I was going to post this with the sketches from seeing this band, but I decided that would be too much to load on one page. I usually just talk about art here, but Christian called me up from the audience last night and had me play and sing a song. It was such a rush to get to play with a great band, one I admire, and music feeds my artwork. It's nice to have that energy going back and forth. So I decided for once to put a little music up on this blog as well. Usually I just play for fun on Mondays in a friend's back living room, but I really had a good time sitting in with these great folks. The bonus is I got really exited about playing and learned three new songs in the week since. Creative energy is always welcome.
Paris has a surprisingly hot old time music scene, and I'm lucky enough to know several of the musicians there. Camille had invited me to go see some of her friends play, and I had a ball my next to last night there. Admittedly it was my crowd of folks, but it was also lovely to be out in a cafe (well, "Irish pub") and know five people. In Paris. It's good to feel I'm getting a set of friends there.
The band was great. The main pair happened to be Americans, though John Matthews has lived there for ages, and Ilon Moss did for a good while. They had the serious pipes to belt out a bunch of songs, unmiked, into a crowded bar. I was impressed. The bass player and guitarist (who also rang out some great Cajun songs) were French. It was such a fun evening.
I had a lot of things going the last week in Paris and didn’t get up the last sketches. I do still want to post these paintings from Auvers, though. I went back a second time because I wanted to paint more (and bigger) in the fields and because one special tree called me back, which will surprise no one who’s known me for very long. I took my bigger sketch book the second time (9x12”) and enjoyed being in the country a bit and did several watercolors in that same area where Van Gogh painted the crows over the wheat field.
This tree, arching over a narrow path, is what really drew me back. I did several different versions, and I never got it quite right, but I sure enjoyed trying.
After I’d painted a bit, I walked down to the other end of town to see Dr. Gachet’s house. Mavis and I hadn’t had the time and energy the week before. I’m so glad I did. He was an amateur artist as well as a doctor, and Van Gogh moved to Auvers to be under his care. Dr. Gachet was a friend of a number of artists, and he had two printing presses, one of which (the one Van Gogh actually used) is still in the house, and I was thrilled to see it. I had a lovely conversation with the docent, who is also a printmaker, as it turns out. We talked art about 25 minutes, all in French (she was patient with my mistakes, but I was proud of myself to have such an extended conversation, even with grammatical missteps). Once we got going, she was kind enough to remove the rope blocking the stairway and take me up to the attic art studio. Cézanne had painted there and had made Dr. Gachet move the skylight from the southern side of the house to the northern one, so there would be cool, steady light for painting. It’s a lovely space, and it was special to be there. I always feel humbled standing in the spaces where great artists have painted, and I always enjoy seeing other people’s work spaces.
Agata took my photo up there, and here is also the printing press. Just a gorgeous piece as well as art making magic.
The garden at Dr. Gachet’s is a lovely place. Small but quiet and with view out across tiled rooftops. Van Gogh had painted Gachet’s daughter there, and I found a bench in the shade to sit and enjoy the view, and I couldn’t resist painting as well.
It was a great day. I was exhausted when it was over, from travel plus five watercolors, but I was so delighted that I got back to spend more time there. It’s only an hour and a half from Gare du Nord, so it’s an easy day trip from Paris for anyone who has the extra time.
I’m back home and getting into the swing of painting again. I’ve given myself time to just dive in and start working, so at some point I’ll scan in the late sketches from my trip and post them here, but in the meantime, here’s the first oil I’ve been working on since I got home.
I’d had a great flow going on large paintings of water before I left, and I was worried about losing my momentum in five weeks away. Paris is always a restorative time for me, where I experiment with new things, walk and think, and look at lots of amazing art that inspires me for the year to come. This year, though, I was buried so deeply in this series that I was reluctant to leave. I did several things to try to keep the flow going while I was gone. I worked larger in watercolors, which I had wanted to learn for illustration purposes anyway, and it also helped me to stay slightly more in the scale of the work I wanted to come home ready to do. This series includes figures in a number of the paintings, which is still pretty new for me, so I did a ton of larger self portraits (9x12” instead of my usual 5” or 6x8” watercolors) and also sketched a lot of people out in public to keep improving on my figure skills.
Most importantly, I intentionally cast my mind back to the larger paintings and visualized the couple of next ones I wanted to start. I did this especially the last week, while I was walking or right on that edge of sleep, which is a very creative time for me. I was hoping to keep the ideas fresh and get myself back in that mindset for when I got home, and it worked beautifully. I had one day of unpacking and serious jet lag, and the next day (still a bit jet lagged), I was up early and drew off three new paintings before it was light enough to walk Mr. Darcy. This is the first of five paintings I’ve started in the last week and a half. I think this one is finished, though I may tweak it a bit more. Others need various levels of help still, but they’re coming along nicely. It feels good to be back with big canvases and flowing paint again.
I had been wanting to get to Auvers for a while, the town where Van Gogh spent his last few months, and my friend Mavis kindly accompanied me (and guided me through the mysteries of the suburban train system). It was a powerful place to be. Vincent and his brother Theo are both buried there (thanks to Theo’s generous wife who decided they should be together), as is the church that Vincent painted which I had seen in the Orsay. We spent most of the day there, wandering and looking and sketching. From the graveyard you can walk out into the fields where Vincent painted his late masterpiece of the crows. It’s a gorgeous spot, and I sketched it in my journal, just for the thrill of being there and also because after so long in the city, it was marvelous to be in actual countryside again.
The church was covered in scaffolding as they retile the roof, but I had to sketch it as well.
I also fell, not surprisingly, for a tree, just near the site of the crows. I sketched it once and then went back the next week (I’ll post these after) to paint it again. Mavis and I also went up to the small room where Vincent lived and then died. It was a bit of a crowded tour, but I got in the room before most of the group did and was able to stand in silence for a minute and also take this photo. It was a moving place to be.
Martha Kelly is an artist and illustrator who lives and works in Memphis, Tennessee.
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