PARIS PORTRAITS: The Act of Looking

Still life objects and snacks (caisse-croutes)

Dana Wyse, a Canadian conceptual artist friend of mine who lives in Paris, has a very interesting practice. She makes pills that cure the perceived ills of the world. You can find her artistic apothecary in contemporary art exhibitions, and at a regular spot in the bookshop at the Palais de Tokyo.

Understand Public Sculpture (Dana Wyse)
Speak French Instantly (Dana Wyse)
Palais de Tokyo bookshop, Paris. Dana Wyse artworks on display.

Dana graciously set up an opportunity for me to give a drawing lesson to some of her friends, with the agreement that they would sit for me to draw their portraits. On a Saturday afternoon shortly before 2pm, I showed up at her studio apartment in the northern edge of Paris. The complex she lives in, La Maladrerie (which seems to translate as “the Leper Colony”), has an interesting cultural mix of artists and immigrants, with streets named after painters, such as Allee Gustav Courbet and Allee Matisse. It is a bit of a labyrinth, so Dana met me at a stone wall near Allee Georges Braque and shepherded me in to her spacious modernist flat that also serves as her studio.

Soon her guests arrived with snacks to contribute to the table. Dana has all kinds of cool and odd things she collects and displays in her apartment.

I chose as our main still life subject a taxidermy fox which seemed to be leaking saw-dust. Dana added a baseball, a plastic rose, and a miniature faux bourgeois armchair to the arrangement.

One of the three guests was Mélissa Laveaux, who is a talented musician with roots in Canada and Haiti. I wish I had a jpeg of the awesome drawing she did of the fox’s fierce-looking head, but you will just have to imagine it. The other two visitors, Sarah, who is a bit of a poet and a bit mysterious, and Stella, a cinematographer, made some nice work too.

The following day I received an enthusiastic email from Dana saying they all had had a great time, and that Mélissa wanted another lesson. Meanwhile we also received some complimentary tickets to Mélissa’s upcoming sold-out concert.

It was a treat to have the opportunity to see and hear her perform. She arrived on stage bearing a striking yellow electric guitar and a bright flower in her beautiful dark dreadlocks. Mélissa charmed us with her self-deprecating wit, skillful playing, and sensuous voice. After the concert we went for a drink with her and Pauline, a young painter at a low-key bar within walking distance of the theatre.

They mostly spoke French and I was a bit mystified about what was being said. I think since Dana is fluent they may have assumed at first that all Canadians know French. I can speak like a five-year old more or less. Dana apparently sounds like a Californian to her French-speaking friends.

Pauline joined us at the next drawing lesson I gave Mélissa, which we did at Melissa’s apartment in Belleville. We then went to the nearby park on a hill, and sat on the concrete steps overlooking Paris:

Mélissa has a lot on the go with her performing and song-writing, and asked if she could do some admin on her smartphone while I made the pencil drawing of her in my Moleskine, and Pauline just hung out with us.

Mélissa Laveaux, 2017, pencil in Moleskine sketchbook

The next week Pauline N’Gouala and I met at the Parc aux Buttes Chaumont and had a lovely walk and chat while she told me a bit about herself and her artwork. A wonderful afternoon with a warm, beautiful person.

Sarah, a soft-spoken young American woman who has been living in Paris for a while now, hosted me at her then Bois de Boulogne loft apartment. She shared her courtyard garden with a neighbour and friend, another Sara, who represents photographers.

Here is Julien, who I met briefly at a café, who stood shyly for only 20 minutes for me and then disappeared.

There’s something really special about sharing time and space with a person who makes herself vulnerable to being looked at. This experience is very different from working from a photograph, it is much more energetically charged, there is a sense of urgency, an awareness that this moment is fleeting. You have to focus more intensely.

Which brings me to my announcement that I am hosting a new in-person painting workshop, “Empathy and Embodiment” in a large new studio on the weekend of August 15 and 16, great for social distance learning. If you have been living your life online for the past several months, and are craving social interaction, this will be a safe and inspiring way to do that! I would love to see you there.

Check it out and let me know as soon as possible if you’d like to join in, as it may be quite popular. 🙂

I’m also starting to teach painting and drawing classes one-on-one and small groups online. and as many as three people in-person in my airy studio. I can tailor a class to your specific needs. Shoot me an email and we can set something up! val@valnelson.ca 778-865-2650

Paris: Modern Life

Paris café terrace on June 2, 2020 (photo credit : BBC)

‘We are going to get back our way of life, our taste for freedom – in other words, we are going to rediscover France fully again’. According to the June 14, 2020 news from The Independant, French president Emmanuel Macron made this statement, which means the famous bar and café culture so treasured by the French can officially restart fully, with Paris declared a “green zone” of safety as the pandemic relaxes its hold on the world.

