Last year I hatched a scheme to celebrate achieving an important birthday milestone (60). I wanted to do something that would challenge me physically and embed me deep in countryside far from home where I might find inspiration. I choose France.
How To Reinvigorate Creative Flow By Taking A Trip Out Of Your Comfort Zone
A friend, who is also an artist, and also wants to find inspiration in France. She agrees to come along. We decide to head out without our husbands so we can concentrate on our shared goals of hiking, backpacking and immersing ourselves in artistic consideration. She discovers an official walking path in the Provence region of southern France that was designed by and for artists specifically.
The website highlights the fact that we will experience the GR2013 trail through a deliberately designed mixture of urban, industrial and rural pathways, roads and sidewalks. The idea is to expose the artistic eye to a wealth of environments that create an inspirational alchemy through considering the disparate.
I am psyched! Time to purchase a lightweight pack, high performance hiking clothes and 5-star rated, butt-ugly hiking sneaks. Then download beginning french lessons and ready myself to enter top “find inspiration in France” absorption mode.
Inside Fast Trains and Outsider Art
We opt to fly from Mexico City to London (tickets are cheaper) and take the high speed train into France so we can see a great swath of French countryside. It is May, so the landscape is lush and full of blossoms and bright green grass. We travel up to Lille to take in the treasure housed in the Lille Metropole Museum of Contemporary and Outsider Art. The works are from a variety of mostly European naive or self-trained artists. Getting to see the forceful drive in the output of the artists in this collection is a pure delight and a perfect way to jumpstart the “find inspiration in France” aspect of this project!
Paris: A Mecca for Creatives
From here we head down to Paris to bask in its big city awesome and take in more art before finding a good starting point on the GR2013. An especially favorite find is the St. Pierre Halle outsider art museum. But Paris being Paris and all, just existing there for a moment was an amazing feast for the senses. The shops, the river, the human scaled architecture, the flyers and billboards – everything is a delight! Even the underground subway system is a dream because you can get anywhere you want with ease and minimal confusion. This allows for free exploration with minimal exposure to getting hopelessly lost. Big shout out to Google Maps and the French cellphone company Orange’s Holiday deal. (basically $50 for two weeks call, text and data service).
In addition to exploring part of the art scene, I was able to hunt down a parfumerie and purchase a fancy bottle to bring home. Serge Lutens is a newer house of scent and well worth discovering because artists love stimulating all of our senses, you know? Not just the eyes. Of course wine is super and super cheap here as well. I indulge that sense, too….lol.
At this point the entirety of the plans we have starts to unravel due to some unforeseen circumstances with my companion’s health. For the next two weeks she is intermittently laid up and stuck in bed. A disappointment for us both at first, though ultimately we were allowed to rediscover how to be flexible, adaptive travelers able to accommodate the capriciousness of fate. An odd array of symptoms did not allow for easy diagnosis so my friend pushes it when she feels up to it and lays low when she doesn’t. Major hiking plans go out the window for the foreseeable future.
Hiking The GR2013
She rallies at a key moment in our planned movements and we manage to train to Aix En Provence and, after some fits and starts, hike chunks of the GR 2013 including some of its rougher, more urban spots. Compared to the lavender fields and vineyards people tend to conjure up when you tell them you’re heading to Provence, the gritty fish export town of Port de Bouc with its oil refineries and factories is the antithesis of charm. But charm isn’t the point here. The wide array of human activity and influence are more what the trail designers mean to highlight. So I take it all in as I stride along with my collapsible hiking sticks (worth their weight in gold) and trail following app (worth its ephemeral weight in the equally evanescent Bitcoin – my sense of direction isn’t just non-existent, it’s counter existent).
We decide to travel down to Italy, because she is feeling up to it and I am in a ‘what the heck’ kind of mood.
There goes the “Find inspiration in France” mode only to be upgraded with the “Find Inspiration In Italy” mode! This turns out to be a great idea as we feel the exuberance and warmth of the Italian people as soon as we cross the border. I’m not disparaging the French people at all, in fact they were very kind to us, but I felt a somewhat carefully cultivated reticence in the overall general demeanor whereas Italians seem to play it a bit more arms extended and carefree.
I decide to cobble together my own experience allowing for the continued down days of my companion. My plan is to:
- take in as much of where we are staged at that moment as I can
- hike for hours in the morning and afternoons and check in on my friend at midday
- draw or work on photos at night.
- when the opportunity presents itself, take in as many museums and exhibits as call to me, too
Right Away The Trip Shows Impact On My Art!
