Thursday, June 23, 2016

Black Images in European Art: Félix Vallotton

In 2013, I wrote a blog post about Aïcha Goblet, the black French model who was a close companion of Jules Pascin in the heyday of Montparnasse.

While recently looking for additional information about her, I came across this stunning portrait of her by Félix Vallotton.

Aïcha
Felix Vallotton
(1922) oil on canvas
Private collection

I found two additional works by Vallotton that depict black women:

African Woman
Felix Vallotton
(1910) oil on canvas
Musée d'Art Moderne de Troyes

La Blanche et la Noire
Felix Vallotton
(1913) oil on canvas
Villa Flora - Winterthur

La Blanche et la Noire is reminiscent of Manet's Olympia.

Vallotton was born in Switzerland and naturalized French. A painter and a woodcutter, he was affiliated with artists of the Nabis movement. He died in 1925 and is buried in Montparnasse cemetery.

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Ed Clark: Reflections on Life and Art in Paris

Each time I give a presentation on Beauford Delaney's Montparnasse or lead the walking tour of the same name that I inaugurated during the Resonance of Form and Vibration of Color exhibition that took place in February - March 2016, I talk about Ed Clark. He was a good friend of Beauford as well as a fellow artist.

In reviewing the blog post that I wrote about him - "Ed Clark - 'Broom-pusher' Artist" - I remembered that I did not use all the material that I gathered when I interviewed him several years ago. I'm bringing it to you today.


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Despite Montparnasse's long-established history of being an artist's haven, Ed Clark was not driven to seek lodging there when he moved to Paris on the G.I. bill in 1952. He would have lived anywhere in town, but by chance, he found a cheap room in the quartier.

He first settled in the Hôtel des Ecoles on rue Delambre (now the Hôtel Lenox Montparnasse), then moved into a top floor apartment across the street at Number 22. A skylight flooded the apartment with wonderful light that allowed Clark to use this as a studio. His building was occupied by others who were destined to become famous artists – among them Cardenas, one of Paris’ most famous expatriate sculptors, and Sugai, one of Japan’s most famous artists.

Courtyard at 22, rue Delambre
© Discover Paris!

Clark enrolled at the Ecole de la Grande Chaumière, which was very popular among students because it allowed creative expression that was not permitted at the prestigious Académie des Beaux-Arts (where several African-Americans also studied over the years). He described the Grande Chaumière as a “workshop school”, where students were not forced to attend classes. His experience there was different than at the Art Institute of Chicago, where there was constant interaction with students and work was critiqued daily.

Ecole de la Grande Chaumière
© Discover Paris!

Clark spoke fondly of two experiences there that spurred him onward toward excellence in his work. The first was a comment made by French artist and professor Edouard Goreg. Clark, who said that at the time he was determined to outpaint Michelangelo, was earnestly painting a nude model. Goreg came by to examine the work and critiqued Clark by saying “this smacks of the Academy (des Beaux-Arts).” Clark went on to relax his attempts at perfecting technique and allowed himself more freedom of expression in his painting. Goreg was to eventually judge Clark’s work at a show at Paris’ Gallery Craven in 1953, one of the rare exhibitions that featured American artists at that time.

Catalog cover
Peintres américains en France

The second incident occurred when Clark decided to try his hand at sculpture. Though devoted to painting, he decided to take a class in sculpture “because it was free.” He had the opportunity to sculpt the same model who posed for Rodin’s The Thinker. Clark’s professor for this class was none other than the Russian sculptor Ossip Zadkine, whose atelier in the 6th arrondissement in Paris was converted into a museum devoted to his work. Zadkine critiqued one of Clark’s sculptures by saying “I see that you’re a painter,” indicating that Clark’s approach to the medium and the art form was inadequate.

Clark describes himself as the first African-American painter to use large canvases for his works. The painting entitled The City (1953), measuring 51 x 77 inches, was his first such endeavor. He presented many such works at the 1954 exhibition entitled Grandes Toiles de Montparnasse that was sponsored by the American Center for Students and Artists. In 1955, he created a painting that measured 4 x 3 meters (~13 x 10 feet), which he said was the largest ever made in Europe at that time.


His work was favorably reviewed by Le Monde critic Michel Conil-Lacoste, which was significant given that the French took a negative view of art created by Americans at that time. But Clark’s gratification from this review was tainted by Lacoste’s referral to him as “a Negro of great talent,” a statement that could have been interpreted to mean that most blacks were not capable of having great talent. He met Lacoste at the café Select and asked why Lacoste had written this. Lacoste replied that he had not previously been aware that Clark was black, but that when he learned of Clark’s race, he reported it as a matter of fact, not of judgment. Lacoste was instrumental in getting Clark’s paintings into the Gallery Creuze, where he had a one-man show in 1955.

Interestingly, but perhaps not surprisingly, the Herald Tribune would not review Clark’s work.

