Toutes & tous les bienvenus à une p’tite expo de ‘peintures fraîches’ à Saint Gratien, près de Paris.
Last year I was kindly invited by this friendly French city near Paris to illustrate Flemish architecture for French children. This year I got officially appointed ‘artist in residence’ and committed myself to ‘paint the town’, in 10 retrospective postcards, following the traces of 1 fine predecessor…
Jacques Villeglé is an – alive & kicking! – intriguing post war French artist who has a history with Saint Gratien and – like me:-) – a special interest in alphabets and all sorts of characters & symbols one can find in the streets. He has made several ‘socio-political’ alphabets, but is probably best known for his early work with ready made collages of ripped street posters. Some English art critic once nicknamed him ‘Jack the Ripper’, but I prefer ‘The Nighttripper’ since he made most of his ‘conquests’ during the night with strictly good intentions, checking the heartbeat of society outside.
So I have been walking the imaginary streets of this French town after working hours for the last 3 months, looking for traces of (art) history in a rather nocturnal mood indigo…
To find my way I used an old, intriguing map of the town and it’s lake (that has been ripped away from poor Saint Gratien around 1850 and given to the then newly created commune of Enghien).
It took me a while to find out that I had to hold it upside down to see things in the right perspective;-)
But with a little help from Google Earth (and our youngest more carto- & geo-graphical son) we managed to get a more accurate overview to help me paint this nocturnal ‘map with a legend’.
The original Saint G is one of Europe’s many martyrs for christianity, a young shepherd executed by the Romans and – according to the legend – a tree grew out of his shepherd’s hook afterwards.
The actual image is 1m20 – thx to the French we’re all using the metric system on the continent;-) – so this is probably not the best spot to show it, but I hope you get the picture (or check the expo:-))
Here are some more postcards of nightly meetings with people from the past: ‘La Vache Noire’ is a local tabac-lotto-café-restaurant-hotel that has remained open for at least 1 & 1/2 century. Bravo!
And of course there’s a castle! Home to the father-founder of town, Maréchal de Catinat, who retired here from the battlefields after serving the well known French king Louis XIV during many years.
And here’s another castle: 19th century home of Mathilde Bonaparte, little niece of Napoleon, who became some kind of ‘nouvelle noblesse’ celebrity in post-revolution France (she’s known for joking that without her uncle’s career planning she’d probably still be selling oranges in Ajaccio)
Like everything in life these buildings had good & bad times, but I prefer illustrating the good ones:-)
We Belgians also had a Princess Mathilde (the current Queen Mathilde) and we also have a town called Enghien, so as always I loved to create some historical & geographical confusion;-)
After Mathilde B’s death (and the much more tragic life of Astolphe de Custine) the whole park was parceled out at the beginning of the 20th century to create the center of nowadays Saint-Gratien.
And that’s when & where the city hall was built (next to the Lebanon cedar in memory of le Catinat).
We’ve hacked the cities website & left them a header with those 3 buildings & a lot of people:-)
There was one particularly intriguing place that I could see evolve from one picture to another…
but it seemed to have disappeared from the earth’s surface (or at least of Google Earth’s radar).
Hence this ‘post-modern’ vision of 2 worlds colliding (starring Miley Cyrus , Aux Armes Etc…)
‘Connais-tu le chemin pour Saint-Gratien? & all the stars, that never were, are parking cars and pumping gas’ was the music on my mind, but below is more what it probably looked like in real life:
We painted more ‘stuff’, but most intriguing are of course the lives of ‘real people’ of ‘flesh & blood’.
This local business – or extended family? – sat still (and stayed up late!) for quite a while, but…
I didn’t manage to finish their faces in time, so I brought some paint & brushes to the vernissage…
Here’s how I left them the 15th – with some typo in mirror writing as if seen in a rear view mirror –
Like every good story my night trip ends at a station where one can leave for the big city next door.
Not easy to paint this kind of architecture… Probably forced French painters to invent pointillism:-)
And for some reason it looked more like a cat’s face to me. Must have been ‘Otto on my mind’;-))
Well, here are 2 snapshots during & after the opening. So long! By far my longest blog post so far!