Mombretia Maze, Jeannine Cook
When Jeannine Cook first contacted me about a residency, I had to look up the term ‘silverpoint’ to find out what it even meant. After a bit of Googling around and a long appreciative look at Jeannine’s beautiful website, I was hooked. Jeannine practices an art that dates back over a millenia and is practiced by only a few dozen artists today. Spending time with Jeannine is an exercise in seeing the world anew: she finds inspiration in the most miniscule of details, beauty in the arc of a leaf’s veins, the swirl of mica in a stone, the cracked seedhead of last year’s flowers. Read on to learn more about this elegant, austere artform as well as about her time at Bordeneuve.
Traces IV-V-VI by Jeannine Cook
Few people have the experience of seeing the lustrous shimmer of silver, gold, platinum or copper drawings on prepared paper. When viewers learn of metalpoint drawing’s rich heritage, with eclipses and renaissances undulating through its thirteen-century life, they are captivated.
My passion has long been to share these drawings’ diverse beauties with the public. I find metalpoint to be addictive, meditative, and disarmingly humble in its technical requirements. Yes, you cannot erase marks made on a prepared surface, but otherwise, a stylus, smooth prepared paper or vellum, good light and time are the only other requirements.
Metalpoint allows a great delicacy of line and subtle tonality. A white ground suits botanical studies, landscapes, portraits… Recently I have also been using a black ground for very different results, “abstracts” from tree bark, details of stones, etc. Silver is the preferred metal for a white ground while gold, silver and copper behave totally differently on a black ground. Both forms of metalpoint are intimate in their shimmer, totally permanent and amazingly contemporary in feel.
Cedar Lines, gold and silverpoint by Jeannine Cook
The silence is gentle and all-pervasive. The tracery of bare branches is filigree lace against the azure of clean-washed skies. The sense of ancient time is almost palpable, traced by the shiny stones laid down the track to Bordeneuve so many aeons ago. The early inhabitants of Betchat, Ariège, walked this way long before this village was even founded. Links to the past are centering, renewing.
This is the magical place to come to gather one’s thoughts and energies, then to create art and allow oneself to venture into new voices in one’s work. Meals are not only delicious; they are also a time of stimulating, thoughtful explorations of subjects large and small.
I savour of each day here, as I try to draw my lustrous but discreet metalpoint drawings. They are sufficiently demanding of execution that the quiet peace here is hugely helpful. Even the stones that I have gathered down by the bustling river below us offer a fascination and sense of connection as I draw them in silver and gold, weaving their characteristics into work that is seemingly abstract but realistic in fact. These stones speak of the amazing geologically diversity of these ancient Pyrenees mountains that punctuate this world’s horizons with their snowy peaks. I like the sense of unity that is so perceptible here.
Bordenueve is one of those magical places to which one promptly wants to return, even before one has left…
Huitres de Chablis by Jeannine Cook
Enduring Elegance by Jeannine Cook
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
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.
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
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.
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:
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.
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.