Monday, July 11, 2011

Looking Through: "Lunchtime in Paris"

Lunchtime in Paris - acrylic - 18" x 24" - 2010
This painting is based on a photograph that I took in the cafeteria of the Musee D'Orsay in Paris, where I happened to be having lunch right at noon. It's another "Looking in/Looking out" painting (for other examples, please see earlier instalments of this blog), but this time the outside view is glimpsed through an immense clock which dates back to the days when the building was a railway station. The clock in my painting is reversed, like a mirror image, because its front was on the outside of the building and would have provided the time of day to passengers approaching the station. It faces the Seine, with the Tuileries Gardens in the distance.

I was in Paris for a week, in June of 2009, with the same friend who accompanied me to Cancun (see blog post on "On the Ferry", March 6, 2011.) This trip was not, alas, a free one, but it was a very good deal--airfare from Vancouver, bed and breakfast for a week, transfers and taxes, a boat ride on the Seine, and a half-bottle of champagne, all for $1300 each. Since I had not had the opportunity to do any cultural sightseeing in Paris's since 1967, when I was whisked into the Louvre to see the Mona Lisa, which blew me away, and the Nike of Samothrace, which didn't, my main objective was to spend as much time as possible in the art galleries. We visited the Orangerie, the Louvre, and the Picasso and Dali museums, but enjoyed our day in the Musee D'Orsay the most. (As a retired language teacher I feel embarrassed at not putting the acute accent on "musee," but don't know how to do it.) We also fitted in a day at Versailles, and always made sure we left time for strolling, sitting, just generally hanging out, and of course, eating!

Back in my studio in Vancouver I started painting the scene on a 20" x 24" canvas. It was one of the most difficult challenges that I have set myself. The massive iron framework that supports the clock itself is seen from a slight angle, and is nearer to the viewer than the clock face, so that the various circles are not quite round, and not quite concentric. The spokes and segments of the circle needed to look as if they were equal, but they weren't quite, because of the oblique angle. And painting those Roman numerals backwards proved to be extraordinarily difficult, though I still can't quite understand why. At the point where I was beginning to despair of ever getting the perspective acceptable it occurred to me to check the corners of the canvas stretcher, and sure enough, they weren't right angles and the sides were slightly askew. No wonder I was having so much trouble! I took the canvas off the stretcher, which I took back to the store for a refund. Then I restretched the canvas on a slightly smaller frame--18" x 24"--which worked a lot better. Even so, the painting was a struggle from beginning to end. I have to hope it was a useful learning experience, because the irony is that the paintings that are most laborious to produce rarely turn out as well as the ones that seem to paint themselves. I think part of the problem with "Lunchtime in Paris" was that I had fallen into the trap of being enslaved by my photo, and feeling that the composition had to be literally and mathematically accurate. Since completing this painting I have tried to be less literal, and to let myself play around more with the composition. It's certainly more fun that way!

Art Practice News:

This post is a bit later than intended because I was away in England for 3 weeks, and just returned. While I was there, in addition to visiting family and friends, I took a wonderful short course called "Adventurous Drawing" at West Dean College in Sussex. Please see for pictures of this amazing place and information about their courses and activities. 

I've been updating my website to include more recent work. Please check it out at
Designated Driver

My painting "Designated Driver", featured in my blog on April 23, was recently sold!

I have four paintings on display until mid-August at the West End Community Centre, 870 Denman St., Vancouver, as part of the Vancouver Sketch Club's show on the theme "Reflections."
Bridge on the Lydd - acrylic - 11" x 14" -  2010

Bathtub Voyeur
My little painting "Bathtub Voyeur" (Blog March 20) is back from Brazil, and on display until July 24 at the Ferry Building, 1414 Argyle, West Vancouver, with the Mini-Art Exchange exhibition of "Faces."  

And finally,a few examples of the photos I took in April on my trip to Death Valley and other arid bits of the USA. Eventually I hope to do a series of paintings of sand dunes, but first I have to get the opposite--reflections in water--out of my system!

 Next instalment Mid-August