This is thrilling news, sending a signal to all of us that things will always eventually get better. Pour moi, I feel good just imagining the relief and (albeit cautious) optimism Parisian citizens must feel upon re-emerging from their strict two-month lock-down. For many in the City of Light, the café is an extension of their home living spaces, which tend to be small and confining.

The café is where creative ideas are born, where people meet before and after work to socialize, and where a delicious, relaxing lunch in a neighbourhood restaurant may be taken before heading back to the office. This is the beautiful rhythm of day-to-day living so important to one’s joie de vivre (zest for life) .

When something has been taken away, it feels more precious when you get it back.

That April three years ago, when I woke up in my little 11th arrondissement flat on the first day of a five-week Parisian soujourn., I was repeatedly amazed and grateful to actually be there. All of my senses were super-heightened: tastes, colours, sounds. It was like I too had just emerged from lock-down and could experience more fully the joy of life once again while I continued to heal.

This is the spot where I often started my day, enjoying a to-die-for croissant aux chocolat et aux amandes––do the French know what to do with butter and sugar or what? And sipping a café créme, which is basically a flat white, while watching the locals go about their day.

Boulangerie Gaia, Boulevard Voltaire, 11th arrondissement

One day while I was sitting in my usual window spot, I watched a young mother walking her little son to school. They paused in front of my window so that she could take a hairbrush out of her bag, smooth his disarrayed coiffe and apply HAIR SPRAY before heading out. In France, aesthetics are très important!

The thing you must do for sure when you visit Paris: just walk around and notice what comes across your path. The city is meant to be savored on foot. This is known as flânerie, a term which became widely used in 19th century Paris. A flâneur or flâneuse is a stroller or wanderer with enough means that allows her to walk the city with no particular purpose besides pleasure.

“The crowd is his element, as the air is that of birds and water of fishes. His passion and his profession are to become one flesh with the crowd. For the perfect flâneur, for the passionate spectator, it is an immense joy to set up house in the heart of the multitude,

amid the ebb and flow of movement,

in the midst of the fugitive and the infinite. To be away from home and yet to feel oneself everywhere at home; to see the world, to be at the centre of the world,

and yet to remain hidden from the world.

Charles Baudelaire, “The Painter of Modern Life”, 1863

Gustave Caillebotte: Raboteurs de parquet, 1875 oil on canvas
Paris, France ©photo Musée d’Orsay

The Impressionists and other emerging French painters of the 19th century were at the zeitgeist of the explosion of changes to industrial society with their keen observations of modern life. In their brave move away from the academy-approved history and allegorical painting, they created a new kind of painting, a more subjective expression of human experience of their time.

Edouard Manet depicted family and friends in this ambitious painting of crowds of bourgeois Parisians relaxing out-of-doors. If you look closely you can find Baudelaire and a self-portrait of the artist.

Manet, Music in the Tuilieries, Musée D’orsay, Paris

Manet famously did not idealise what he observed around him, which got him into trouble with the Academy at times. Here is his Bar at the Folies Bérgère (above), which he painted in 1882 . The objects are seductively rendered in thick gestural paint––the glowing liqueur and beer bottles, fruits and glassware, and the beautiful bar-maid with vacant expression who is also an object for the consumption of the crowd reflected in the mirror behind her, and for us.

Here is Cécile Laforest, the bartender at L’Eventail where I would sometimes stop for a snack. She was so kind to me as I practiced my French. She would diplomatically switch to fluent English to tell me about herself. She is an actress, a comédienne, and sometimes model. You can check out her Instagram page to see what she’s up to now. Très sympathique, et très talenteuex!

We’ll talk some more about the act of looking in my next blog.

In the meantime, enjoy being more free to wander around your neighbourhood as most of us are feeling safer to get out there, go to a café, bar, or restaurant, and enjoy the summer.

A bientôt!

Val

Paris and Anticipation

I was supposed to be in Paris with my sweetie in March this year, but we had to postpone our trip almost at the last moment when the global pandemic developed with such surprising speed. Since we won’t be going anywhere for a while, I’ve decided to share with you some events from my five week dream stay in Paris in 2017.

What made the trip extraordinary was that there was a very real chance it could never happen.

In late summer of 2016 I made my plan: I’d wake up in Paris on April 1 (my birthday), live six weeks in Paris “like a Parisian”, then move on to teach a two-week painting workshop in Tuscany. Then I’d wrap up my trip by meeting a friend to see the Venice Biennale. Très excitant!

Everything was on track: I had ramped up my entrepeneurial chops by meeting my financial goals through selling my art; my Tuscan painting holiday was close to fully booked; I had bought my air ticket to Paris, and booked an AirBnB for a really great price.

