Posts Tagged ‘Place du Tertre’

Place du Tertre, a small square in the center of Montmartre, is a special place where artists of all varieties set up their easels every day and work in the open air, surrounded by the milling public. Many of them are portrait artists, who gently try to convince you to sit for a portrait.

I watched several of those artists at work and they are amazing talented, creating true-to-life drawings over an extended period of time. This is in sharp contrast with the large number of quick sketch “artists” who aggressively pursue you in the streets, trying to convince you to stand for a “portrait,” which is often a mere caricature that barely resembles the subject.

A number of other artists worked on small canvases with oil paint using palette knives. I had the impression that some of them were working in almost assembly line fashion, cranking out the same limited number of scenes of Paris suitable for souvenirs.

After circling the square, I returned to the only artist who was working in watercolor. He would sketch out his detailed paintings in India ink using a pointed fragment of bamboo as a drawing instrument. After the ink had dried, he would carefully apply multiple washes of color. Some of you know that I have dabbled with watercolor and I was absolutely enthralled as I watched this artist at work, mixing and applying the colors from a watercolor set not all that different than ones that I have.

Watercolor painting is time-consuming and unforgiving—you really cannot hide your mistakes. Supplies are relatively expensive, compared to oil and acrylic painting. Why would an artist choose this style of painting? It does not seem like an economically rational decision.

I did not want to interfere with the artist’s efforts, so I watched from a respectful distance and discreetly took a few photos. When he reached a certain stage when he needed to let a layer dry, he stopped for a smoke break. As he lit up an unfiltered, hand-rolled cigarette, I started to talk with him.

At first I asked him about the materials that he uses. He paints on high quality Arches 100% cotton paper, using a mix of artist quality paints from Winsor and Newton, Sennelier, and others. For brushes, he uses several rather large natural hair brushes. He pointed to one of them and noted that it had cost over 80 Euros (about $100), but he had used it for close to ten years.

He said that he had been painting from a young age and preferred painting in public like this and had done so for almost 40 years. Based on some comments he made about other painters, he seemed to reject the almost elitist idea of painting in seclusion in a studio, with works hanging in high-priced galleries.

He obviously loved what he was doing, but somewhat wistfully talked of eventually retiring to a place in the country. As he puffed on the final fragments of his cigarette, he announced that it was time to get back to work. I thanked him for talking with me—we spoke exclusively in French—and sharing his experience and perceptions. He graciously agreed to let me take a quick portrait shot and that photo, the last one below, is one of my favorite remembrances of this trip to Paris.

The first photo below gives you an overall sense of the environment at the Place du Tertre. Note the assemblage of easels and the passing tourists and compare that with the focus of the painter, who appears to be in his own little world.

The second image provides a slightly closer view of the work in progress. Note the large size of the brush that he is using and the initial delicate washes of color that he has applied.

The final shot, as noted above, is a quick portrait of the artist. It’s a candid pose from where he was standing. I really like the way that it turned out, capturing in part the unique personality of this awesome artist that I was happy to encounter, a man content with doing what he loves outdoors in all kinds of weather (except, he noted, in the rain, which obviously is bad for watercolor paintings).

Painter at Place du Tertre

Painter at Place du Tertre

Painter at Place du Tertre

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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