Saturday, July 23, 2016

PAINTING PARIS and how it all began

"Chez Fausto"  1994

If some of my blog followers (over 44,000 to date) are confused when they see so many abstract water colors and Ipad drawings that are not Paris, I present a brief explanation of how my street painting began and why. 
Soon I will explain how it almost ended 10 years later.

Une bonne idée  1993

To go out in the street and make a painting on an easel with the whole world watching was never one of my great fantasies.  True, I had made some charming outdoor sketches of New York townhouses, and even Trinity Church when I was working down on Wall Street.  That was before I became “professional”.  That was before I left ITT.  I enrolled in art school just when the flower children were getting home from Woodstock.  It was the “do your own thing” era and I was gonna do it.
Through Bruce Dorfman at The Art Students’ League my eyes were opened to the abstract.  “Easel painting is no longer relevant,” he said as if it were gospel, and I was a believer.
I was still painting from imagination years later when photo-realism was à la mode.  I loved Paul Klee and it showed!
Then, how did this turn-about happen?  It certainly wasn’t by  reflection, contemplation or desire.  The grace of God maybe.
I had just gotten the bad news that my pay from Education National would be delayed a month.  It was, they explained, “an oversight.”  I was already down 200 francs on my bank account after writing a check to EDF for 700 to keep the lights on.  That normally took four days to clear.  Colmbani was on my back for the rent.  I promised him sans faute the end of the month.  I was in trouble.
In a trance-like state I walked to Picola Italia on the rue de Vouillé.  Fausto, a friend, and the owner, used to give me a good deal – 30 francs for a plate of pasta and a small jug of bad wine.  He had been a good collector of my work when he was still a waiter at Montparnasse.  Now, like all the French commerçants, he complained constantly.
I sat there in quiet anguish as he strolled around doing magic tricks for his clientèle.  The waiter had just served one of Fausto’s special dishes – pizza aux escargots – with the shells!  As always it made everyone around laugh.  He looked my way  with a self approving nod.
“I think I’ll make a painting of your restaurant tomorrow.”  I replied chin up and doe eyed, as if the idea had just occurred to me.
C’est une bonne idée.”     He responded politely.
There was hope.

My portable easel, the nuts and bolts

I woke up the next morning with a mission in mind.  I took Ruby for a spin around the block and a café visit.  She’d get a chance to fait la belle for some sugar and watch other dogs go by.  When I got back, I did an inventory of my acrylic supplies.  I took the bus to Montparnasse with an already perforated Metro ticket.
Maison Gattegno, on the rue de la Grande Chaumière, is one of the oldest art supply stores in Paris.  It’s a family business.  The familiarity of walking in there always makes me feel like I’m part of something important.  I checked out the portable easels.  Luckily they were on sale – 195 francs.  I got a couple of tubes of acrylic, a small canvas and two bristle brushes.  I made out a check and before handing it over, asked if they could hold it for two weeks.
Mais bien sûr.”
Zone de texte: scandaleuse
I was off to a good start.

I got to Fausto’s just as he was setting up the café for lunch.  I fiddled around with the nuts and bolts of my new found toy hoping he wouldn’t see me.  An artist for 25 years not knowing how to set up a portable easel is a honte if not embarassing.  I was almost ready to begin.  I went across the street and asked Fausto for a can of water for rinsing my brushes.  He was flattered that I was painting his restaurant  my motive, I thought, was not an issue.
I worked on it for a couple of hours.  It had a nice flavor.  Surprisingly, the difference between making a figurative painting or an abstract wasn’t a big deal.  The mental process was about the same.  I found taking the image in front of me and putting it down on canvas fun.
I didn’t feel too vexed by people going by.  I learned right off that the French, as formal as they are, feel no hesitation to come up behind me, while I’m working and chat.  Freely they discuss my style, tell me their woes along with a little history of the neighborhood.  Americans say that it’s difficult to communicate with the French.  Two keys:  get a dog and paint in the street.

Around 2:30 Fausto came over and invited me to have lunch.  I worked on the painting later than afternoon and returned the next morning.  I wasn’t terribly happy with it although I had lots of compliments from passers-by.  It’s prettier than the actual place was and is a comment that I hear often.

‘”That’s art,” I reply, but I don’t tell them that’s why I paint.
I returned that evening.  It was dusk and not a good time to work, but I was worried about the check going through for EDF and I wanted to finish it.  My banker was tolerant but up to a point.  In France if they pull the plug, you lose your privileges for ten years with all banks!
The moon showed its face and that was it.  I’d make a night scene.  Some phalocyne blue and a full moon.  Perfect composition.  I had to make the buildings grayer and work on the light coming through the windows.  Fausto came by for a visit and felt the same enthusiasm.
“How much are you selling it for?  I’d like to send it to my mother.”  He was a smart commerçant.  I was so afraid of refusal I said 1000 francs about $200..
“Okay,” he smiled.
“Let me put the finishing touches on.”
I worked ‘til midnight, then, crossed the street for some escargots.  “Hold the pizza.

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