Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Modern ceramics in Provence at Sophie Lassagne - Arles

One of the aspects that I miss most about living in the center of Arles is the delight I would feel upon walking out my front door on the rue de la Liberté (Liberty Street!) and seeing all of the shopkeepers with whom I had become friendly over the years. They each have their own fabulous characters - Alex at the Cuisine de Comptoir, Christine Millerin at her eponymous boutique and certainly, the incredibly talented ceramicist, Sophie Lassagne. I held a certain amount of pride about living amongst the les endroits les plus branchés de la ville - especially as they are run by such wonderful people. 

Sophie opened up her atelier at about the same time that Remi and I launched our gallery. That is how we met actually. But she had already become well-established in Provence by founding her previous workshop in St. Remy some twenty years earlier. It was a smashing success and yet she - as we did (and do) - believed in the artistic future of Arles and so made the leap to her current space. From what she has said, she doesn't regret the change in the least and has certainly been warmly welcomed by the local community as well as those visiting Arles as her work is - tout simplement - exceptional.

But I will let her motivation speak for itself. 

From her artist's statement:

"At the roots of my inspiration stands my childhood, in-between Asia and Africa, where have been woven the opposites. Hands deep in the clay, I have been wandering and seeking for a balance at the heart of their vital energies.
On the shelves of my studio, I have the feeling that I recognize the subtle blend of their singularity, the emergence of a harmony between a useful piece of work and a purely artistic research, between the fluidity and the mineral material, and between the lightness and the colourful density of what I am creating.
These thoughts invite me to follow my path, in a delicate balance between the rigors required by working with the soil, its generosity, and the purity of the lines and the curvy contours of my pieces of work."

Et en français :
"Aux sources de mon inspiration l’enfance, entre l’Asie et l’Afrique où se sont tissés tous les contraires. Les mains plongées dans l’argile, j’ai cheminé à la recherche d’un équilibre au cœur de leurs forces vives.
Sur les étagères de mon atelier aujourd’hui, il me semble reconnaître l’alliance de leur singularité, l’émergence d’une harmonie entre une œuvre utilitaire et une recherche purement artistique, entre la fluidité et le minéral de la matière, la légèreté et la densité lumineuse des couleurs que je crée.
Une évidence qui m’invite à continuer sur le chemin, dans ce lent balancement, entre la rigueur qu’impose le travail de la terre, ses exigences et ses largesses, la pureté de ses lignes et la générosité de ses rondeurs."

Amazing, non

Provence is a far more complex region than the clichés lead us to believe and Arles is doubly so. But Sophie passes beyond the obvious...by taking a bit of the brutal sun and the gentle glow of the evening light, a bit of the fierce Mistral winds but also the douceur of a perfect day, the shades of the ancient past and the energy building for the future...then adding it all together and distilling the essence down to something sublimely zen...but never too precious to be used for everyday.

She uses nothing but the most traditional methods, materials and pigments as well her own glazing technique which she developed to bring out a pearly luminescence in her finished pieces.

And yet, despite this elegance, everything remains at prices that are incredibly affordable. "I want it to be so that anyone who wants to buy something can," she admitted to me affably. 

And that, along with the variety and gorgeousness of her pieces, is why she has become the go-to source for gifts of all shapes and sizes in Arles.

Such accessibility is also an extension of Sophie's personality. She is nearly always in her atelier, working away...

...the door is usually open and the radio on. At times, she is in the midst of coaching a few lucky students but she will always pause to wave or say Hello. 

And blissfully, there is not an overworked cigale or olive motif in sight. No, no, the afore-mentioned clichés were swept out the door long before she lit the kiln for the first time in Arles.

For Sophie is a true artist. One who works to please herself...

...and in doing so, makes a lot of others happy in return.

Sophie Lassagne
12 rue de la Liberté
13200 Arles

Tel. +33 (0)6 67 09 47 50
Email: contact@alcaline.com

A note to my designer friends, while Sophie does not ship internationally herself, she is willing to work with your shipping company. 

And to everyone - I hope it goes without saying that this is in no way a sponsored post, I am just delighted to talk about an artist whose work I truly believe in!

PS. Thank you for all of your kind comments and emails concerning my previous post...

