Shifting Skies

From the Lane by Claire Thorson

 

Retreat indeed. The beautiful stone barn in its tucked away surroundings was a sanctuary. It was luxury to wake up to such thorough quietude.  The depth of green, the hidden movements of wildlife, the flow of time unimpeded by schedules and deadlines, were triggers to a deeper experience of place. I extended this connection with place by resuming a practice both familiar and forgotten–landscape painting.

With a portable easel and folding gardener’s chair, I walked the surrounding cornfields and woodlands, to apprehend views of hills, fields, and distant mountains. My spouse accompanied me, making use of the time to observe birds, plants, and other wild life. The weather was stormy and the sky was perpetually in flux. Clouds loomed and subsided, obscured and revealed the features of the land.  The greens were almost interminable.

From the Castle by Claire Thorson

To sit and observe the landscape is simple act, which invokes formal challenges of composition, color mixing, reduction to pattern and texture, manipulation of edge, and control of surface quality. I used gouache and painted on some panels purchased in Paris. I worked in small formats; sometimes I felt like I was painting in miniature! In the humid weather, the gouache was not unlike oils, re-workable, dense in color, rich in tone, with a capacity for surface variation.

Gouache has matte quality which some artists dislike but which I love. When I started painting seriously so many years ago now, I painted with gouache. I had a basic set of paint in pans, then moved on to tubes, using mat board scraps as my supports.  It was a portable and inexpensive medium.  So my work at Bordeneuve was an echo of origins. In striving to represent, I was presented with the questions that are always active in painting. What makes these elements and features important? What do I include or leave out? How does the painting as a whole transcend the ordinary?
On some days the rain did come and outdoor painting with water-base media wasn’t possible.  Noelle Thompson, inimitable host and director of Bordeneuve, kindly arranged to have a few of her friends come sit for me in the barn.

Genevieve by Claire Thorson

Saskia, age 12, was such an eager artist that I was obliged to trade off easel time with her.  We alternated sitting for each other for 20 minutes at a time.  Saskia was a good sitter, but her interest in making was clear; she was as ferocious going after an image as she was fearless in the mixed-media experiment. I felt wistful when she left–it was so easy to imagine a continued relationship.

On another day, other friends, Gerard and Genevieve, were willing to be models only. As artists, they both had a supportive understanding of creative focus and the uncertainty of resolving anything in a short time frame. They each sat for over an hour, a very generous offering. The painting of Gerard was done inside, with limited light, and has a decidedly muted, interior feeling.  By the time Genevieve posed, the sun was out again so we sat on the balcony. The strong directional light brought out warm and strident colors. Conversation with each of them enriched the time we spent together.  And lunch in the garden afterward (with hats!) was the perfect conclusion.

 

From the Field by Claire Thorson.

On that note, I must mention Noelle’s remarkable cooking. Her knowledge of food and wine, reliance on mostly local ingredients, and her exceptional hand with pastry, enriched and heightened the whole experience of the residency. Evening meals with Noelle and Karl, in the garden or under the protective awning of the barn’s balcony when it was raining, were a delight to the senses and intellect. We miss those meals and free-ranging conversations most of all.

The paintings I completed at Bordeneuve, strike me as quite humble, spare in conceptual trappings, especially when I compare them to the large oil on canvas abstracts that I’m currently working on in my studio.  So I hold them in reserve, with an introspective eye to how formal practice might influence ideas and generate pathways to abstraction.  My intentions were to work observationally while at the residency, to refresh the source from which image making is often derived–and circumstances conspired to hold me to the bargain.

Seeing the landscape again where I live in Elkhorn, California, I am freshly aware of its particulars: color, pattern, light and reflected light, the intersection of farmland and slough. I reconsider the small format for both landscape and figure painting– for its intimacy and the valuable urgency of completing a painting in one session. I feel the tug of “place”, both near and far, and know that my work will be permeable to it.

Claire painting in the field above the house

–Claire Thorson

www.clairethorson.com

 

Health and Guidance

 

On a sunny morning at Bordeneuve, there is a good chance that you would find yourself curled up in a wicker chair on the balcony, soaking in the sun and birdsong. If you were to glance up from your book, coffee, or writing pad, you would see a rectangular panel in a soft, blond wood. Tweaking your neck around and maybe squinting a bit, you would read the words “Health and Guidance.” Elegant capital letters, carved into the wood by a talented hand.

Health and Guidance. They are very mysterious words to me, especially in that combination. I suppose, were I a person of deep faith, it might have more resonance. Health, yes. I can go on for hours about health, but Guidance less. Strange that those words came from a man who didn’t overtly accept guidance and his health was not enviable.