Ooh la la, I was stoked. I was so amazed that I was making this dream a reality. But I was a bit tired from all this activity. So I took a little break in California to get some sunshine. This is me practicing plein air in Palm Desert on November 29.

On November 30 came the car crash.

Oops.

Rush Hour 3

The next several months I spent convalescing. I had a concussion, a broken clavicle (my painting arm), major whiplash, and for a while I had difficulty walking. And I couldn’t paint. Argh. I lay awake unable to know what to do. Should I cancel my trip?

Self-portrait with broken clavicle

It was my dark night of the soul. Since I couldn’t be in the studio, and I love making the most of my time, I thought it would be a good idea to work on my “art career”. When I began working with two different life coaches, it became obvious that what I really needed to address was some deep stuff within myself. So I spent the winter in meditation, and began sorting it all out.

Bubble

By mid-March, even though I couldn’t yet lift my suitcase, my doctors and physiotherapists deemed me well enough to go to Europe. Hurray! I could spend some of my convalescence in Paris––pas mal, non? I figured sitting in some cafés, looking at art, and maybe making a few drawings should be fine, and I would likely be much stronger by the time I got to do the working portion of my “holiday” in Italy, so things were looking pretty rosy.

Then, the vertigo kicked in. Or what I later learned is actually something called “disequilibrium”. But more on that later.

At any rate, I was still able to leave for France only two weeks later than planned.

Charles de Gaulle airport

When I arrived on a sunny mid-April afternoon and found my new home in the 11th arrondissement, I remembered that I had booked my accommodation the previous fall knowing full-well that there was no elevator. And my suite was on the sixth floor. That’s one of the reasons it was so cheap!

Although I usually like to travel light, my suitcase this time was extra large because of the length of my stay, and the fact that I had brought along art supplies for my upcoming painting workshop. Because I had been in “business” mode for four months, I also had foolishly brought along office supplies, including a stapler that must have weighed nearly half a pound! What was I thinking? Okay, I’ll give myself some slack, I was after all recovering from a concussion.

Needless to say, there was no way I was going to be able to get my stuff up there the normal way. So I treated the ground floor like base camp, and gradually decanted things up the long spiralling staircase over several stages.

The place was pretty tiny, and obviously they’d got most of their decor from Ikea. But I was in Paris!

Stay tuned for more Parisian adventures in my next installment. Meanwhile, I thought I’d pass along a tip on a très charmant online show I’ve been escaping into lately during the coronavirus pandemic. It’s called Little Paris Kitchen, hosted by Rachel Khoo, a young British Cordon-Blue trained chef who demystifies French cooking for us in her tiny Paris flat. She turns her little place into a restaurant at night that can only seat two people at a time! You can find it on CBC Gems and watch it for free.

A bientôt!

Paper works and New Paintings: Eastside Culture Crawl Nov 15-18, 2018

For the first time at the Culture Crawl I’m offering a limited edition print of one of my paintings, Rush Hour. There will be only 10 in the edition,  10 x 10 inches on archival paper with archival inks. A framed sample beautifully put together by Fine Art Framing will be on display in my studio. I will be taking orders for this and a few other limited editions  also available at a price point that allows for affordable gift-giving, for a loved one, or for yourself!

Rush Hour, 10 x 10 inch limited edition print on archival paper

Also available: A 50-page book of select paintings from twelve years of my Tourist series.

As well you will find six new paintings, and  a drypoint print, Syon House Interior that I recently re-discovered in my print portfolio, along with some framed 7 x 7 inch 3-colour pencil crayon drawings.

Detail, Syon House Interior, drypoint print with chine collé on BFK Rives paper

Detail of one of several drawings on offer.

See you there!

1000 Parker Street, #322b

EASTSIDE CULTURE CRAWL DATES AND HOURS

Thursday, November 15
5 pm – 10 pm

Friday, November 16
5 pm – 10 pm

Saturday, November 17
11 am – 6 pm

Sunday, November 18
11 am – 6 pm

Haptic Splendour

For the past 15 years, I’ve painted opulent European 18th and 19th century interiors. Designed as theatrical displays of status and power by wealthy aristocrats and bourgeoisie, these formerly private sites are now museums, providing entertainment and pleasure for touristic consumption, while also opening up a space for philosophical contemplation.

Although I use photography as a structural device through which I enter the painting process, with each piece I always seem to arrive at a point of crisis where I need to break free from the tyranny of the image. Through partly destroying the image I discover fresh solutions to painterly problems I set for myself.

Throughout my childhood and into my mid-twenties, I was a ballet dancer. That intense training of spatial awareness and interpretive questioning is still deeply stamped in my DNA. A painting to me is a kind of choreography; there’s a haptic dance that takes place from my optical experience of an image, through to the way my nervous system signals to my body how to translate and record it. As painter/dancer I tease out meaning through working and reworking, coming up to speed as I gain understanding, and making the last strikes with absolute commitment.