Friday, April 24, 2015

Little and Big, 3.5

The postman was waiting in front of the gate as I returned with the dogs from our morning walk. He is a funny character in his way. Youngish - the -ish being key - and with a laid back air that I find frequently in the postal workers here. Often he is smoking a cheroot as he makes his rounds, sometimes he stops in at the neighbor's for a coffee, today he was wearing boxy skater style shorts. "Colis pour vous," he said with an upward nod as if to clarify that it was indeed for me and not the dogs. "Encore?" But we weren't expecting anything...My eyes started to water up as soon as I saw my Mom's handwriting on the label, so I quickly thanked him and called out a "Bon Weekend" before stepping into the shade of the kitchen. With a swift draw of the kitchen knife, the box was open and I was pulling out its contents as if they were delicate treasures. I found several articles from the NY Times magazine that I had missed and a super colorful makeup bag from Clinique filled with moisturizers, eye shadows and lipsticks. The card was short, "...to cheer you up..." and then, of course, the tears, happy ones, really started to flow. To be so loved and cared for, from so far away and with a ghost of that umbilical cord that still links us. She knows that we have been going through a hard time and that this gift would be a wonderful luxury to me and she was right. I wiped my eyes with a paper towel and smoothed on one of the lipsticks to pucker my lips with a pop.

Two days ago, a box of similar size had been delivered by the same postman, who happened to be sporting bright turquoise track pants and scuffed sneakers for the occasion. That too was an utter surprise but it was not only for me. Rather the postcard (of one of my favorite vintage Vogue covers no less) was addressed, "Hello, Miss, Mister and the Hounds!" Inside were two jars wrapped in crackly gold paper. One contained my friend Jennifer's famous marmalade. She had won a silver medal with it this year and knows how we crave it. In the other she had made jam...for Kipling. It is a long-standing joke between us concerning the time when Mr. Rascal ate the entire bowl of gariguettes, the finest strawberries in the South of France, in mere seconds while we weren't looking. We call him the Strawberry Thief - although based on a recent event that still rankles I may well change his nickname to The Cookie Monster.

On Wednesday afternoon I was invited to go for a walk with C, who lives here in the village. She is an inspiring woman, a single Mom with a full time job and we don't get to see each other very often. But she does read my blog from time to time and had thought of me as there was a corner of the near countryside which I perhaps did not know that might be interesting to photograph. She was right. We headed out at a brisk pace, our voices overlapping in equally rapid exchanges of conversation with me only stopping to wheeze at times due to the falling pollen. "Oh, just last week this entire field was covered with apple blossoms," she said with disappointment as we arrived at our destination. But that was fine, more than fine. There was so much beauty everywhere and she has the eye to see it then point it out. I discovered so much if not necessarily what she had hoped. Afterwards, she invited me back to her spotless kitchen and I watched as she prepared for us a tonic green juice. It gave me strength, literally, as if I were Popeye downing cans of spinach, just as had the pleasure of her fine company.

And so today I am thinking of the power of kindness. These three lovely women did acts that were probably small for them (although I have to add that it cost my Mom a pretty penny to mail that box from the States) but are really big for me. Huge, even. Similarly, I have two internet friends (both male, so as not to imply that thoughtfulness is only an inherent feminine quality) that have been sending out frequent words of encouragement because sometimes an "I believe in you, everything is going to work out," goes a long, long way. With the weekend in front of me, I am wondering what good I can do to pay it forward. But then again, it is probably best not to overthink it too much just as, I imagine, these women didn't either. Life will whisper me the way.

Have a wonderful weekend everyone...

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Lumières: Carte-blanche à Christian Lacroix, Musée Cognacq-Jay - Paris, Part two

To read my initial post on this exhibition, please click: here.

"What if beauty was something that you could hold in your hands? Not a beautiful object but the idea of it? What might that be? Would it be heavy or light?" These are some of the questions that I took with me as I walked away from the Musée Cognacq-Jay's sublime exhibition Lumières: Carte-blanche à Christian Lacroix. Wanting to dig beyond my initial, not-exactly transient joy after having swept through the many silk-shod rooms, I turned my thoughts questioningly towards the designer himself.

From the museum's Press kit:

Christian Lacroix

Visions of the Enlightenment

What is your perspective on the Age of Enlightenment and how has it influenced your work?

