Returning to a Residency in France

Returning to a Residency in France

Leslie Parke - Vallauris - utility

Nine years ago I spent seven weeks as an artist-in-residence at AIR Vallauris, which is walking distance to the Mediterranean. One of the advantages of returning to a residency is that you already know where everything is; where to buy food, get your laundry done, and buy materials. You can hit the ground running.

When I first arrived in Vallauris I started photographing immediately. I knew that my eyes are freshest when I first land in a place and even after a day or two I can become visually immune to the environment.

I was looking for something very specific. I wanted my subjects to appear abstract, and I wanted them to have layered and visually ambiguous space.

That is not how things started for me in Vallauris. The first thing that caught my eye were the utility boxes that are inserted into the side of a building.

Leslie Parke Blue Box

I went from that to the basketball court, to the crumbling walls between buildings. Most of these photographs I won’t print. They are an exploration of the place, but don’t meet the criteria I am seeking in my work.

Leslie Parke Basketball Court

In the eight years since I had last visited Vallauris much had changed. Vallauris was known as a ceramic center in France bolstered by the years that Picasso spent there working at Madoura. It still has a great ceramic museum and Picasso’s Chapel, but many of the great ceramicists, such as Collet and Derval, have passed away, and most of the ceramic studios that popped up around town have closed. Now many of the stores that carried their work are also closed. And this, finally, is where I found my subject.

It didn’t coalesce right away. I took dozens of photographs of empty store windows until I found just the quality I was looking for.


Leslie Parke, "Golf Juan I", photograph, archival inkjet print on archival paper.

Leslie Parke, “Golf Juan I”, photograph, archival inkjet print on archival paper.

Van Gogh Spins a Yarn



“In [Van Gogh’s] studio, he kept a lacquered box containing balls of brightly colored yarn  that he endlessly twined and untwined to test the interaction of colors – exactly the procedure described by Chevereul, who had developed his theory as director of dyes for the royal looms at Gobelins.”  [Van Gogh: The Life, Steven Naifen and Gregory White Smith]



Artist DNA: John Peter Russell, Monet, Van Gogh and Matisse


Monet, “Rocks at Port Goulphar, Belle Ile”

In 1897 and 1898 Henri Matisse visited Belle Île a remote island off of the Brittany coast. John Peter Russell, an Australian artist who was living there, introduced him to impressionism and to the work of Van Gogh (who was relatively unknown at the time). Matisse’s style changed radically, and he would later say “Russell was my teacher, and Russell explained color theory to me. [Wikipedia & Hillary Spurling, “The Unknown Matisse”]


Russell, “Belle Ile”


Matisse, "Belle Ile"

Matisse, “Belle Ile”

Russell had been friends with Monet, who also came to Belle Isle to paint. But he is perhaps best known for his portrait of Van Gogh. He believed in Van Gogh and had several of his drawings.

1886-john-peter-russell-portrait of-vincent-van-gogh

John Peter Russell, “Portrait of Vincent Van Gogh”


According to Hilary Spurling,  at some point the Australian gave Matisse one of his Van Gogh drawings — something that he had never done before, and would never do again, which “suggests that he found in no one else the depth and strength of Matisse’s response.”


Vincent Van Gogh, “Townhall of Auvers”

Letter from VanGogh to Russell:

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Books of Interest:

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The Print Project: Matisse and all that Jazz!!!

While in France I had to return to St. Paul de Vence, one of the oldest medieval towns on the French Riviera, it is well-known for its modern and contemporary art museums and galleries such as Fondation Maeght which is located nearby. Even to day you can find high quality prints by Picasso, Chagall and Matisse in the galleries there.



Seeing these prints made me want to go back and look at how Matisse used color in his prints. What better example than the book he put together with publisher Efstratios Tériade called Jazz. Matisse had worked with Tériade before on the cover of his magazine Verve. The first cover of Verve featured one of Matisse’s cut-outs.


Matisse spent two years working on Jazz. It is made up  of cut-outs interspersed with Matisse’s writing. Matisse created these cut-outs on his walls with the help of his assistant Lydia Delectorskaya.


Matisse designed the book so that each full-page image is preceded by five pages of text and each half-page image by three pages of text. As part of the Jazz text Matisse writes of this format, “I’d like to introduce my color prints under the most favorable of conditions. For this reason I must separate them by intervals of a different character. I decided that handwriting was best suited for this purpose. The exceptional size of the writing seems necessary to me in order to be in a decorative relationship with the character of the color prints. These pages, therefore will serve only to accompany my colors, just as asters help in the composition of a bouquet of more important flowers. Their role is purely visual.” []


The “character of the color” in both the cut-outs and and prints is what is critical here. Matisse had sheets of paper painted with Linel gouache paint because the Linel colors could be most closely imitated in print. But determining how the cut outs could be  translated into print was not immediately obvious. In his earlier attempts with the covers of Verve, the photographically made line-blocks were printed with inks that  lacked the spark of Matisse’s Linel paints. [Riva Castleman – Jazz, Introduction, George Braziller, Inc. NY].


What Matisse finally settled on was the use of the traditional handicraft of stencil printing, or “pochoir” in French.  Initially Matisse had used the Linel brand of gouache paint because of its brilliance and depth of pigment. By directly brushing the Linel gouache through hand-cut stencils Tériade’s printers were able to give the Jazz stencils a directness and richness similar to what the artist had achieved in his collaged maquettes. The stencils were cut by hand from thin sheets of metal, probably brass or copper.  [] One hundred copies of the book were produced.


