by Amie Oliver, Guest Contributor
The French Connection, currently touring Virginia, consists of a group of artists from the United States and abroad who’ve established a studio practice for an extended period of time at the Cite Internationale des Arts in Paris, France. These extraordinary artist residencies function as a cultural and creative bridge in a place which transcends politics – where the most common language is art. Artists interact on a global stage where history is tangible and a sensory time portal. Touring the ateliers of the Cite des Arts can be a grand promenade of the past, present and future for anyone with the curiosity and incentive to look in all directions.
The artwork created for The French Connection transports each artists’ vision from the atelier to galleries across the globe. The Seine, which runs along the Cite Internationale des Artes and through the heart of Paris – connects the artists and the city of lights much like a pumping artery fueling the hearts and intellect of those depicted here. As the collection travels across the state to noted galleries and public spaces it expands and contracts to accommodate the specifics of each location. Currently on view in the galleries on the Capital One campus near Richmond, the show has also traveled to The Linden Row Inn, a satellite exhibition space of 1708 Gallery and to Artspace, a non-profit gallery located in the Plant Zero Complex in the Manchester District of Richmond.
Participating Artists include Mark Baldridge (Virginia), Irene Barberis (Australia), Hafis Bertschinger (Switzerland), Ruth Bolduan (Virginia), Lia Cook (California), Dean Dass (Virginia), Marinda Du Toit (South Africa), Elisabeth Flynn-Chapman (Virginia), Sandra Gil (Portugal), Reni Gower (Virginia), Brian Kreydatus (Virginia), Jamshid Mardan (Iran), Maria Miranda (Australia), Norie Neumark (USA/Australia), Amie Oliver (Virginia), Michael Pinsky (Great Britain), Niloofar Rahnama (Iran), Sally Rees (Tasmania), Chuck Scalin (Virginia), Diana Seeholzer (Switzerland), Lisa Tubach (Virginia), Lester Van Winkle (Virginia) and Yvette Watt (Tasmania). It is always a challenge to articulate such an experience in one’s studio practice as its manifestations vary. A few the artists from The French Connection collective describe their process below:
Sally Rees (Tasmania, Australia) explained that she “tried many times in the years since to turn what we have, the film and recordings (from France), into something. From the distant to the recent, A Pack of Lies is my first artwork made for podcast and incorporates the voices of both curator, Amie Oliver and her partner Harry Kollatz Jr. who volunteered as two of the sixteen readers of alternate biographies of my life: biographies borrowed from film-stars, musicians and sportspeople. My time in Paris tore me down and filled me up again and was entirely instrumental to my continuing body of work that has continued as an an investigation of identity and the self. It was a time where I learned new skills in both craft and diplomacy and was given the opportunity not only to meet with friends and collaborators old and new but to also be truly with myself in a completely messy and exploratory but ultimately constructive way. And all surrounded by the greatest beauty I could ever imagine.”
Norie Neumark (USA) and Maria Miranda (Australia) created “Searching for rue Simon-Crubellier” as a video/sound installation during their residency. The work takes as a point of departure the experience of being Australians in Paris and reading George Perec’s book Life a User’s Manual. In this book Perec creates a puzzle of a novel set in a building located in the 17th arrondissement of Paris at number 11 rue Simon-Crubellier.
The team explains that “Searching for rue Simon-Crubellier is a process-based, interdisciplinary and conceptual work. It is an actual search for an imaginary place — exploring actual and imagined relations to place. In searching for rue Simon-Crubellier, the work poses the question: is it possible to bring something that does not exist into existence by searching for it?”
Lia Cook (California, USA) works in a variety of media combining weaving with painting, photography, video and digital technology. “My current practice explores the sensuality of the woven image and the emotional connections to memories of touch and cloth. Working in collaboration with neuroscientists, I am investigating the nature of the emotional response to woven faces by mapping in the brain these responses. I use the laboratory experience with both process and tools to stimulate new work in reaction to these investigations. I am interested in both the scientific study as well as my artistic response to these unexpected sources, exploring the territory between scientific investigation and artistic interpretation. Recently I began using DSI, Diffusion Spectrum Imaging of the brain and TrackVis software from Harvard to look at the fiber connections of communication between different parts of my brain and to integrate these fiber tracks with the actual fiber connections that make up the woven translation of an image.”
Brian Kreydatus (Virginia, USA) has worked in two residencies at “La Cite.” Both had a major impact on his work.”Paris’s museum and cultural holdings functioned in much the same way one might use a library- to inspire and inform. Of particular importance to me during both residencies were the French and Dutch collections at the Louvre. I spent nearly every day drawing and from these paintings. In addition, the Courbet retrospective at the Grand Palais during my first residency had an enormous impact on me. His ability to paint both the specific and universal without losing the power of either expression- is a constant source of inspiration and challenge to my own pursuits. “Opening day night” was certainly influenced by my time with Courbet’s hunting pictures.”