The man who carved those words sat in that very spot ten years ago. Andy was an angry, volatile German who had lived in East London for most of his adult life. Andy was in turns gruff, moribund, full of rage and then full of extreme tenderness, especially when he talking about his young daughter, Morgan.  His body wracked by MS since he was a young man, Andy came across as a man angry at the world, at God, at many things. And yet, this man who growled his way through the English language, who would have worn a hook or a pegleg honorably, planted his East London balcony full of sunflowers. He also lent my husband the last 5000 pounds he needed to buy the house, counting his visits as interest on the lump sum that we eventually repaid.

When Andy drove down every year in his MS adapted estate car, he would haul himself out, survey the progress we made, grunt his approval and then make himself as useful as his mobility allowed. He never accepted help, he just did what his body allowed him to do.  He had a strong artistic streak and enjoyed arranging clay tiles destined for the roof in a sunburst shape around the base of tree. Other times he would haul stones around, or fix things that he knew how to fix. On his last trip, his health had blatantly declined. He struggled to climb the staircase to sit on the balcony but he had a project in mind. We had recently finished laying a poplar floor in the barn and Andy claimed a few scraps and started carving in the morning sun.

First, an echinacea flower emerged from his remarkably steady hand, as a test. Then came Health and Guidance.  That night we handed him the money owed and we toasted many things. He said that he probably wouldn’t be able to come back, due to poor health, and that as a last gesture, he would like us to hang that plaque somewhere as a tribute to him. When asked what it meant to him, he just grunted and flapped away our words, burying his nose in a glass of wine.

Andy’s tiles

 

I only met Andy six or seven times, although we spoke regularly on the phone. A few years later,  late one night, his ex-wife rang to say that Andy had died. She had another call coming in and she signed off, saying she would call back. She never did.  David spent days phoning around Andy’s neighborhood trying to get information on a funeral or a wake that we might attend. The number we had for his ex was no longer in service and all trails led to a dead end. We were so sad that we weren’t able to properly say goodbye to Andy.

 

All these years later the echinacea flower is still there, though faded and hard to see. Health and Guidance is more prominent. It is a phrase that evokes mystery and sadness in me. Maybe for Andy, those were the two things that he would have like to have had in his life. Having lived what I have lived in the last years, I know how precious health is. The sign always reminds me to feel gratitude for such a precious gift. When guests ask me what it means, I like to flap my hands at them, grunt and then offer them a glass of wine.

 

Andy and his daughter Morgan

Amanda Johnson and Anthony Lynch

I was going to introduce Anthony and Amanda by way of a salute to the Pyreneen Death March* that we unwittingly dragged them on during their stay with us, but I’ve thought better of it. What I would rather say to start, is that these two are quite simply, remarkable people. They have a mix of unpretentiousness and optimism that is refreshing and rare.

Anthony Lynch

Amanda Johnson is Lecturer in Creative Writingat the University of Melbourne, Australia. She is the author of the novel Eugene Falls and the poetry collection, The Wind-up Birdman of Moorabool Street.  Anthony Lynch is founder and Publisher of Whitmore Press and the author of Redfin,  a widely acclaimed collection of short stories as well as Night Train a collection of poetry that I find myself regularly dipping into. I would highly recommend all of these if you can get your hands on them. Here is their account of  their month-long stay at Bordeneuve:

 

 

We spent 25 peaceful and productive days at Bordeneuve during which we enjoyed the most sustained period of writing we had had in months if not years. Amanda worked on a postcolonial historical novel dealing with one of the first women to journey by boat from France to Van Diemen’s Land (later, Tasmania), Anthony on a collection of interconnected short stories engaging with notions of ‘home’.

Bordeneuve proved an ideal (and idyllic!) setting for writing. We quickly established a routine of writing in the morning, breaking for morning coffee and then lunch garnered from organic treats bought at the St Girons market, continuing writing (or revising) in the afternoon, and come evening enjoying a meal with our hosts Noelle and Karl, who night after night provided magnificent dinners and warm, intelligent company.

The accommodation proved perfect. The huge upstairs bedroom cum writing space with its natural light, long, generous desk – room enough to spread out books, laptops, coffee cups and still have a football field of elbow room to either side of us – was exactly what we needed. Roomy enough to feel we each had our own working space (literally and metaphorically), but with enough proximity to be able to say: ‘Can you listen to this? Does this work? ‘No, it doesn’t.’ ‘Great, thanks.’

And, we had only to walk a few metres to be out on the balcony, usually accompanied by one or two cats dozing in the sun, to read or revise a draft. Alternatively, we could make our way out to the back of the ‘barn’ (a name that doesn’t quite do the centuries-old structure justice) and sit at a table and chairs to work, surrounded by Noelle’s veggie patch, her two chickens pecking at the earth.