Picasso Artist Puppet Collage
The inspiration is working and I begin creating some photo/drawing collages on the road. Below is the first. I created it after visiting the special Picasso exhibit in Marseilles. The piece includes elements from this vibrant, lively city and has as a centerpiece a marionette artist Picasso designed early on in his career. Isn’t she so cool?
(I am selling a limited edition of these as giclee prints. Details in this link.)
Happy Life Collage
Because I’m in Marseilles for longer than anticipated I was able to complete another collage using visual elements I captured in my wanderings around from this bustling seaport. It is truly an international city and you can see and feel the influences of people from the world over when you walk its many paths.
I call this one “Happy Life”. I met that pooch outside a gorgeously stocked Turkish spice import store. The Happy Life packaging is a product from a global business headquartered here you probably have heard of, Haribo, the inventors of gummy bears! More info on the collage in this link.
Without the excitement of seeing so much great art and cultural treasure I don’t think it wold have occurred to me as soon as it did to start making digital murals with some of the photos I was taking. I think the alchemy of floating on cloud 9 under the influence of marveling through the Chagall museum and seeing the beflowered charming buildings in rural France set the juices in motion.
OK, So Viva Italy, Bebe!
Here, rather than having to spiff up and venture forth in public to get our cappuccino and croissants as we do in France, breakfast is thoughtfully served inside the hotel so we’re already feeling great about this decision to go souther. Our first morning we are heartily greeted by the hotelier as he cheerfully demands to know what coffee drink we would be taking then he belts out opera tunes as he fulfills those requests. Best cappuccino ever!
Though still potentially a bit rickety I have to wonder if the Italian culture itself helps my friend get well again. Whatever the case, she is back up to near 100% when we make our way down to the Cinque Terre National Forest along Italy’s northern Mediterranean coast. What a drop-dead gorgeous place! Five fishing villages, each more picturesque than the last, serve as the staging between some of the most magnificent hiking I have ever enjoyed in my life!
Foodie For The Soul
If you’re a foodie worth your salt then you are fully aware that both France and Italy are scrumptious countries. Oh! The food on offer is out of this world! Whenever possible I grab the most seasonal and/or local choice on the menu. I am never, ever disappointed in the results. Probably the most beautiful dish I have is the black and white linguini with mussels in a red sauce. I consume it with some crispy local white wine overlooking the tiny beach of Vernazza. This is just after a strenuous but absolutely worth-it gorgeous hike up on the cliffs along the water. But the picnic I assembled for myself with a baguette, brie, and single serving wine-to-go in a plastic cup in a park in Nice isn’t too shabby especially because I follow it up with some crème glacée. Which in Italy is known as…….
By now, in addition to ‘arting’ and exploring, we are both very committed to researching, “for science”, the many varieties of gelato available wherever we are in Italy. We are up to about 4 scoops a day at the peak of this research. My ultimate all time favorite has to be the honey and fig with ribbons of thick bright red pomegranate syrup run through it. But I could make a compelling case for the dark chocolate with fresh mint or the strawberry featuring vine ripened berries from Spain or the salted caramel….. All enjoyed in the name of research, I assure you.
We blow through Firenze (Florence) and buy belts and bags then venture to Capalbio where the jaw droppingly fantastic wonder world created by Nikki de Saint Phalle calls us home. We hike the 5 miles there, have our minds blown, and hike back. I continue to be moved by the dedication to the project the artist demonstrates. Completing it commanded the better part of the last half of her career and the bulk of her income. I was inspired to design my own sculpture styled in the manner of Ms. de Saint Phalle. Mine is just a drawing, but I’d love to make it, or something like it, real soon.
But I haven’t said a word about all the artifacts I took in at the Musee du Quai Branly, nor the contemporary art (including some of my personal fave, Marc Chagalls) at the Centre George Pompidou in Paris. I also haven’t talked about the contemporary collections at the Saatchi Gallery in London.
Indeed I saw all manner of wonders, masterpieces, treasures, cultural icons, and creative riches in just about every place the trains and buses let us off. Below is a list of the high points. It may be that in the future I will make an entry for each one, as I certainly have the photographs to do it and I suspect I will find inspiration popping out from each of these many sources and that alone will justify talking about the places and the process of how they influence me in a blog post or twenty.
So after a month of travel did I accomplish what I had hoped?
- Was I inspired?
- Did I find insight into how other artists create their work?
- Was I immersed in cultures that have things to teach?
