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.

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:

If you go:

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







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”.




Experiencing Matisse

While everyone is reconsidering Matisse (Matisse: Radical Invention, Museum of Modern Art, New York, until October 11th), I thought I would weigh in with my own recollection of Matisse.

When I first visited what we know as the Matisse Chapel (The Rosaire Chapel – Ville de Vence) in the 1980s, it still functioned as a chapel and was open to the public only for certain hours on certain days.  When I arrived there it was closed and I feared that my trip had been in vain. Later, when I told a friend that I was unable to get in, he said – don’t worry I will take you to the service on Sunday. You can get in then.

When I entered the Chapel, whose interior I knew by heart  from the many photos I had seen of it, I was struck by how bleak it looked. The walls with the black and white drawings of Mary and in the back of the room, the Stations of the Cross, had  shiny white tiles that made me think of a public bathroom. Why would Matisse do that? Clearly he had considered every single aspect of the chapel. Why this?

Matisse Chapel

We sat in the pews. The nuns entered and sat in a separate section. Then the Priest came in wearing Matisse’s original robes, the ones he designed using the paper cut outs. The Priest, himself, looked like a Matisse drawing. His head was nearly bald and quite broad at the top.

Priest in Matisse Chasuble

Priest in Matisse Chasuble

Matisse design for Chasuble

To my left were the stained glass windows — blue, yellow and green. Once everyone was seated I noticed a sliver of light on the wall — just a thin set of lines running down the wall. As the service progressed the light spread across the wall until the end of the service when the wall was not only covered with light, but everyone in the congregation was enveloped by the light.  Matisse’s choice was suddenly brilliantly obvious.

The Matisse Chapel

If you go:

The Rosaire Chapel aka the Matisse Chapel

Vence, France

Video of Matisse Making a Cut-out”: