Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Adieu, bicyclette

Saturday, August 25th,

At dinner last night there were many stories shared, many laughs, and many drinks.  I walked into the aftermath of it this morning; the kitchen sink piled high and wine bottles sprinkled around.  But it was my last day in Giverny, so I took off for one last adventure.  I got up on my hill to find it was blowing away.  Standing in front of the hill looking up from the path, I took out my watercolors and decided to paint the wind.  I did a few studies and then took my bike up farther for a brief walk in the woods I hadn't yet explored.  The light was dancing with the shadows because of all the movement in the branches above.  I sat there for some time and listened.  Then down towards where the horses were before I went.  Today they were out from the trees in the open, all huddled together against the wind in a group.  One brown horse, three white.  The goats, today there was two, were over by the fence.  I did a quick pencil sketch and then let the wind push me down the hill towards Vernon, to the Seine.

Horses, windy day, Ivy Hickam, pencil

I had to peddle back quickly after I finished one last sketch to return my bike to the foundation.  I can still feel the cool air against my face and see the sun in the trees.  Tonight a final crit and a last dinner awaits.  I promise to myself to remember what I have learned this short lived, long felt time.  And to return again someday.

La Roche Guyon

Friday, August 24th,

Today, thanks to Miranda (our Terra Foundation host), we all piled into a van and drove to a neighboring town; so that we could climb a tower in an old castle of course.  The Château de La Roche-Guyon was, in medieval times, a hidden castle built into the side of a hill.  Much later a manor house was added in front of the crumbling castle's tunnels and tower.  Then even later, during WWII, the tunnels held the headquarters for an important German soldier, Erwin Rommel, who was believed to be involved in the conspiracy to kill Hitler.

We wandered through the dark tunnels behind the manor and then through it, out and up a winding staircase.  We reached the top, the top of the ruins of what once was an even taller watchtower.  The view stretched out before us; geometric patterns of gardens, green hills of trees, and towns we had passed on our way, all fading into blue.  It felt painted.  And it felt unreal to all of us that we were sitting up on the edge of a stony tower, the edge of the world; reflecting on our little time in our little town that had almost past.

A day in Paris

Wednesday, August 22,

Painting on the back of a painting at the Louvre

We took the early train into Paris today.  All of us had stayed a few days in Paris before the residency started, and a few of us had ventured down into the catacombs on the last morning. But it was nice to go back all together with the soul purpose of looking at and discussing some art.  After a much needed coffee and pain au chocolat, we started our day at the Louvre.  I was happy to see the familiar lions guarding the entrance we used on the far end, near the Seine, where there is never a line.  JP (aka Prof. Jean-Pierre Roy) weaved us through the crowds that gathered around the top sights.  Up and down staircases we ran, all the way, until we halted in front of french paintings.  He started with the Renaissance and then showed us his favorite room in the Louvre.  It was full of little jewel like portraits and it felt like real people were present in that room.  I was immediately drawn to quite a few pieces when we passed through a 19th century Scandinavian room.  One that comes to mind, is of a little girl in a plaid ruffled dress, looking inappropriately serious for her age.  A portrait of the artist's sister, painted by Christen Købke.

Then we all took lunch and some of us went off to find means with which to mail large works home.  A few of us went on to the Musée d'Orsay.  I hadn't gotten there before the residency and returning to it after so many years was long overdue.  After, we ate gelato as we walked back to meet up with the group, we rested in front of the lions in the shady grass.  I needed to process all I had seen that day, so I took a nice walk alone along the Seine and peered at the old books and trinkets of nostaglia for sale.

Le Char d'Apollon, Odilon Redon, Musée d'Orsay

Shady spots

Tuesday, August 21

Today, still sleepy, I was out of breath by the time I reached the base of my usual hill.  I stopped to eat breakfast right away in my usual spot at the top in the shade; I caught my breath, wiping peach juice on my already dirty jeans.  I painted in watercolor keeping to the shady spots.  Sweaty I lay on my back waiting for the paper to dry.  I watched the clouds move and collide, I watched the butterflies dance, I watched the gnats swarm, and I watched the sparrows dive.

On my way down to the bike path to Vernon I stopped to paint a farm.  I heard a rustling in the bushes, rather loud.  I wondered if it was the white horses.  I walked around the bend of trees to see a goat with large horns staring at me.  He looked at me annoyed and then went back to munching on every bush in site.

The garden

Monday, August 20th

We had gone to Monet's house first thing, the morning after we arrived in Giverny.  We got there right when the gate opened; and so were able to see the bright pink and green abode and its colorful gardens before too many tourists trickled in.  The blue and white kitchen was the highlight, with its walls of tile and a yellow dining room its complement.  By the time we left the water lily garden there were too many tourists to weed through.  I had to pass through the many cameras to get back up to the gift shop.  It used to be Monet's second studio, with its massive skylights, I could only imagine if it were still used for its grand purpose today.  My professor found a postcard with an old photograph of Monet; he is standing in that very studio in front of a stack of his late works, the massive water lilies.  I say goodbye to the rooster and smell the roses as I exit.

Luckily for us, we returned on Monday night the following week, after hours.  We were let in through a back gate and into the water lily garden.  No one was there but us and the chirping frogs.  We got to paint in Monet's old stomping grounds for hours, uninterrupted, only stopping when the day's light was too faded.  I am very grateful for such a rare opportunity.  I will remember sitting on the edge of a bridge, with my legs dangling over, my watercolors beside me, looking out at the purple water; feeling as if time had stopped long ago.

