not the approach that he used with us. He coached and encouraged us as we moved from place to place with our sketchbooks and collapsible stool, all the while providing us with instructions on the major principles of drawing like composition, perspective, and showing emphasis through detail and value (degree of lightness and darkness). Importantly, I think, he left a lot of room for individual expression. Before we started to draw our first building, I remember, he told us that we could choose to draw it any way that we wanted, sketching, for example, the entire building or only a part of it. What was important, he said was to have a clear idea of what we saw as the major area of interest, because the first lines we put on the paper would dictate important considerations like scale and composition.

Romain had carefully chosen the locations and routes of these tours, one in Montmartre and one in the Left Bank area beginning at Notre Dame, in order to provide us with fascinating bits of information along the way on the history of the city of Paris and in particular on its rich artistic and architectural history. (Architecture is one of Romain’s areas of expertise and he was able to explain many aspects of the architecture that makes Paris so distinctive.)

One of the places that Romain highlighted was Le Consulat, a historic coffee house that was frequented by many of the artists, writers and painters that flocked to the Montmartre area in the 19th century, including Picasso, Sisley, Van Gogh, Toulouse-Lautrec, and Monet. In the second photo below, Romain was showing us a postcard-sized copy of a drawing that he had done of the café. If you click on the photo you can get a real appreciation of the amount of detail in his drawing. I don’t recall long he spent on that particular drawing, but I remember him showing us similar ones on which he had spent forty or fifty hours of work.

One of the fun little bonuses of Romain’s sketching tours was the quick sketch he would do of the individuals in our little group as we were at work. The third photo shows the three members of our group in Montmartre—I think it is pretty obvious which one is me.

During one conversation that I had with Romain, he shared some insights into the world of a professional artist in Paris. As we we passing a series of galleries in the Left Bank area, he noted how difficult it was to get your work into a gallery. Even if you were fortunate enough to get your worked displayed, there were so many fees involved that the artist was often left with very little money when a piece of art was actually sold.

Romain seemed to be much more content to display his work at his own studio/workshop, Atelier Thieulot in the 15th arrondissement in Paris. You can check out his studio on his website and get a better idea of his workplace and of his work. The website is in French, but even if you can’t read the details, you can’t help but be impressed by the number of exhibitions in which he has participated and the awards he has received. If you click on the tab, “Mes Créations,” you can look at his work divided into categories such as architecture, oil painting, drawing, and design. One of my favorite ways to view his work, though, is to click on the “E-boutique” tab and if you do, you too will look with amazement at his detailed drawings.

I saw some wonderful art and architecture in Paris, but some of my favorite moments in the city were spent in creating my own art during the sketching tours with Romain as our guide, coach, and instructor. I was intrigued that the tour is titled “Être artiste à Montmartre,” which means “To be an artist in Montmartre.” We were not pretending to be artists as we toiled over our sketchbooks—Romain made us feel like we really were artists.

We have become friends on Facebook, have exchanged texts since concluding the course, and he is also now following this blog. Paris is wonderful, of course, but it really is the people you meet that make a trip memorable. Thanks, Romain.

Romain Thieulot

Romain Thieulot

Romain Thieulot

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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I spent some of my favorite moments during my recent trip to Paris exploring again the Rodin Museum and its wonderful outdoor sculpture garden. There is something really special about seeing sculptures outdoors, where the time of day, the season, and the weather can make them come alive in new ways that are not possible in the controlled confines of an indoor museum.

When I travelled to Washington D.C. on Saturday, one of my goals was to see some of the Rodin sculptures that I recalled were in the Hirshhorn Sculpture Garden. The garden is sunken slightly below ground level and as I descended I immediately spotted the large sculpture known as The Burghers of Calais (Les Bourgeois de Calais). This multi-person sculpture is very well-known and I had seen another casting of it recently in Paris. (According to French law, there can be only 12 original castings of a Rodin sculpture, and both the one that I saw in Paris and this one are original castings.)

I couldn’t remember the story behind the sculpture, so I turned to Wikipedia. From a factual perspective, the sculpture commemorates an event during the Hundred Years’ War, when Calais, a French port on the English Channel, was under siege by the English for about eleven months. As you study the faces and the postures of the men in the sculpture, you realize that it is much more than a monument to a historical event.

According to Wikipedia, “Edward, the king of England, offered to spare the people of the city if six of its leaders would surrender themselves to him, presumably to be executed. Edward demanded that they walk out wearing nooses around their necks, and carrying the keys to the city and the castle. One of the wealthiest of the town leaders, Eustache de Saint Pierre, volunteered first and five other burghers joined with him. Saint Pierre led this envoy of volunteers to the city gates. It was this moment, and the poignant mix of defeat, heroic self-sacrifice, and willingness to face imminent death that Rodin captured in his sculpture.”

