Then came the deluxe fish, displayed individually on wicker trays: the salmon, gleaming like well-buffed silver, each scale with its outline seemingly etched by a burin on a polished metal plate; the mullets with the cruder markings of larger scales; the large turbots and mullets with tight white patterns like curdled milk; the tunas, smooth and lustrous, like bags of sleek blackened leather; and roundish bass with huge mouths torn wide open, as though to let an oversized spirit escape at the agonizing moment of death. And everywhere there were soles, beige or gray in pairs. Stiff, slim sand eels looked like pewter shavings. The herring were slightly twisted with the bruises on their bleeding gills showing against the silver skin. Fat porgies were tinged with a touch of carmine red, whereas the mackerel were golden with green-striped backs and sides with a mother-of-pearl glow, and the pink gurnard, with their white bellies, lay with their heads in the centre of the baskets so their tails radiated around and made an odd blossom of pearly white and vibrant red. There were also red mullets with exquisite flesh, with the blush of pink characteristic of the Cyprinid family, and the opalescent low of boxes of whiting. And there were smelts in small, clean baskets like the pretty little ones used for strawberries, which released a strong scent of violets. Meanwhile, the little pink shrimp and the gray shrimp sharpened the softness of their piles with sharp little black dots of a thousand eyes. The spiny lobsters and the clawed lobsters striped black, still alive, made a grating sound as they tried to crawl off with their broken limbs.
The Belly of Paris by Emile Zola
I was in Rome for the weekend to visit my parents (and celebrate their 35th wedding anniversary). What a surreal experience to arrive in Rome after only a two hour flight. It took me days to accept that I was even there. I was so excited to see so many of the works of art that I’ve studied. Of course, I couldn’t take photos of many of them. I did grab many postcards, but of course they exist in the real physical world of my journal, not online! To name a few that stick out in my mind: The Laocoön and His Sons; Bernini’s The Ecstacy of Saint Theresa, Apollo and Daphne, David, and Rape of Persephone; several Carravagios, including David with the Head of Goliath and The Deposition of Christ (which I was surprised to love more); Raphael’s stanza, including The School of Athens. Not to mention incredible history and architecture.
There were lots of surprises to be found, even among the expectedly spectacular art. One being the bleached velvet in a room full of empty cabinets at the Vatican, which left dark traces of the objects previously displayed inside them. Or the mismatched shadows of objects lit from above.
I never did make it to the Basilica, though I was lucky to see it every morning at breakfast and evening for drinks, from the terrace of our hotel. So, The Pietà awaits my next visit. I did throw a coin into the Trevi fountain so legend dictates that I’ll be back. Maybe the next time I’m in Italy I’ll do the Michelangelo tour and head to Florence.
The day I left Paris, I stumbled on a couple of retro paper products that gave me a bit of an epiphany for another project. Also, while in Rome and reading Emile Zola’s The Belly of Paris—yes I’m still working on that one, reading and re-reading each delicious description—I have also decided on a few new drawings to do. I won’t talk about these ideas yet, as they are just settling. The reason I bring it up is that I was excited once again to have learned the lesson. Sometimes I need a little distance, or a lot of time, in order for these new creative ideas to rise, like cream to the surface. Leaving Paris just for a few days has left me with a renewed image of my project and a direction for its next limb.
One month and more since I’ve been in Paris. This is as long as most of the residencies I’ve participated in. I’m learning a lot about how different these situations can be, and my own role within my studio practice. The issues I struggle with regardless of environment, the strategies I’ve learned (both positive and negative), the multiple meanings of the word risk and how time can stretch or shrink!
The first residency I received was for six months at ARtsPLACE immediately following my degree at NSCAD. I moved to a small town in Nova Scotia. My studio was a romantic artist’s loft in an old church. It was too hot in the summer and too cold in the winter. I absolutely loved it and stayed for a year instead. I met wonderful people, had heartaches and homesickness, successes and professional growth. I fell in love with a province, and came to understand my own practice, mainly in terms of what I was taking on as my thematic interests.
The next residency was a month long. I lived in an isolated cabin on the edge of cliff on the ocean (thanks to the generosity of Cecil Day and Visual Arts Nova Scotia and the Yarmouth County Museum and Archives). After months of not producing as much work as I’d hoped to, I was worried I would never find a rhythm. I only work four days a week at the gallery, but nonetheless, found it hard to find “the time.” I know it had little to do with time. This residency gave me no answers as to why I have struggled with developing a studio practice while working in gallery admin, but it did reassure me that when faced with the chance to treat drawing as my “job”, I worked. I had such a wonderful daily rhythm, and in many ways it is one I long to have in my life again. Morning breakfast of muesli and cappuccino with an ocean view. Driving down country roads to a historical museum where I had a large clean studio to work in. Home at night to Espace Musique and a candlelit dinner. Many books, handwritten letters, a yoga practice, and no internet at home. I didn’t necessarily make my most creative work as I was at a more productive stage in my practice, knowing what I was doing and ploughing through (literally, as one of my drawings was a disc harrow!). I had a lot of time to digest, to compost, to consider. And out of that time, new ideas germinated for future drawings and projects.
A year later, I found that I hadn’t really made much work. It was a lesson. I had over extended myself in various arts adjacent activities, but not put the focus onto my own practice. I learned a lot and value that year as much as I value my time in the studio. But it was time to let it go, to focus on my own work. I was relieved to be heading to Spain for a month-long residency at Can Serrat. This residency was entirely different once again. It was social, and energetic. It was multidisciplinary and intimate. We ate together. The studios were communal. The work I did shifted my practice dramatically (to me anyway) and shot me off in a pretty strong new direction.
The year following that residency was very bureaucratic in preparation for this time in Europe. This residency at Cite des arts is once again an entirely new experience. It isn’t social and intimate like Spain, nor is is isolated and calming like that little cabin on the water. I’m not a supported baby artist like I was in Annapolis Royal. There are as many pitfalls that support my own avoidance of work (streaming television, dinner parties, furniture rearranging, friends). There are also incredibly inspiring elements (visiting artist friends, new practices, museums, books and ideas). There is no daily job to get in the way of my practice. There is also no daily job to blame for my distraction. This residency, and the rest of the year, will teach me a lot about myself, my practice, and my own shortcomings. It has already. It will also give me yet another angle on how my own creative process works, and therefore, how I can work to support it.
It has been shocking how quickly time has passed. The month in Spain felt like six. This last month has felt like a few weeks. I don’t believe it has anything to do with “having fun” or not. It is the sense of a beginning; the slow grinding of gears as I get going. I’m inspired. I’m excited about what I’m learning so far, and anxious to find some solutions to my own studio pitfalls. Although I’ve been here for a while already, I feel often as if I’m starting again. Especially this week, after a visit from a very close friend, and our many chats about creative process and studio rhythms. I am nervous and excited to take on the next week’s work.