Our first dispatch from France comes from Naudline Pierre MFA 2017.
The Normandy region. What a lush place—the colors are so fresh and vibrant: golds, greens, more greens, and all manner of chromatic excitements found in the flora. This place is like a dream. Old medieval towns with faces and figures carved into their wooden beams, church bells ringing to signal the passing of time. I kid you not, I saw (on several occasions) butterflies dancing with each other mid-air, going up, up, up in circles like something out of Disney’s Cinderella.
I’d been in Paris for a little over a week trying to live like a local before I met my fellow residents, Matthew Durante and Jorge Vasquez at Gare St Lazare to ride the commuter train to Vernon-Giverny. We got on the 12:17 pm train. I got to practice my French. Less than an hour later, we arrived (along with a large group of tourists who were very ready to see Monet’s garden). We followed the masses with our luggage and, eventually, Miranda Fontaine, our glorious residency coordinator and now friend, found us at the end of Rue Claude Monet. Kristina Reddy, another resident, would join us a few hours later, rounding out our group of four.
The Terra Foundation so generously gave us a car to use during our residency and we hopped in it and drove to Vernon, guided by Miranda. She showed us the framer’s shop that carries some essential art supplies. I bought a huge tube of Prussian blue—very impulsive but it felt right. Miranda also showed us our grocery store and then took us to a beautiful little cheese shop where the Camembert smelled just right. Later that day, we went for a hike up a hill and followed a path into some farmland where the grass was tall and the breeze was just right. Then I got that feeling, you know, when you squint your eyes and you feel like you’re out of your body and time slows down a little and you’re acutely aware of your surroundings and the sound of the bees and the ostrich slowly stalking you from behind a fence. Yes, we found a field with an ornery ostrich. In the French countryside. I really did experience that feeling, though. The ostrich was just the cherry on top. Later, we set up the studio, and got to work.
Sorolla! Giverny is also home to Musee des Impressionnismes, which currently has a huge Sorolla show up. The light in his paintings! The color! The luminosity! I was itching to paint as soon as I left the exhibition—thankfully our house was across from the street from the museum. Later, in the studio, my brushstrokes were more free and loose.
Miranda invited us to have early evening cider and snacks in Le Hameau’s (her office) courtyard, where we met her husband, François, and Jan, our friend who makes magic happen at Monet’s garden. After the cider, Jan gave us a private, after-hours, VIP tour of the garden, lilies and all. The setting sun looked like glitter coming through the spaces between the bamboo shoots. Later, in the studio, the colors of the garden made their way into my paintings.
After a productive day in the studio, we ended our first week with a “cocktail dinotaire” in Jan’s courtyard under a beautiful tree complete with baby doves in its branches. I’m not joking about the doves. We enjoyed a beautiful meal and met the rest of Jan’s team: Inés, artist-in-residence, Dante, and Luis, who are both artists and horticulturists. We toured Inés and Dante’s studio and chatted about art.
Work, work, work, work, work…
At some point during days 6-11, Jorge, Matt, and I took a late night bike ride. The air was cool and crisp. And on day 9, we drove to Lavacourt to have dinner at Miranda’s beautiful home were we sat with our new friends and watched barges go by on the Seine. There was an incredible moonrise and, again, the air was cool and crisp.
We organized a small open studio event, where we had our new friends come and see what we’ve been working on. We had great conversations with our guests, and after they left, the four of us talked late into the night, sharing stories.
I’m writing this entry feeling incredibly grateful for this experience. We’ve been shown an immense amount of hospitality. Although my time here isn’t up yet (we have 10 days left), this place has influenced me with its colors, flora, people, and quiet, lush beauty. Just yesterday, Kristina, Jorge, and I sat on the couch with some tea to watch the rain fall in the backyard. Painting the landscapes here have been a beautiful experience that has strengthened my eye for color and light. This place is just what I needed to dive deep into my imagination and create from that subconscious place where color and texture and meaning come naturally.