Our neighbors

Sunday, August 19th

There is so much life in this quiet little french town.  This morning while I was nursing my cup of coffee, so I could sit on the porch just a little bit longer, my tree gazing was interrupted by the rustle of leaves.  I very bright orange squirrel had decided to come down the trunk to check out my breakfast.  Just as soon as he arrived he scurried away, because refreshingly enough the wild life here is actually wild and, therefore, timid of people.  There is also a rather impressive rooster who serenades everyone in the morning and again at the end of the day.  I believe he is the one I saw at Monet's gardens next to his big old house.

traces of a painted rooster, hidden on the back of a door, in a forgotten house

A few mornings later I was lazily enjoying another cup of coffee and I heard a trashing above and to the right of me.  The trees were actually moving, it was the biggest turtle dove I have ever seen.  No idea what he was after, but he made a very nice intro to the distant viola I then heard.  The musicians from the annual music festival, Musique de Chambre à Giverny, had a few days before become our newest neighbors.  They took to practicing in the garden, hiding behind the hedges.  At the end of the week we were lucky enough to catch the first concert at the Église de Giverny (where Monet makes his final resting place).  The space, with its arched ceilings, had great acoustics and the performance was beyond my expectations; a song that stood out in my mind was a vocal piece in German by Beethoven.  I left the church with my mind cleansed and still.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012


Saturday, August 18th

We all went on a day trip to Rouen.  It was a strange city, the historical capital of Normandy; hot and abandoned by the locals for summer vacation and where lost souls and run down people sleep in parks.  It has impressive churches, including Notre Dame Cathedral, painted many times over, many times of day by Monet.  Rouen was where Jeanne d'Arc was burned for heresy long ago.  I stood outside the Notre Dame awhile and looked at the front facade of Monet's paintings, it wasn't lit, so it wasn't the right time of day but its sculpted details were endless.

We wandered and eventually ended up escaping the heat in the cool interior of the Musée des Beaux-Arts de Rouen.  I was impressed by the scale of the grand pieces of which they had many, but I was more inspired by a few small treasures I took the time to study.

Gros Horloge (astronomical clock)

 half-timbered street

boxing rabbits, charcuterie

Route, effet de neige soleil couchant, Claude Monet
(my now favorite Monet painting)

Femme nue allongée, Eugène Carrière


Friday, August 17th

I started a self portrait today.  It was back lit with the bright green of a sunlit Pavlovnia tree; the view from outside my bedroom window.  I feel at home here at the Terra residency, my view in Brooklyn is much the same.  The big house we get to stay in, "Goupil," is cozy.  It's surrounded by a maze of hedges, gardens and other residency houses.  As a result it feels special and secret even though the tourists park right outside the hedge every morning.  And when they leave again, like clockwork, around 6 every evening, our patio and the entire town beyond becomes a peaceful new world.

My painting was not going well, and when I had painted myself into not seeing, I walked out onto the grounds and lay on my back in the grass.  Something I do not have the luxury of doing in New York.  I watched the trees above in the fading day.  One was dark from the sun leaving it and the other was still the bright acid green of my painting.  I saw when I looked beyond, high in the sky, countless tiny sparrows diving in front of the clouds.  I watched them for some time and then I went back to my easel.

Another day, another landscape

Thursday, August 16th

I went up on another hill this morning, the tall hill guarded by the white horses. It was so hot when I got to the base I plopped right down and did a quick study of a farm well surrounded by unmown grass. After I walked up with my bike, because it was too steep, I looked below at the town rooftops and acid green hills.  The trees were dark and warm in their shadows and the distant harvested farms were dusty orange.  I had breakfast under the trees and peered down at what I was going to paint next, I was content.

Then I road my bike around the flat trail that went around the top of the hill and down onto the bike path all the way to Vernon. Where I locked it and wandered; looking at the collection of art at the Musée de Vernon and then at the Collegiate Church of Our Lady (which was bombarded through the ages by wars from the Revolution to World War II, and as a result, has striking modern stained glass windows). 

(section of) The Cabbage, Blanche Hoschedé Monet, Museé de Vernon


Wednesday, August 15th

I returned to "Hotel Baudy's" tonight, early evening, and sat in the fading sun and drank a glass of wine while I watched the people and petted the owner's dog, who was at my feet.  I had been here years ago.
When I got off the train from Paris the line was too long for Monet's garden and I had no idea where I was so I walked down the road and an old, stylish man had beckoned me into what looked like a tavern.  He told me to go see the garden through the back door.

Baudy's is no longer a hotel, but has the memories of one.  It was the residence that the American artists claimed when they came into town.  The Baudy's provided a place with room and board, garden and studio; a place so welcoming that they never wanted to leave.  So they stayed and did their work and Giverny became an artist colony.

 Little Dog, Cafe, Ivy Hickam, ballpoint

I said goodbye to the little dog and walked down the street.  Watching the light fade on the buildings, I too never wanted to leave.

Monday, August 27, 2012

The Hamlet

After first week's crit, leaving Le Hameau

The studio area the Terra Foundation gave us for the two weeks is called "Le Hameau." The studios are said to have a lot of soul.  They are rich in history; Lilla Cabot Perry, Frederick Carl Frieseke, Mary Wheeler, and Richard Miller all painted here.

"Lady in a garden," Frederick Carl Frieseke

The interior of my studio is always cool inside because of its thick walls.  It has an old fireplace and touches of paint from previous residents. I've contributed gesso marks to the floor and a large branch from a berry bush cut and left by the gardener.  The gardens hiding to the right of the building are a little wild; not too perfectly kept and lovingly overgrown.