Dean Dass (Virginia, USA) spent two months at the Cité Internationale des Arts in Paris during May and June of 2007. “I drew incessantly for two months. My drawings are often small, delicate figurative drawings from Picasso’s Rose Period.; in many cases I have retained Picasso’s exact titles. These drawings have formed the basis of a number of my subsequent exhibitions; the period in Paris was so productive that I have had 10 solo exhibitions since the spring of 2007. In addition I was greatly inspired by the paintings of Lucas Cranach the Elder that I also saw in Paris. Picasso has likewise worked through Cranach’s influence. A number of my portrait drawings are free studies after Cranach. The tension in Cranach’s paintings of working in a genre something like “official court painting” is something I thought a lot about. How might that dilemma apply today, or really to any era? I question how much freedom an artist, any artist, working at any time, might really have. These kinds of questions allowed me to think in new ways about tradition and innovation. Somehow I needed to give myself special permission in order to be able to draw after an earlier master. Not that my drawings look particularly like the work of those masters. Perhaps it was just being in Europe, in Paris – where streets, buildings, museums, paintings – where everything is many centuries old, that provoked in me a different awareness of tradition. Also nearby in the Marais was the Musée Carnavalet where I spent a lot of time considering the history of Paris. Musée Carnavalet was full of engravings, lithographs and many other types of populist prints about events in the history of Paris.”
Reni Gower (Virginia, USA) relies on the language of abstraction. “I create complex images that counter visual skimming. Through intricate patterning, I combine references to decorative textiles, American piece quilts, ornamental mosaics, and stained glass windows. While addressing issues of beauty, my art becomes an intimate vehicle for reflection or reprieve. During my stay at the International Cite for the Arts, my drawings and paintings were derived from circular motifs contained in the stained glass windows and mosaics of French cathedrals and municipal buildings. Upon my return to the United States, these motifs were enlarged and embedded in the painted components of my mixed media works.”
Hafis Bertschinger (Switzerland) explains “I picked out a paper scroll I had started working on while we were both staying at the cité des arts. Unused to living close to noisy highways days and nights as we did in the center of Paris, near the Seine-autoroute, I was often woken up during long hours. To pass the time I would sketch or paint the subject of my unrest: modern traffic, a nightmare. I like to work on scrolls or leporellos, like writing a diary. To link with our common Paris-experience, I picked up an unfinished 6-meter paper – scroll with traffic noise as a theme. Meaning a night-marish lamentation of movements, accidents and explosions. I started working on this first scroll and the more I added to it, the more it irritated me. As you and other artists friends know: we sometimes kill our work by overdoing it. That is what happened to my first sketch, while continuing to add to it once I was back in Switzerland. Disgusted, I prepared a new scroll made of vlies the same size as the first one and began painting using the same elements all over again. I repeated this rigmarole five times over during the last few weeks…”
Yvette Watt (Tasmania, Australia) arrived in Paris on a cold, winter’s morning in 2006. “High on my ‘to do’ list was to view a series of comparative physiognomic studies between human and animal faces by 17th century French painter, Charles Le Brun. I was fortunate enough to be able to secure an appointment at the Department of Graphic Arts at the Louvre in order the view two large volumes held there which comprise the bulk of this extensive body of work. This was an extraordinary experience. I was taken into a large, ornate, high ceilinged study room in the Louvre, where I joined another three scholars, all of us seated at one of a number of reading tables. Here I was delivered two enormous volumes, bound in 1803 for Napoleon, which contained virtually the entire series of these works. The volumes contained engravings taken from Le Brun’s final pen and ink drawings, as well as the original pen and ink drawings and numerous studies by Le Brun in ink, in pencil and in black chalk, from raw initial sketches to the finished drawing in ink and wash. These drawings were clearly pages taken from sketchbooks, and it was an extraordinary experience to be able to turn the sketchbook pages, which were glued down one side only, to see other sketches on the backs of the pages. I was there four hours, carefully turning the old pages to reveal more and more of this amazing body of work.”
Irene Barberis (Australia) finds her research in Paris to be of particular relevance in her art practice. “Over the past three decades I have worked with images and texts of the Apocalypse. I poured over the figurative and abstract elements of the Apocalypse in Painting, Tapestry, Glass, Fresco, Woodcuts, Mosaics, Prints and Medieval Illuminated Manuscripts. My current series’ of Glassine prints and screen printed collage, encapsulates in a minimal fashion the primary meaning of the word “ Apocalypse’, rather than works normally associated with the Apocalypse; the dense horrific images of a world gone mad through the base and vile nature of humanity and the satanic forces behind their actions strategizing the destruction of these fragile puppets, and the earth. The actual Biblical meaning of the word ‘Apocalypse is ‘an unveiling’, a ‘revealing’ of Jesus Christ, and then subsequent to this the tumultuous period of time which leads up to Christs second coming and the revelation of all things at the end of the Age. The images in the three works are gleaned from the figurations found in French and English medieval manuscripts and Apocalypse tapestry.”
Artists and patrons alike recognize that Paris is a source of the secret sauce of the 20th C – an ingredient that keeps us coming back for more. Throughout history many have arrived on its cobbled streets to meet their muse – and returned time and again to communicate in its unofficial vernacular: the language of Art. Ultimately, all the work made there must transcend its era, locale and motivation to pass the ultimate test: time.
The queues can be very long in Paris – is it worth it? Most likely! With a bit of luck you can postpone the queue and expense of seeing art in Paris by visiting The French Connection at a gallery near you. Contact Virginia artist and curator Amie Oliver for more information.
Amie Oliver (MFA Bowling Green State University) is a recognized artist, curator and educator. She divides her time between her studio in Richmond, VA; international artist residencies and her home with writer Harry Kollatz, Jr. and their two cats from Mississippi. As the French Connection tours Virginia she is exhibiting work influenced by her time in Paris at Chroma Projects Art Laboratory in Charlottesville. “Astral Diary” opens on April 5 from 5:30 to 7:30 and will be up through April 27.