Treat yourself to a painting class: 2018 Open Studio with Val

Make a date with your painting practise! This is a great way to get your process moving forward, by committing to six 3-hour once-per-week painting sessions. With Val’s helpful tutelage, tackle technical and conceptual concerns in the company of like-minded painters. You will work on a personal project during the class–bring a project to completion (very empowering!) or begin something new.  Each session will begin with a drawing warm-up exercise in your sketchbook. Arrive early to set up (2pm and later) so you can make the most of your time!

I will have room for only 5 students, so don’t delay 🙂 I look forward to seeing you soon!

OPEN STUDIO PAINTING WORKSHOP Feb/March 2018

Six Friday afternoons: 2:30-5:30pm

Dates: Feb 16, 23, March 2, 9, 16, 23

Location: Val Nelson Studio, 1000 Parker Street, #322b

Pre-requisite: This is not a beginners’ class. Some painting experience recommended. Oil or acrylic.

Tuition: $350 includes GST

To Register: $75 deposit secures your spot. E-transfer, cheque, or hand-delivered cash all acceptable. Send to val@valnelson.ca

Cancellation policy: Please note that one weeks’ notice is required for cancellation with full refund of deposit. No refund for last-minute cancellations unless I can fill your spot.

Questions?: To determine if this class is for you, send me an email or call me: val@valnelson.ca   778-865-2650

You’re invited: EASTSIDE CULTURE CRAWL 2017 Thursday, Nov 16-Sunday Nov 19

It’s that time of year again! I look forward to sharing with you some recent work in my studio at the Eastside Culture Crawl, where I’ll be showing gestural line drawings and paintings of baroque interiors, as well as intimate Paris portrait drawings and self-portraits.

You can view Available Work here.

I’m excited that my new book, Song for a Tired Businessman, will be for sale.

 

And once again I’ll be taking donations for my Optimistic Pursuits pencils, 100% proceeds to Recovery Through Art Society .

I hope to see you there!

FESTIVAL HOURS

Thursday, November 16
5 pm – 10 pm

Friday, November 17
5 pm – 10 pm

Saturday, November 18
11 am – 6 pm

Sunday, November 19
11 am – 6 pm

STUDIO LOCATION: #322b-1000 Parker Street

ENQUIRIES: val@valnelson.ca  778-865-2650

xoxVal

 

 

 

 

Some Portraits

I’ve been researching portraiture, including a series of painted and drawn self-portraits, and also some drawn portrait studies I made in Paris of people I met there this past Spring. All but one of these were painted from life.

Self-portrait with headphones, oil on paper, 15 x 11 inches

Self-portrait with big neck, oil on paper, 15 x 11 inches

Self-portrait as Kokoschka, oil on canvas, 12 x 9 inches

Self-portrait as a Dutchwoman, oil on canvas, 12 x 9 inches

Mute, oil on canvas, 12 x 9 inches

Self-portrait painting, oil on canvas and oil on paper diptych, approx dimensions: 10 x 10 and 11 x 15 inches

 

Self-portrait in electric light, oil on canvas, 12 x 9 inches

Self-portrait with broken clavicle, approx dimensions 11 x 11 inches, graphite and pencil crayon on paper

Self-portrait in springtime, oil on paper, 8 x 10 inches

Pauline, Paris, graphite pencil in Moleskine sketch book, 8.25 x 10.25 inches

 

 

Michelle, Paris, graphite pencil in Moleskine sketch book, 8.25 x 5 inches

Melissa, Paris, graphite pencil in Moleskine sketch book, 8.25 x 5 inches

 

Julien, Paris (detail), graphite pencil in Moleskine sketch book, 8.25 x 5 inches

Tuscany Painting Retreat Sneak Peek 2017

I’m in the final stages of planning a painting holiday for early June 2017. Here’s a sneak peak of the location––a very old stone farmhouse and a charming converted tobacco drying tower in the Italian countryside, located just outside the little town of Mercatale, halfway between Umbertide and Cortona.

IMG_5685

IMG_5683

Students will spend five days of painting and soaking up the beautiful surroundings and bucolic Italian atmosphere.

Monday to Friday, there will be six hours of painting instruction each day–– three hours in the morning, then a break in the middle of the day for free time to explore the surrounding area and adopt the Italian spirit of “dolce far niente” (it’s sweet to do nothing). From 4 to 7pm we will reconvene and paint plein air when the light becomes more and more spectacular. Perfetto, non?

If you’d like to find out more, please send me an email: val@valnelson.ca

ciao, Val