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Published: August 11th 2015
When I stopped in at the Bar du Quartier yesterday evening, Jacques and Hilde were sitting at The Best Table in Paris, and Jena was standing between them. I walked around Jena and stood, and said my bonjours. I noticed another glass of beer on the table, so I didn’t take the vacant seat on the other side of Hilde. Hilde is a German anesthesiologist who prefers to live in Paris, and has done so for decades. A few moments later, as I was talking to Hilde, Michel appeared next to me, and just stood there, looking out at the street. I turned and said hello, and asked if wanted to get by me to sit down. No, he said. Here is good. He reached over to retrieve his beer.
I had talked with Michel a couple of times before, and I knew he spoke some English, and that he was friendly. Many of the people I have met don’t say anything in English to you when you first meet them. They say, bonjour, then they just kind of politely watch you as you converse with others. After a while, or maybe after a visit or two, you end up
having whole conversations with those people in English – forget about learning French (except for the occasional useful phrase or slang that they impart to you).
Jena had told me that Michel was a banker - a banker and an artist, she added. Really? That’s interesting, I thought. So, as Michel stood next to me now, I turned to him and said, you’re an artist? Yes, he answered. I’m a painter. What kind of painting do you do? He motioned as if he had a paint roller and was painting a wall. Not like this, he said, smiling. What do you use, I asked. Oils, acrylic? (I have been interested in painting for over 20 years, and I studied it, and even had a two or three year period of trying my hand at it.)
Michel said that he uses oils and, how do you call it, the water painting? Watercolors, I answered. Yes, watercolors (he repeated the phrase slowly) and gouache and charcoal. What do you paint? He answered, nudes. Oh, nice, I said. He told me there is a saying in art that if you can paint nudes, you can paint anything.
How did you
Pantheon from Luxembourg Park near where I stay
Facade modeled after the original one in Rome. Pantheon means every god.
learn, I asked. He told me that he moved to Paris so he could learn to paint. He went directly to the Bibliotheque (library), and took out books about sketching. He studied those books at home, and sketched from them, and kept going back to the library for two years, and sketched from more books every night. After two years he showed some of his work to an artist friend, who told him it was good but that he needed to get the books from the Academie de Beaux Arts (Academy of Fine Arts) and study for two more years. And he did.
When did you start this, I asked. 15 years ago, he said. Michel is now 57 years old. I was impressed that he had set out to do this at the age of 42 years. That’s almost the same age I was when I pursued it for a few years. But I sure didn’t do it with the same passion as Michel. I asked if he had an atelier. (An atelier is a separate studio, and every real artist here has one, or shares one. ) He said that he does most of his work at
home. But then added that he does his sketching at an atelier, then brings the drawings home to paint.
I told him his story was impressive, and that I would have liked to have done what he did. He then told me that there is sketching workshop on Saturday at the Academie Grand Chaumiere, and that if I want, I could be his guest. Yes, I want, I told him. He said that all I need to bring is a pad of paper and a pencil. I had bought a sketch pad and pencils when I first got to Strasbourg weeks ago, and have been occasionally trying to sketch buildings and perspectives. So I told him (enthusiastically), that, yes, I have a sketch book and pencil. It was like in Easy Rider when Peter Fonda asked Jack Nicholson if he had a helmet, and Nicholson replied, “Oh I’ve got a helmet.”
Hopefully, the next story will be about the session in a famous, old art studio where Gauguin and others painted.
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