The lessons in this for me are the importance of understanding the qualities of the inks I will be using. Are they transparent or opaque; saturated or thin? And how am I going to use the color. With Matisse the colors sat side by side — they were not mixed, or printed over one another. And with the printing method I use suite the image I am trying to create.

For a piece that strikes us with the sense of abandon and joie de vivre that Jazz does, it belies all the decisions and adjustments that had to be made to create it.

Books of Interest:

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Or order from your local independent books seller. Mine is Battenkill Books. Find the independent bookstore closest to you at

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Fondation Maeght


Monet and Camille and their not-so-secret life

Claude Monet, "Le Dejeuner sur L'Herbe"

Claude Monet, “Le Dejeuner sur L’Herbe”

Camille Doncieux was Monet’s model, mistress, wife and mother of his two children — or should I say, mother of two of his children, as I will explain in a later post. But their relationship is far more complex than that would indicate.

Both Camille and Monet had illegitimate half siblings. Monet’s mother died January 28th,  1857, when Monet was 16 years old. On January 3rd, 1860 Monet’s father at age 60 had an illegitimate child with his 24 year old servant. Camille’s mother worked and her father was either retired or unemployed. The circumstances around her half-sibling are not clear. But her situation was sufficiently inhospitable that she left home early to make her way in Paris. She worked first as a seamstress, but later became Monet’s model and, as so often happened, his mistress.

Monet kept his relationship with Camille secret from his family, as he knew that to reveal it would have put his income in jeopardy. His father and aunt were willing to support him, but only as long as he was seriously pursuing his studies as an artist. This relationship would have been unacceptable to them.

I believe that artists often reveal themselves in their work, especially when it is not possible to express things by other means. Monet’s “Dejeuner sur L’Herbe” is particularly interesting in that regard. In this painting, Camille has assumed the role of each of the women in the painting. She stands next to Bazille, who also poses for several parts, as his equal. In this sense Monet has raised her status and reveals to us that he considers her his social equal and someone he is happy to show off to his artist friends. His relationship to her is further indicated by the heart carved into the tree.

Heart Carved into the Tree

Heart Carved into the Tree

You might also notice, that to the right there is a man hiding out behind a tree. As often as I have looked at this painting, I had not noticed him until Mary Mathews Gedo  pointed him out in her book, “Monet and his Muse”. While this man is probably meant to be a servant in the painting, Gedo believes he may be a stand in for Monet’s father lurking somewhere in the background about to find Monet out.

Man Behind the Tree

Man Behind the Tree

Monet had ambitious plans for this painting and wanted to submit it to the Salon as a piece to rival both Manet and Courbet (who, by the way, is posing as the man sitting on the left).



But he was not able to finish it in time. Courbet suggested to him that he do something a little less grand that he could finish in time. Monet painted “Camille: Woman in a Green Dress”.

Claude Monet, "Camille: Woman in Green Dress"

Claude Monet, “Camille: Woman in Green Dress”

At first glance, this could be a painting of any society woman just entering the house from a turn in the garden where she has picked a flower. Flower, you say? What flower?

Violet Flower in Camille's Hand

Violet Flower in Camille’s Hand

Camille carries in her hand a violet. Yes, once again [see Manet’s Secret Love] an artist is revealing his secret love with the language of flowers. The meaning was not lost on the critics, one of whom, who wrote for the Journal du Harve, the hometown paper of Pere Monet, not only revealed that Camille was Monet’s mistress, but implied that she was a prostitute. Despite his own odious behavior toward his servant girl,  Pere Monet condemned Camille and stopped any further support of Monet.

Books of Interest:


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Manet’s Secret Love

Edouard Manet, "The Bunch of Violets", 1872

Edouard Manet, “The Bunch of Violets”, 1872

Manet gave this small painting to Berthe Morisot. It contains a letter, the fan she held in his famous painting, “The Balcony”, and a bunch of violets.

Edouard Manet, "The Balcony", 1868-69

Edouard Manet, “The Balcony”, 1868-69

There has always been speculation about the relationship between Manet and Morisot. Manet, of course, was married to Suzanne Leenhoff, his former piano tutor. The circumstances of that marriage are also clouded. It is now believed that she was actually the mistress of Manet’s father, and when she became pregnant, Manet married her to spare the family embarrassment. Leenhoff’s son was at times passed off as her brother (ironic, when he may have, in fact, been Manet’s half-brother). He always referred to Manet as “godfather” and not “father”.  Manet never admitted paternity.

There is no mistaking for whom the painting of violets was intended, as both Morisot’s and Manet’s names appear on the letter in the painting. Ah, but what about the violets?

Edouard Manet, "Berthe Morisot with a Bunch of Violets", 1872

Edouard Manet, “Berthe Morisot with a Bunch of Violets”, 1872

Violet’s are a flower with which Morisot was identified.  Here she wears a violet corsage. But the violets have another meaning. In 1818 Madam Charlotte de la Tour wrote Le Langage des Fleurs, the language of flowers. In it, a meaning was assigned to every flower. Each bouquet carried a very specific message. They could indicate everything from the time of a secret assignation to the intricacies of one’s emotions.

A couple of years ago I made a trip to Tourette, France, which is known for violets the way Grasse is known for lavender. In the tourist office in one of their brochures I read that the meaning of violets in Le Langage des Fleurs  is “a secret love”.