Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Lisa Himic Painting

My student, Lisa Himic, has been taking painting class at Red Dot for almost a year and has become quite a realist painter. Her strong points are her attention to detail and choice of composition, but she excels at the whole process, as you can see. My photo is a little washed out on the right, so blame me, not the artist.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Jeanne Alexander's Latest Painting

Galapagos Cactus   16" x 20"  Oil on Canvas

In no particular order or preference, I'm going to start posting images of 
my students paintings and drawings. All students take classes at Red Dot Gallery, Birmingham, AL.

Above is Jeanne Alexander's latest piece, taken from a photo of her trip to the 
Galapagos Islands. Jeanne has been studying at Red Dot for 5 or 6 years, and loves to challenge herself with a wide range of subject matter. She experiments with different colored under-paintings, as well. 

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Killer Student

One of my Tuesday night painting students, Charlotte, missed class recently to attend Girl's Night at the local shooting range. She was very successful at filling her man full of bullets and brought proof to class.
Go Charlotte!

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Au Revoir!

This is the final post of my spring trip to France. 

Our invitation was scheduled for 8:00, a crazy-late time to eat in my old-fashioned book. Annabelle and I walked through the ridiculously charming village by the light of the full moon, and arrived to a warm welcome of two-cheeked kisses. Thierry and Helene, introduced us to their two kids, their sister Monique, and their friend Jean Pierre. We received a tour of their quite lovely and live-in home, and Thierry apologized for its size, comparing it to the McMansions that all of us Americans supposedly live in. I insisted that our house was smaller than his, but he definitely didn’t believe me.

Helene had laid out a spread of hors d’oeuvres in the living room, and we all gathered round for several types of charcuterie, pates, and olives, all paired with wine. The main meal hadn’t even started, and we’d already eaten the best food we’d had since arriving in France. I’d had a week to practice my French, and I managed to communicate with broken sentences, improvised words, and probably a funny accent, but I was delighted that I did OK. Thierry is a traveling businessman, and spoke English well, but I tried to keep most of the evening in French to include the rest of the family.

We moved to the dining room where we were served roast lamb with vegetables, mashed potatoes, and a salad, all with wine pairings. The food was just fantastic, and the mealtime discussions just as good. I mostly steered the talk to what I wanted to hear most, comparisons between France and United States. I knew we’d get no better chance to hear an insider view than in the home of a real French family.

I wasn’t surprised to hear that the French have a little more faith in the judgment of Americans after the last Presidential election. America wasn’t very popular around the world when W. was in office. (I claim no opinions of my own here, just relaying the story.) When I asked if the French in general thought Americans were loud and uncultured, they replied with a fair and reasonable assertion that, just as in France, some are and some aren’t. They did express concern with our diet and our weight. They believe we eat too much, and it’s all junk. I heartily agreed and shrugged my shoulders. I wish it weren’t true. The French take such pride in their food, and I could tell it was immensely distasteful to them (pun intended) that such an important part of life could be so bastardized and neglected.

I told them we thought Paris was very chic, and they agreed, but put forth that New York and Italy were more chic than Paris. I’ve not been to either recently, so I couldn’t argue. They asked about the American Redneck, and had a thorough knowledge of its attributes, including the hound dog, the pick-up, the guns, and the spitting. I acknowledged that the Redneck was indeed a common species in the United States, and none of the stereotypes were fabricated. A hysterical round of laughter erupted when I introduced the term “white trash,” or Blanc Garb-aahhge, loosely translated.

I made a mystery faux-pas when I asked why Mac computers are rarely seen in France. As far as we could tell on our travels, PC was everywhere. The whole dinner table fell silent, and everyone looked at each other as if I’d told them about my bowel movements. I asked again with a chuckle, why don’t people use Macs around here? They nervously glanced at each other, and Thierry leaned over and whispered, “I’ll tell you when we’re better friends.” So, for some reason, the French don’t lean toward Macs and they don’t want to talk about it. Travel tip for you.