The quiet and the lush green of the immediate, forested surroundings and the blue-grey of the distant Pyrenees will stay with us. When we needed unchaining from the page or screen we would walk the long, stony driveway that led to and from Bordeneuve. Or we took a path off to the side, through a field and forest and around the perimeter of the neighbouring castle (it’s not often in Australia you have a neighbouring castle). Sometimes this let us ruminate on any impasse we might have reached in our writing.

Throughout our visit, Noelle and Karl were brilliant hosts. Attentive, generous, and taking us with them on forays into neighbouring towns and villages. Yet giving us quiet and space to work. We miss them, and Bordeneuve. We hope one day to come back.

 

– Anthony Lynch and Amanda Frances Johnson (Victoria, Australia)

 

And here is a poem, graciously shared by Anthony:

 

Boat

We sold our plot, our huddle of goats.

A man took and counted our money

and we became that prohibited order.

We left at night. The boat

was small and made of wood,

our amenity a plastic bucket.

The crew spat and pointed,

the sea grew wide

and in this way we progressed.

We fed on small things:

a weevil of rice, a bone of bread.

We moaned ourselves

to half-sleep. We saw

too much and too little

of water. Our craft

assumed strange angles

to day and night.

Bits of us broke

off and fell into the ocean.

One woman wept nightly for her husband, searched the chopped sea

for his severed

hands. After 15 days the heartbeat

of engine gave out and we were tossed by silence.

After 20 days one of us

jumped and swam for land.

The sea moved in. Our eyes

scratched the horizon for a miracle.

A current locked us in its arm.

They found us open-eyed,

mute and shadowy. Laid out,

some of us tread the air

as if we might walk on water.

 

 

 

*It was with a certain amount of trepidation that I opened the email containing Amanda and Anthony’s blog contribution. I was certain, dead certain, that they would mention the walk. The Walk. After having read it (and not a word of The Walk!) I almost feel it is unjust. So I must give a brief account, a tribute to Anthony and Amanda’s adventurous and courageous sensibilities: Our little mountain meander was meant to be just that…a picnic surrounded by beautiful peaks, maybe a token dusting of snow, a handful of the last myrtille of the season. “The guide books says its difficult, but they always exaggerate” I pronounced, expert for 10 seconds on guide books “I’m sure we’ll be fine.” What followed was the steepest, most unrelenting, grueling climb we had ever done - we ran into many a hiker who abandoned the cause mid-route. Nary a plateau, not even a little jog downwards. Up, up, relentlessly up.  You get the idea. I think it was at the top that we decided that the official name for this hike should have “Death March” somewhere in the title. We didn’t even complete the last leg, as it seemed to require swinging, Tarzan-like, down a chain to a lake, with no apparent solution for getting back up the chain. We settled for a high grassy patch, in lieu of the lake, for our picnic. We were unexpectedly much higher than most of the surrounding peaks. In fact, we were looking down quite a few of them. We spent a blissful, lazy hour munching blueberries and wild raspberries, smearing ripe goat’s cheese on nut bread and watching kites wheel above us. We finally summoned the courage to lurch downhill and ended the day with a toast to courage and tenaciousness at a little mountain auberge.

 

Henplay

Edith & Blanchette, Rebecca Stebbins, 2013

Poor Edith and Blanchette. Life is rough for our two chickens when it rains non-stop for days on end. They shelter either under the solar panels or on the terrace of the barn, but in neither place do they look happy. When it gets really wet, or snows, they just stay in their henhouse, peeking out every few minutes to see if the sky is still falling.

 

The Wood Store, by Shoshanna Ahart, 2013

But cheer up girls, our guests LOVE you. Bordeneuve wouldn’t be Bordeneuve with the two of you. Look at the art you elicit, the adoration, the special treats, heck,  Rebecca was hand-feeding you after a few days. No one considers a stay here complete without a bunch of photos of you two buxom birds. People write and inquire about -your- health before even mentioning the cats, or us measly humans. You’re not destined for the dinner plate.  All we ask is that you each lay one gorgeous egg a day – and hey, if you want to eat the flea beetles that ravage the arugula, so much the better.

Late Afternoon Bordeneuve by Shoshanna Ahart

Edith and Blanchette came in our lives here when Sara, a flute pupil of mine, moved with her husband to the other side of France. Sara was fun to teach, not just because she was a hard-working student, but because she loved to cook Indian food. She would arrive at the end of my monstrously long working day, aromas of cumin, ginger and coriander wafting around her. By the end of her lesson, my stomach would growl uncontrollably, and I would race home thinking of curries and chutneys that I could make. One day she brought me the most amazing eggs. They were so big they didn’t fit in the eggbox properly. They had enormous, silken golden yolks and whites that beat up to astonishing heights.  After that first dozen, I couldn’t imagine ever cooking with any other eggs.  Then out of the blue, she asked if I would take her hens when she relocated with her husband.  A few weeks later, she showed up on my doorstep with a big cardboard box. Inside were the two fattest Sussex chickens I had ever seen.