The sculpture in the second image is known simply as The Walking Man (L’homme qui marche). I am amazed at Rodin’s skill in capturing a sense of movement in such an incomplete figure. For me, it’s like a three-dimensional sketch that has come to life.

The final Rodin sculpture that I wanted to highlight is known as the Crouching Woman (also known as Lust). I find the pose of the woman to be intriguing and the Rodin Museum, which has a terracotta version of the sculpture, asserts that it “looks like a compact block with limbs gathered together and pressed tightly against the torso. This block-like sculpture reflects Rodin’s aesthetic analysis of Michelangelo’s sculpture: it is a work that, to quote the great Italian artist, could roll down a hill without breaking.”

These Rodin sculptures remind me of Paris, but in a greater sense, they highlight my heightened appreciation for the work of artists. Sometimes artists capture beauty and other times they create beauty (and often they do both at the same time). What is beauty? That will have to be the subject of a separate blog someday.

 

Burghers of Calais

The Walking Man

Crouching Woman

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Blogging helps to create communities. We are exposed to people from all around the world, some of whom may be like us, but many of whom are quite different. What is critical is that we interact with each other—we “like” and comment on the postings of others. All of this takes place in a virtual world and we develop relationships in that world. Wouldn’t it be cool if we could meet each other in person, in “real” life?

It may sound like the story line for a corny Hollywood movie, but an American photographer recently met an Irish poet in Paris, thanks to the efforts of a New Zealand blogger who had much earlier highlighted their respective blogs. As you might suspect, I am that photographer; Damien Donnelly of deuxiemepeaupoetry.com is that poet; and Liz Cowburn of exploringcolour.wordpress.com is that blogger.

Several days ago I said a few words about Damien when I re-blogged one of his postings with photos from our time inside the Grand Palais in Paris, so his name may sound familiar. When I first made plans to visit Paris, I thought there might be a chance that I could meet Damien, but what I did not realize at that time was that he was preparing to leave Paris. As it turned out, I made it to Paris before he left.

We agreed to meet for lunch. Have you ever met someone in person that you met initially on-line? Did you worry that the on-line “persona” would not mesh with reality? I really encourage you to read Damien’s poetry, which I previously characterized as “personal and universal,” and I can reassure you that he is just as thoughtful, introspective, and engaging in person. During our lunch together, we shared deeply details about our personal lives and our connection with Paris.

One of the things I remember best was Damien’s description of how long it took to reach the point when he felt comfortable telling people that he was a “poet.” You see, like many creative people, Damien has a full-time job and crafts his verbal art in the remaining time. Gradually, though, writing appears to have taken on a greater role in his life. As of a few day ago, he no longer has that full-time job and in a few more days he is leaving Paris.

Is he calling it quits? As the French would say, “au contraire”—Damien is in fact returning to Ireland to pursue a dream. You can read more about it in the “About Me” section of his website, but the essence is that he plans to find and renovate a property in Ireland that will serve as a writers’ retreat and bed-and-breakfast. Damien is also working on a novel and I believe more of his poetry is about to be published.

Why am I writing all of this? First of all, I want to let you all know how wonderful it is when the virtual world and the real world overlap—meeting and spending time with Damien was one of the highlights of my three weeks in Paris. I hope to have the chance to meet more of my readers whom I consider friends. Maybe New Zealand?

Secondly, I am personally inspired by someone who decides at age 44 to go all in on his passion, who has the courage to radically change the course of his life in pursuit of his creative vision.

Let me end with the words of a short poem that Damien posted a few days ago, part of a series of poems as he prepares to leave Paris. This one was entitled “Bookends; Timing is Everything.” (In order to get the full impact of the poem, you should click on the name of the poem which is a link to the original posting with Damien’s accompanying photograph and brief words of explanation.)

“Coming in

is easy.

Learning when to leave

is an art

not easily understood.”

Damien Donnelly

Damien in the Grand Palais

 

Damien Donnelly

Damien in the Grand Palais

 

Damien and Me

Damien and me after lunch.

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

 

 

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So many creative people are multi-talented and Irish poet Damien Donnelly is no exception. His poetry, which can be found on his blog at deuxiemepeaupoetry.com is both personal and universal and often prompts me to look deeply inside myself. You definitely should check out his website.

He is also a talented photographer. I was thrilled last Sunday to have the chance to spend some time with him as we photographed the inside of the Grand Palais in Paris. Here are some of his wonderful photos from that day.