A resounding YES on all counts. And so much more.
Don’t Worry, Be Happy
Though it is not the trip I had imagined it was going to be, it becomes something much richer for me. I learn a strongly positive thing about my personality as a result of my friend’s recurrent inability to participate in our plans.
As mentioned, early on, she is periodically sick. Very, very sick. Yet she quietly accepts this as her fate and urges me to go exploring and not worry about her health. My propensity is to feel responsible, act sensibly and ensure she isn’t heading towards something worse.
My personality (INFP Meyers Briggs and an Enneagram #4) is running the show inside my head at this point and hallmark traits of each of these types pretty much outlines the ways I am reacting. I naturally worry and fret until she tells me I am being a “Debbie Downer”. Ouch! But I take the point. I wonder, are we cemented to these behavioral aspects of our personality types or can we force ourselves to act differently?
My worrying isn’t helping anything. So against the knee-jerk reactions I have allowed up to this point, I just stop worrying. Coincidentally, this is when she takes herself to an emergency room. She returns hours later and is a bit perkier for a while. Even when she relapses I decide that from this point forward I will check in with her as though she is well until she actually is. I stop figuring out if I have to help her get her home and complete this journey without her. I discover that the story we tell ourselves internally about things we can’t influence can change at will! We can act (and maybe even eventually become) happy or we can uselessly worry. Guess which one feels better?
Knowing this will serve me well as an artist working to get my work back out on the wider stage, usually not an easy task. So I consider this a huge gift! Nothing like a little name calling to grease the wheels of change, right?
Home and Happy
So I’m home now and assembling this post has helped me begin the process of unpacking everything I gained from this trip. I am so excited to begin new work that reflects the influence of some of the artists at whose genius I marveled. Seeing Marc Chagall’s paintings up close and in living color made my heart sing. Walking through the concrete, tile and mirrored dreams of Niki de San Phalle shifted my perspective on legacy though how I’m not sure yet. I have ideas and projects percolating up out of my core from the buzz of all the images I took in during these amazing four weeks. Stay tuned because we’ve barely scratched the surface of the wonders witnessed!
To see the pop art I produced during this trip click here.
The Galleries Visited from London to Rome: in order I saw them
An outstanding venue in a repurposed Duke’s palace. The ceilings soar and allow carefully designed natural light to do most of the illuminating in each grand hall. Not only does the art look fantastic, the people visiting the museum do too! https://www.saatchigallery.com/
Halle St. Pierre
A grand warehouse styled structure that has a huge variety of outsider art from around the globe. While I was there they had a special show of some of the movie props and accoutrements from director Jean-Pierre Jeanet, inlcuding all the key bits from my fave ‘Ámelie’. http://www.hallesaintpierre.org/
Centre George Pompidou
A 6 story behemoth built in grand 1970s style. While I was there they had a special show entitled “The Russian Avant Garde in Vitebsk’. It included key early pieces by Chagall, Lissitsky and Malevitch. The permanent collection has key pieces from famous contemporary artists from the last 80 years. Really impressive and thorough. https://www.centrepompidou.fr/en
Musee du Quai Branly
A gorgeous architectural triumph. It beautifully showcases the deep and wide treasure collected by French explorers throughout the ages from all the places they visited. I was mesmerized by the sheer volume and high quality of the collections. I took a million pictures here. Their site.
Aix En Provence
Hotel de Caumont Centre dÁrt
We were in the heart of Paul Cezanne country and this former hotel showed a movie depicting the life of this local artist. This is one of those riches to rags stories, though the rags at the end weren’t too raggy. Still, he was a young man whose father wanted him to go into banking. Instead, he went into painting. And though he paid a price for this choice, it is we who benefit from it. http://www.caumont-centredart.com/
Every Urban Center
Graffiti is alive and well in Europe. And while some is of the tacky hack variety of the time-pressed tagger there were samples of more artistic endeavors that truly stood out. I had fun documenting some of the ones that caught my eye.
the Mucem at Fort St. Jean
A special show, Ïmaginary Voyages: Picasso and the Ballet Russes” featuring the early work of Pablo Picasso. He collaborated with ballet composers and choreographers. Costumes, puppets and sketches. From the website: Between 1916 and 1921, Picasso collaborated on four productions for which he created the sets and costumes: the ballets Parade (1917), Tricorne (1919), Pulcinella (1920) and Cuadro Flamenco (1921).