“The third one died from overeating, hopefully you won’t indulge them so much” she told me. Blanchette is appropriately named for her color, and Edith is named for her comb that flops over like a famous French rock star named Edith. They hid in the bamboo for a few days and then began investigating their new home as seriously free, seriously ranging birds. With over an acre to peck and scratch, you wouldn’t think they’d be hungry, but they always come running at 6pm when their favourite crumble is scattered near the house.  A few scraps from evening dinner parties never go uneaten either.

They lay faithfully, Blanchette’s eggs are twice the size of Edith’s. But Edith’s eggs are prettier, a light speckled brown with a tell-tale dimple at one end. And my favourite thing about them? They are lunar hens. They stop laying on the fall equinox, moult and grumble for a month or two, then, on the winter solstice, out pop two golden eggs.

 

 

 

Shoshanna Ahart and Andreas Karlstetter

Do dinosaurs love flowers? We think that in this case, we have proof.  Andreas Karlstetter  a hyper-talented technical artist draws dinosaurs for the Jura Museum  in Eichstaett, Germany. His drawings captivate and transport you to another world, but the one thing he loves even more than dinosaurs is his incredibly talented wife, Shoshanna. Shoshanna moved from Washington DC to  Eichstaett to marry Andreas ten years ago.  Shoshanna works in pastel and does beautifully textured landscapes and flower paintings. Her work is vibrant, it shimmers, like a memory of the perfect summer day. The pastels are so thick and tactile that one could be forgiven for thinking they are oils. Shoshanna and Andreas worked steadily for several weeks here at Bordeneuve this summer and here is a selection of their artwork, as well as some reflections on time spent in an artist retreat. Shoshanna’s work can be viewed more extensively at her website: www.ah-art.com. She and Andreas have upcoming shows in Germany and more information can be found on her site as well as on the Jura Museum site: www.Jura-Museum.de.

 

The Barn, Shoshanna Ahart, 2013.

 

Why, people often ask, would one go out of one’s way – sometimes thousands of miles — to do what one can do “at home”?  Still others ask why one would want to “work” on vacation.

For me and my husband, our “work” is our passion.  In our daily lives, like many artists, we do not have the time to truly concentrate on our craft because of other constraints. So an artist residency is a break from daily chores that demand our energy and sap our concentration for our work.  It is…a gift of TIME.

There are many types of residencies, some with a lot of participants or requirements for interaction, but Bordeneuve is not one of these.  Bordeneuve is unique because it is like visiting friends who are interested in you, but make absolutely no demands for your time. Everything is, as you like. It is a completely individualized residency, which caters to one’s own needs and best practices for one’s work.  It IS a gift of time: time to contemplate; to seek new ideas, new inspiration, to be inspired by or commune with nature.  It is also the gift of solitude, of being alone to challenge oneself…to indulge oneself…to question one’s self.  It is the time and privacy to explore new ideas, new possibilities without criticism in a quiet, peaceful, and beautiful environment.

Noelle’s House, Shoshanna Ahart,2013.

My work is based on my response and my interaction with my environment.  I fell in love with Bordeneuve! Everywhere I turned I saw another painting. Places are like people and through the act of painting, the character of places is revealed to me.  The light, the colors, the atmosphere of Bordeneuve and its landscape were all so inspiring.  I spent 6 to 7 hours a day outdoors painting with chalk pastels.  I felt that I couldn’t paint fast enough to capture this wonderful place.  My husband, Andreas worked indoors upstairs in the huge atelier space on a new series in preparation for an exhibition at the Jura Museum in Eichstaett, Germany.  Featured in his scientific reconstructions — incredibly detailed pencil drawings — are the maniraptora, a group of medium sized predatory and plant eating dinosaurs, from which modern birds evolved.

Bordeneuve is lovingly cared for and nurtured by Noelle.  That sense of care is evident everywhere:  the flowers attracting a myriad of butterflies, which are planted around the grounds; the vegetable garden from which she creates wonderful meals for her guests; the attention to detail in the barn atelier/accommodations; and, of course the love she gives to her beautiful cats.  All of this creates an atmosphere conducive to relaxation, contemplation and creativity. Noelle and Karl take wonderful care of you.  And you are left to pursue your creative endeavours.

 

Andreas and Shoshanna

 

Shoshanna Ahart and Andreas Karlstetter

Eichstaett, Germany

www.ah-art.com