Deuxiemepeau Poetry by Damien B. Donnelly

Last Sunday, this masterpiece of beaux-arts architecture, le Grand Palais was open to the public for a few hours and I rushed in along with fantastic photographer, and now street sketch artist, Mike Powell, on one of his last days in Paris, in order to snap a little of the light under the glass.

All photographs by Damien B Donnelly

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I am back from Paris now, but very much still under its influence. My final night in Paris, I walked down to the Seine River just before midnight. A light drizzle was falling, but I did not care. If anything, the rain made everything more beautiful, creating additional reflections on the cobblestone streets. As I crossed a bridge over the river,  I could see the Eiffel Tower all lit up, its searchlight piercing in and out of the clouds. It was magical!

I was having a great time trying to capture the scene when suddenly the lights on the tower went out. It was as if the Eiffel Tower had suddenly disappeared. I knew that the tower’s lights were not on all night, but I did not expected them to be extinguished right at midnight. Reality sometime has a way of crashing in on moments of fantasy.

One of my readers, Michael Scandling, challenged me to be out walking the streets at midnight to see if I might end up in the 1920’s having a drink with Hemingway. Obviously he too had seen the 2011 movie Midnight in Paris. The lead character played by Owen WIlson spends a lot of time wandering the streets of Paris and suddenly at midnight he repeatedly ends up in the 1920s, rubbing elbows with famous authors, actors, and artists of that era. Who wouldn’t want to have a chance to talk to icons like Cole Porter, Picasso, Gertrude Stein, and Salvador Dali? The movie additionally has wonderful footage of many places in Paris that are very familiar to me. It is one of the few DVDs that I have purchased in the past ten years.

Alas, real life does not generally play out as it does in the movies. Instead I quietly continued my walk, watching as waiters stacked up chairs in restaurants and lights began to dim as Paris prepared to sleep. For many in Paris, it was the end to just another day, but for me it was special, it was midnight on my final day in this special city, at least for this trip.

Eiffel Tower

Eiffel Tower

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Folks have responded so well to my little art projects that I thought I would show you a few pages from my sketchbook from the last few days, as I get ready to head towards teh airport. The first one is a little more elaborate and was done at my desk on the basis of a photo that I included in a recent posting. It took a lot longer than the others and I had the benefit of having carefully composed the shot with my camera. Composition is a lot harder when you have a scene right in front of you and you try to decide what part of it you want to draw.

The other two sketches were done outdoors as I stood looking at the Pont Saint-Michel across the Seine and then a few minutes later when I was looking at Notre Dame from an overlook point. They were definitely quick sketches, ironically enough because I was on my way to a sketching tour.

It is challenging but fun to learn to feel secure enough to try to draw in public. I am not paranoid in stating that people are watching you—they are.

This will probably be my last posting from Paris, though I have a few more postings that I have conceptualized that I will probably do after my return. Three weeks ago, I remember warning readers that my postings would be different while I was in Paris and they definitely have been. In many ways, I am happy to be ending this trip with a posting with handmade images, images that are deeply personal and reflective of the way that I spent my time here.

Thanks to all of who have stuck with me on this trip and have encouraged me along the way. It has been a weird and wonderful time. As most of you know, the French word for “memories” is “souvenirs.” These little drawings will help to spark my memories in ways that no mass-produced “souvenirs” could ever do.

“Au revoir, Paris.” It doesn’t really mean “good-bye”—it’s more like “Farewell, until we meet again.” I am pretty sure I will be back again before too long.

 

Montmartre sketch

Pont St Michel Bridge sketch

Notre Dame de Paris sketch

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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People do some crazy things when they travel to ensure good luck. Art in a museum is untouchable and there are guards and surveillance systems to make sure that you do not get too close to it. When art, particularly statues, is in a public place, however, people choose to rub various parts of the artwork, which is particularly noticeable with bronze statues.

Last week I came across two examples of this “touchable” art while wandering the back streets of Montmartre. The first one is a tribute to the work of French author Marcel Aymé, a short story called Le Passe-Muraille (The Man Who Could Walk Through Walls). I read a synopsis of the short story and essentially a man gained the ability to pass through wall, but eventually this ability began to fade and he got stuck forever in the wall. The statue is pretty high up from the ground, so it appears that people have chosen to rub his now shiny left hand.

The second piece of “touchable” art is a bust dedicated to French music icon Dalida. Dalida, whose real name was Yolanda Cristina Gigliotti, was a French singer and actress, born in Egypt to Italian parents, according to Wikipedia. She won the Miss Egypt beauty contest in 1954 and began a 31-year singing career in 1956, selling 170 million albums and singles worldwide, and died by suicide in 1987.

It is obvious from the shiny areas of the Dalida statue which parts of her anatomy people choose to touch.

touchable art

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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