What a treat! A studio in Paris for 10 weeks is a rare opportunity. My proposal was to look at ceramic collections. In particular the Musee National de Ceramique at Sevres on the outskirts of Paris and to see the collection of ceramics by Bernard Palissy (1510-1589) in the Louvre.
I had received an invitation about 12 months earlier from a gallery in Goettingen in Germany to exhibit my work in October and November in Germany, so it seemed like a good idea to do both, after all France is next to Germany. I loved living in the 4e area of Paris. Ile St Louis has some of the best ice cream I have tasted and coffee at L’Escale on the corner of the Isle was a regular treat. The weather was warm and mild for most of my stay, only needing an overcoat for the last couple of weeks.
The Musee National de Ceramique at Sevres is a treasure trove of a history of ceramics, not just the locally made ware but there is also a great historical collection. The Museum was established 250 years ago and was celebrating this milestone during my time in Paris. But my interest was in the contemporary artists such as Betty Woodman (USA), Johan Cretan,(Belgium), Ettore Sottsass (Italy) and Gabrielle Wambaugh (France) who have been encouraged to make work here. The whole complex is a series of workshops, kilns, and residences with the Museum as the public face of the place.
The Louvre, on the other hand was a complete surprise to me, I didn’t expect to find such beautiful ceramic collections there, as the Louvre is well known for its rooms and rooms and rooms of grand master paintings, but there are also rooms and rooms and rooms of great ceramics, from the black topped Egyptian ware, Greek urns, beautiful Islamic blue and turquoise tiles and bowls to a showcase of the grand master Palissy. His work is not well displayed and probably a bit too rustic for most visitors to the Louvre, in all honesty a bit too rustic for me also, but still amazing when put into historical context. Just to REALLY look at the work and to see behind the large platters and be aware of the construction process was amazing.
Paris commercial galleries showed some very impressive work while I was there, in particular Norbert Prangenberg (German) showed some ceramic pieces that he made at the European Work Centre in Holland. These pieces were at least 8 feet high and were on exhibition at Galerie Karsten Greve in Rue Debelleyme, a short walk from the studio. The other galleries worth a visit were Carlin Gallery and Gallery Pierre. It’s interesting when looking over the other reports from former studio residents that we all have such different priorities, maybe there is a book in here, as we seem to cover many different aspects of a creative stay in Paris. My pick of the galleries would be La Maison Rouge beside the Canal St Martin, the exhibitions on included Henry Darger, an outsider artist from Chicago with some seriously weird images, and an exciting young Belgium artist, Michael Borremanns, who was painting and drawing on envelopes and book covers. Other obvious museums include Picasso, Rodin, D’Orsay, Carnavalet and Pompidou Centre.
My favourite tourist attraction was the catacombs, just amazing and quite beautiful, but very deep underground, 84 steps to be exact.
October is amazing, as Paris comes alive for one night on the 1st Saturday, this ephemeral event is called La Nuit Blanche and is when the whole city becomes an art installation. The Tower Eiffel glitters and Place de la Concord was Klein blue, with the Obelisk, the 2 fountains and 4 statues all bathed in blue. A group of us from the Cite including Lucienne Rickard from Tasmania and Anne Currier, a ceramic artist from Alfred NY, did an amazing tour of Paris in one night, we started in the 18e at L’Eglise St Bernard, where there was an impressive sculpture by Indian artist Subodh Gupta. Titled Very Hungry God, this was a monumental skull finely crafted out of stainless steel pots and pans situated in the middle of the church. The rest of Paris in the area around the Seine and the Marais was a mixture of art and music, in courtyards, fountains were removed and sculptures erected, only to be taken down the next day. We found ourselves at 3am in Café Victor Hugo in Place des Voges having coffee. Truly one of the most inspiring events during my time there.
I also traveled to Germany on a very fast ICE train to attend the opening of the exhibition Australische Impressionen at Galerie Rosenhauer. This was a group exhibition of Australian Ceramics and Glass and I had 6 pieces included. To write an adequate report would take up another page, but just to say that it was an amazing experience to show my work to a German audience. The gallery did a very beautiful catalogue (available in NAS library) and the exhibition was housed in a 12th century building in the centre of Goettingen. My work has been added to the collections in the Museum für Kunst und Gewerbe, Hamburg, and the Westerwald Keramik Museum in Hoehr-Grenzhausen near Koblenz. So I am very happy!!
In summary, I think that Australians approach the residency in a different way to the Europeans, I watched my German neighbour, Deiter Rogge from Bremman, take 5 trips to get all his art materials from his car to the studio, whereas I arrived with one suitcase weighing 25 kilos. I was there to live in a work of art (Paris) and view and research as much as possible. I did buy some clay from BHV store and I constructed objects out of paper envelopes and clay. Working with paper was a great way to hasten my construction processes and caused me to be a lot less precious about my work. There were some quiet days where I walked and walked to just get the feel of Paris, and some days when I just chilled out and read. Sitting by the windows, reading, listening to the sounds of Paris with the bell towers ringing out every hour and the amazing array of music that goes on in the Cite was a memory that stays with me. I have also been a fan of cemeteries, having explored many in Scotland years before. Paris has some impressive cemeteries, in Pere Lachaise, which I visited with Aussie painter and ex NAS lecturer Jude Rae, we saw Oscar Wild’s grave, covered with kisses and post it notes, Edith Piaf, covered with flowers, Jim Morrison, the only grave to have a barrier and a guard on duty, he also had flowers and love letters tossed onto the grave. The powerful memory for me were the masses of ceramic flowers on the graves. I’m not sure how any of this will translate into my work, but suffice to say that the experience of living and working in Paris is amazing. I wouldn’t have missed it for anything.
Published in Fonas Newsletter Summer 2007.
©Merran Esson 2007. All rights reserved