"My perspective on the Age of Enlightenment is simply that of someone who is passionate about that era...I can only gratefully advocate everything that the Enlightenment brought about in terms of social progress, political thinking, the fight against obscurantism, tolerance and a thirst for knowledge, as demonstrated by the encyclopaedists. All the more so given that, paradoxically, this seemingly unshakeable knowledge, these foundations that were thought to be the definitive basis of modern societies were suddenly undermined, disputed and denied in the early 21st century. If only for these reasons, it is interesting to make these connections between the 18th century and our own times... From 1880 to 1910, people were expected to live in accordance with good taste – that is, past tastes – as the middle class post-Napoleon III adopted the style of the pre-Revolution enlightened aristocracy. I must confess that, beyond my appreciation and respect for the Age of Enlightenment, I am not impervious to all the rococo froth it created and inspired in the second half of the 19th century and beyond, with the somewhat risqué 'marquise', 'shepherdess' style, which was basically bourgeois and borderline kitsch. Contemporary artists often look back upon the 18th century from this angle."

Elsewhere, Mr. Lacroix admitted that the period's most obvious influence on his work can be seen in his deep appreciation of costumes - both within his former haute couture designs (as I have mentioned previously, his famous "pouf" skirts of the 1980s were basically 18th century dresses chopped in half) as well as in his theatrical work. And indeed, costumes are used throughout the exhibition to punctuate each room's particular persona. This fascination with outer presentation goes hand in hand with the creation of the individual, one of the Age of Enlightenments overriding themes. 

I returned to this once dusty museum looking for the Romance of another time or maybe of another me but older now, I found that yes, my heart would still rise up like Fragonards's girl on "The Swing" but also that my mind was solidly rooted down in the importance of freedom that the Age of Enlightenment helped to promote.

Flipping this little bit of gold up in the air, I let it fall smilingly palm to palm as I was happy - at least in this instance, hopefully in others - to look at both sides of the same intricate coin. 

Musée Cognacq-Jay
8, rue Elzevir
75003 Paris

The exhibition is now closed and the museum will reopen on May 9th, 2015.

Open 10am - 6pm
Closed Mondays. 
Unfortunately, the museum is not at all accessible to those with reduced-mobility.
There is app for the exhibition en français. If you are interested, see here.

For more information about the museum in English: click here.

Friday, April 17, 2015

Lumières: Carte-blanche à Christian Lacroix, Musée Cognacq-Jay - Paris

I have always preferred Paris' small museums.

Within their confines, I can focus freely without the push and pull of crowds and each has something unique in perspective to offer while always tilting towards the beautiful. The Musée Cognacq-Jay was one of my favorites while I lived there, certainly as it was one of the least known bijoux of the Marais but also - for a girl who did not have a song to her name - it was free. 

It was quite sleepy in those days, so quiet that the guards were often caught nodding off in their perspective corners. Still, I went. The collection, which was founded by the owner of the La Samaritaine department store Ernest Cognacq and his wife Marie-Louise Jay in 1927, focuses entirely on the fine arts dating from the 18th century, the Age of Enlightenment in France. The pieces - including paintings, drawings, furniture and objets d'art - were moved into the 16th century Hotel Donon by the City of Paris in 1990 and there they sat. It was entirely for the visitor to conjure up the romanticism of the period in order to be swept from one room to another.

No more. To celebrate its newly appointed renovation, the museum's directors decided to give carte-blanche to designer Christian Lacroix. The irony that I would be spending some of my precious few hours in Paris seeing the work of Arles' prodigal son was not lost on me but I have a great respect for the commitment that Mr. Lacroix gave to the renovation of the Musee Reattu and with the Rencontres International Photography Festival. I knew that I would be in for a treat and I was not disappointed.

The exhibition was, quite simply, one that I enjoyed for the sheer pleasure of the experience more than any other that I have seen in recent memory. It is a beautiful gift when the precise kind of art that your weary heart needs arrives just beyond the range of your tingling fingertips, isn't it? For what was the most interesting to me, the most stimulating, was that, of the 450 pieces on display, 150 were borrowed from other institutions with the express hope of creating a confrontation between the 18th century - its ideals and deceptions - and our society today. Suddenly, the collection is electric and alive with relevance. 