The experience brought the painter into contact with the language of the body and dance, inspiring him to explore new formal possibilities, which he combined with elements borrowed from puppet theatre, commedia dell’arte, sacred art and Spanish folklore. http://www.mucem.org/en/the-mucem
A spectacular walk in a national park along France’s southern Mediterranean coast. Read what Vogue says about it!
Port de Bouc and Martigues
Industrial France, seaside towns, mother nature. Some things to do in Port de Bouc.
Salon de Provence
Spent way too much time in this charming but somewhat unspectacular town. Familiarized myself with the everyday French experience. It was so unbuttered croissant, it didn’t even have much graffiti! What it did have, though, was a squadron of fighter jets that roared up and practiced every day. Oh, there’s a museum for Nostradamus here. The reviews made it sound pretty cheesy though and I was never quite that desperate. What wikipedia says about it.
Outdoor sculpture, architecture, fellow tourists
Musee International DÁrt Naif Anatole Jacovsky
A carefully curated collection. It shows the taste of its creator, Monsieur Jacovsky, a contemporary of Picasso, Chagall and the rest of that crowd. He was busy buying the work of the lesser knowns or the complete unknowns. Much to the benefit of us all today. Their website in English.
Musee National Marc Chagall
This felt like a homecoming to me and my artistic sensibility. Many of the images included in this museum that the artist himself helped design are biblical by subject. They are large and colorful so get up close to examine the brush work! There are also examples of others of his pieces. For a Chagall aficionado like me, visiting this exhibit was a real high point.
They also showed a video, one showing a day is in English, of his life. The best part of that for me was the footage showing how the master dabbed one color all over the work in progress somewhat willy-nilly. He also had a tendency to hold his brush at the very far end. A practice that allows for a loose, less controlled result. I will be focusing a lot more on this visit and this artist in the months to come. I intend to create a project using Marc Chagall’s work as a focal point. Not to copy, but to be inspired by! http://en.musees-nationaux-alpesmaritimes.fr/chagall/
About a mile away from the Chagall Museum is this one dedicated to Nice’s own Henri Matisse. While I have seen better Matisse paintings in other museums, there’s nothing quite like seeing the work of a favorite son in its home setting. They also had ephemera and other bits and pieces from this artist’s studio that helped flesh him out as a living breathing human being. http://www.musee-matisse-nice.org/
Saint-Paul de Vence
About a 40 minute bus ride from Nice.
A gorgeous modern building that spans its own art filled campus a half hour bus ride from Nice, France. Among a gorgeous collection of contemporary masters is one of my all time favorite Chagall paintings. “La Vie”1964. (The Life). It is huge and so full of color, action and life it feels as though you are in the presence of that man’s Creative Force when you stand before it and zoom in for a closer look at the individual brush strokes, dabs and smears. I looked at it for as long as I could stand it trying to bask in the energy of it. https://www.fondation-maeght.com/en/
The street umbrellas hanging in the main shopping district
Riomaggiore and the other villages and trails of the Cinque Terre
Mother nature and the charm of small town Italy at their finest, other hikers
The architecture and the leather goods
The Niki de Saint Phalle Tarot Garden – Tarrochi Jardin
The masterpiece of a life time. Huge architecturally scaled sculptures that undulate with signature curves encrusted with broken mirrors, customized tiles and specially created bits and baubles. Conceived and executed by a self taught female artist. Colorful, whimsical, grand and accessible the buildings and sculptures in this carefully planned park were all funded by the artist herself. How? Through the sale of her smaller pieces, an eponymous perfume and special events and solicited donations. It cost about $5million dollars during the three decades it was constructed )about $12million in today’s dollars).
The Tarot Garden is a triumph of vision, willpower and commitment. It is a delight to wander and soak up the fantastical joy in the presence of these amazing constructions. http://nikidesaintphalle.org/
The Wrap Up
I found an almost unlimited river of inspiration throughout the four weeks of this journey. I am certain many aspects of what I saw will come bubbling up through my own charmed surrealism art that I highlight on this website. But I also feel the influence of these travels and the art and culture enjoyed on behalf of my pop art, HappyArt. Come see how my pop art benefited from this journey in a completely separate post on its own website where I have included the HappyArt pop art illustrations and cartoons this trip inspired.
While I am not i love with having to keep my two projects apart in this way I have discovered people just can’t seem to take in both sides of my art at the same time and I am forced to tease the work apart in this way. My apologies to any who find this confusing or somehow disingenuous. I am fully integrated as a creative, personally, and hope I can bring it all back together some day. Until then….here’s where to find my happyart.