For dessert we enjoyed some of Thierry’s homemade crème brulee, made from some of his homegrown honey from the backyard and a small cup of that wicked strong French coffee. I know the meal will be remembered as one of the best in my life (seriously).

The next day we ventured back to Pierrefond because we needed some ATM cash for our trip home the following day. We hadn’t anticipated the town would be jam-packed on Sunday for a village flea market that stretched for blocks, all around the main square area. After driving a mile out of town for a parking spot we spent the bright, sunny day perusing tables of French junk, and bought some antique trinkets for souvenirs. We ran into Thierry and Helene in the town center, a stone square packed with café tables and overflowing with people. We joined them and their chic friends for pastries and coffee. For once I felt a little less like a foreigner. We had French buddies to run into!

Our last night in Saint Jean was a happy one. We were plum tuckered out from all of our adventures, knowing we’d crammed as much Frenchness into 10 days as a sane person could. The trip was decidedly the perfect length for our constitutions, and we looked forward to being home in our American beds the following night. I looked out the window of my bedroom to see the Cathedral and the chicken coop under an almost full moon. I knew it might be another 30 years before I returned, so I took in a breath with an intention for the memory of that moment to last 30 years. And now that I wrote it down, it doesn’t have to. 

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Pierrefond Castle

The following morning we slept in, got ready slowly, and headed for the nearby town of Pierrefond. We drove in our tiny car through the big forest, and arrived after 10 minutes in a storybook village on a lake with a medieval castle towering up from the center. I hope those French people appreciate everyday the awesomeness of where they live! After a breakfast of delicious pastries from an adorable patisserie (with our usual dietary adjustments) we marched excitedly up to the gorgeous castle for a tour.

Pierrefond Castle was build in the middle ages, was hardly ever used because of political reasons, was all but destroyed a few centuries later for military reasons, and was rebuilt in the 19th century for more political reasons. The wonderful Violet le Duc, who designed Notre Dame in Paris, was responsible for most of the reconstruction and design of Pierrefond Castle, much to my delight. The gargoyles and rainspouts were weird stone animal hybrids, and my favorite was a pelican with bat wings and eight hanging boobs. We’d arrived early enough to see not another soul during our tour, and so got to appreciate the unusual, fanciful place with no distractions. The rooms were painted with designs on almost everything in bright colors with medieval/arts and crafts/pre-Raphaelite pageantry. I can’t say for sure, but I’ll bet if I compared it with most other European castles, it would be my favorite. That design period just thrills the pants off me, and I have stacks of books at home of its patterns and details. To see room after room in a huge castle, and have it all to ourselves…magnifique! Also, parts of the Harry Potter movies were filmed there, so it has that going for it.

One of the weirder features of the tour came unexpectedly at the bottom of some winding stairs that led to a dungeon-like lower level of the castle. A long room was filled with hundreds of tombs, all topped with life-size stone sculptures of the noble person or king who was buried within. The sparsely lit room echoed with the sound of people’s voices, all talking at once. Many of the tombs were accompanied by a nearby speaker, each quoting that deceased person’s most famous words. The intention may not have been to scare the daylights out of visitors, but that’s what happened with me. Eerie lighting, an army of monotone voices, graves with real-looking people lying on top with their hands folded over their chests, all in the bottom of a centuries-old home…how crypt-keeper can you get? Its uniqueness did give me enough bravery to take my time and notice the artfulness of it all, and we took some photos of the silly sculptural objects that were carved next to the tomb owner’s likeness. Some people had cute little pets with them, and others tools of their favorite hobby. Some of the couples had to lay for eternity with their spouse’s feet in their face. The fanciest folks got to sit up and pose as if they were having a picnic in the celestial grass.

Signs explained that at some point Versailles had a whole lot of tombs to get rid of, so their collection was split up and installed in various castles around the country. Artists put together the voices and lights display. I was enamored with the whole idea, except that I am easily spooked and was eager to leave as soon as we found the place.

By afternoon we voted on naptime back in Saint Jean. We’d been invited to dinner by our friends’ relatives, who lived a block away, and needed our rest before embarking on an all-French language evening.