Christian Lacroix's signature touches can be seen throughout - from the truly spectacular carpets and wall furnishings that would be worthy of an exhibition in their own right, to examples of his magnificent theatrical costumes - and indeed he was heavily involved in the reorganization of one's visit to the museum as well as the exhibition itself. He has expressed that his intention was not to look at the renovation so much as for a museum but as if it were the house of a collectionneur, perhaps the Cognacq-Jays themselves and it is a concept that exudes great warmth throughout. There was so much for me to take in - the details and the juxtapositions are fantastic - that I could have spent all day in those gilded rooms but time was not on my side. However, I did my best to steady my camera in the often shadowy spaces to try and share with you a bit of what I experienced and I was so gourmande that there will be a second post to follow. Like me, hopefully this beautiful exhibition just might set you dreaming...

If you happen to be in Paris...go! The exhibition closes this weekend. I promise you, you won't regret stepping into the en(Light)enment.

Lumières: Carte-blanche à Christian Lacroix
Musée Cognacq-Jay
8, rue Elzevir
75003 Paris

Open 10am - 6pm
Closed Mondays. The exhibition ends on April 19th but there will much that will remain so do go.
Price: 8€ per person.
Unfortunately, the museum is not at all accessible to those with reduced-mobility.
There is app for the exhibition en français. If you are interested, see here.

For more information about the museum in English: click here.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Diamonds for breakfast

"They love to discover, these two."

It is a bit of a catch-phrase between Remi and I. Because it is oh-so true. Discovery...the power of it, the adventure...has been a long link in our relationship. As a perpetual revelation of the new, it can be addictive. We roamed the world wide to sip its brew but now find our panoramas more confined.

I spend a lot of time in our little village. It is a Provence that is off the map and that too holds a bit of a thrill. But the challenge has been to keep seeing, to keep discovering and not fall prey to its lullaby, no matter how charming it may be.

I want to wrap the beauty of the world around me so tightly that it courses through my veins. And it is right there, everywhere, this ultimate luxury, our great gift.

Lately, the morning dew or la rosée on the grass has been wicking at my ankles as I walk the dogs. And so I open my eyes a little wider, let my heart get a bit more quiet and relish in the splendor of having diamonds for breakfast.

Today's post is my contribution to the monthly international blog party, "By Invitation Only" on the theme of "Life's Luxuries." To read all of the other takes on this theme, please hop over here.

PS. Imagine my surprise this morning when I saw that the lawn where these photos had been taken...had been mowed! I try not to be too moralistic around here but Life was certainly saying:
 "Make the most of everything while you can..."

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Mad about the Marais - Paris

After leaving the Place des Vosges, I walked briskly up to the Musee Carnavalet. My combat boots thudded on the pavement for I was dressed to make the most of my very short time in Paris and not to catch the eye of Mr. Cunningham

But, as always, when I turned into the gardens, which, kindly are available for the gander before the museum's entry, time did what it always does in that particular spot: pirouette, curtsy, stop.

I must have had that goofy smile on my face for I could feel one of the gardner's gaze swish across me like a shadow. She was about my age and also a redhead, just a more miniature Parisienne version of me. Yes, she even had that certain panache despite her bright green "Jardins de Paris" jumpsuit.

"You have an amazing job," I blurted out with a vaguely show-girl arm sweep towards the topiary surrounding us.

She laughed, startled by my directness but nodded her head in agreement. "It isn't always so glamorous though," she added and I responded with "I am not so sure about that" head shake. We chatted a bit more and then wished each other a Bonne Journée.

As I continued towards the rue des Rosiers to sate my months-long craving for a felafel with all of the fixings (truly one of the great take-out options in Paris at only 5.50 Euros a pop), I thought, "That is why I am still mad about the Marais and always will be."

For despite that every. single. storefront has been transformed into a clothing boutique featuring cool goods the likes of which I could never begin to afford...

...it is in this neighborhood that I feel the bonhomie that often eludes me elsewhere in the City of Light. And that makes the city not quite so big after all. I sat down on a bench in one of my favorite little squares and munched happily, shivering slightly while I did so and sighed a little valentine to the beautiful Marais.