Thursday, July 10, 2014

summers in provence

(for the Oxford Gazette, adding to the News from New York column by Mary Ann Caws)

Summering Reflections from Provence

As well as the old music and new music festivals in the medieval perched villages of Provence, like Oppède-le-Vieux  --- two grand pianos were flown in to the church once for a particular occasion – and the Mozart and Handel celebrations in our nearby town of Carpentras, there are always gallery openings notable for their chic simplicity.

Afterwards, you might want to have a bite of supper in one of the restaurants by the river at L’Isle-sur-la-Sorgue – it always feels, to some of us, because of its poet René Char,  like the arts center of the region. You could go to the traditional Pescador, at the “partage des eaux,” where the waters meet – or then one of the bistros on the island of L’Isle, surrounded by the old-timey lights, or perhaps, if you’re lucky, a few boats with jousting young men trying to push each other off the boats with a long pole—or just a guitarist or accordionist going by under the bridge. Across the river, the water wheel keeps turning with its long dripping fronds of green.

On July 5, in the high-in-the-Lubéron village of Ménerbes – famous for inhabitants like Nicolas de Stael and the onetime mistress of Picasso, Dora Maar – there was a small and splendid exhibition of the quite remarkable landscapes of the British artist Philip Hughes: “Les Vallées de Ménerbes de 1974-2014”. These gouaches, pastels, watercolors, and acrylics,  are distinctive by their sharp lines and patterns – as if seen from an airplane – reminiscent of the striped, terraced, pale-colored beauties of the Scot Charles Rennie Macintosh, who left Glasgow and his instantly recognizable architectural constructions for the South of France: Port-Vendres, next to the more-than-memorable village of Collioure, the “city of Artists,” marking the start of the “path of the Fauves” like Derain, Dufy, and Matisse, where the old restaurant-hotel Les Templiers was the hangout of Picasso and the others for the cuisine of the chef Pous, whose son Jojo kept up the flavor of the place for years.

Macintosh (“Toshie” to his adepts) was fond neither of the painters of Collioure nor of the inhabitants of Port-Vendres. But the place he loved, and walking there – memorialized by a path with reproductions of his paintings in the spots they had been painted (“On the Trail of Monsieur Macintosh”), just as in Collioure the reproductions of Derain and Matisse mark the way of the Fauve path in 1905. Macintosh asked for his ashes to be cast into the sea near that so loved village, and his partner and widow, Margaret Maconald, did just that..

The watercolors and gouaches and acrylics of Hughes have nothing melancholy or misanthropic about them – from the larger landscapes of Ménerbes countryside seen from Dora Maar’s garden, with their written inscriptions, like diary notes, through the medium-sized works with the boulders pressing against the mountains – what an architecturally-sensitive mind has the painter! – to the small and perfectly-patterned watercolors, they exude a kind of happiness like a walking trail of nonchalant beauty. They reminded me this time of Macintosh’s path through Port-Vendres – how a stroll can animate a canvas or a paper, or, indeed, a life.

Outside the gallery of Pascal Lainé, half-way up a road with an old stone wall against which informally and elegantly dressed locals and visitors were leaning with a glass of wine and a relaxed chatter, you felt that this was the Provence of always, in its relaxed and summering finery, at its best .

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