Because of his fondness for his new-found lifestyle and the French capacity to “live and let live,” and also because of the success that he enjoyed with his first solo exhibition, Clark stayed in Paris after his G.I. benefits were depleted. But he ran out of money after the commercial failure of his second show and moved to New York with a group of artists to create a co-op avant garde gallery. The New York Times and other papers declined to review his work, as the Herald Tribune in Paris had done.

Clark credits his appreciation of the use of natural light and color, so important to the Impressionists, to his training in Paris. He has had numerous exhibits in Paris since the 1950s, and was one of the artists featured in the exhibition entitled Explorations in the City of Light: African-American Artists in Paris, 1945-1965 that traveled throughout the United States in 1996-97. The City graces the cover of the exhibition catalog.

Catalog cover
Explorations in the City of Light: African-American Artists in Paris, 1945-1965

Living in Paris and traveling throughout France has given Clark an original perspective on artistic expression and has influenced his approach to painting. He says that he would freely advise young artists to go to Paris “not for training (as I did), but for life”, but would warn them that it is difficult to earn a living there.

To sum up what Clark learned from his artistic training and experience in Paris, he states emphatically “Art must be more than correct – it must be beautiful!”

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Thursday, June 9, 2016

Vincent Germain Sings - A Voice Coaching Recital

Vincent Germain loves to sing.

Vincent Germain
© Discover Paris!

So much so that he hired a coach to help him train his voice, learn to work with musical accompaniment, and interact with his audience.

On the afternoon of Sunday, June 5, that coach held a recital for him at her home. Friends, relatives, and acquaintances turned out to listen to him and guitarist Philippe Alfonsi perform fourteen jazz, R&B, and French classics. These included "Sunny," "Ménilmontant," "The Girl from Ipanema," and Prince's "Kiss."

Vincent and his audience
© Discover Paris!

Philippe Alfonsi and Vincent Germain
© Discover Paris!

For a few of the songs, Vincent accompanied himself on piano.

Singing and playing the piano
© Discover Paris!

Toward the end of the recital, he got the audience on its feet and had members singing, dancing, and clapping to the music.

Vincent's coach is Joan Minor, longtime Paris expat and consummate performer. She has worked with Vincent since 2013 and is proud of the progress he's made since she hosted his first recital at her home in October 2013. She says it's a thrill for her to see a student make a breakthrough and think that she had something to do with it!

Joan Minor
© Discover Paris!

Joan joined Vincent for the last couple of songs, ad libbing and adding a little humor to the mix by cajoling the audience to partake of the buffet spread she prepared for the event.

Joan and Vincent singing
© Discover Paris!

By the end of the performance, everyone was laughing and so inspired that they demanded an encore. Vincent complied by singing "What a Difference a Day Makes." During the reception afterward, he continued to sing and play the piano, regaling attendees with songs such as "Touch Me in the Morning" by Diana Ross.

Tickling the ivories
© Discover Paris!

Vincent has been singing at piano bars on his own for some time, but now has a steady musical partner in Philippe. He says he's ready to move to the next phase of his singing career and start booking paying gigs.

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Thursday, June 2, 2016

International James Baldwin Conference in Paris

From Thursday, May 26 through Saturday, May 28, the American University of Paris opened its doors to scholars from around the world to celebrate the life and examine the writings of James Baldwin.


This phenomenal conference, entitled "'A Language to Dwell In': James Baldwin, Paris, and International Visions," was co-directed by Alice Mikal Craven and William E. Dow of the American University of Paris. Four plenary sessions and over 150 presentations in 44 concurrently running panels placed "special emphasis on the Paris Baldwin inhabited, both what it was and what it is today as a result of the marks he left behind."

The opening session was held in the sanctuary of the American Church in Paris. Seven scholars participated in a round table discussion on "Presence and Legacies: The State of Baldwin Studies." This was followed by a reception and a "Welcome Show" organized by Samuel Légitimus, director of Collectif James Baldwin - a French non-profit organization that has preserved and promoted Baldwin's legacy since 1993.

Panel for opening plenary session
© Discover Paris!

Samuel Légitimus, Director of Collectif Baldwin
© Discover Paris!

Welcome Show Performers - from left to right:
Inside Voices Choir, Gladys Arnaud (Sister Margaret - the Amen Corner),
Rick Odums Dancers
© Discover Paris!

Highlights of the conference included screenings of Joanne Burke's video documentary Paris Noir: African Americans in the City of Light and Karen Thorsen's documentary Price of a Ticket, as well as Jake Lamar's reading from his screenplay Brothers in Exile.

Jake Lamar reads from Brothers in Exile at the Hôtel Talleyrand
© Discover Paris!

I had the pleasure of presenting "Beauford and Baldwin: Paris Stomping Grounds" on Saturday afternoon. This talk featured the favored haunts of Beauford and Baldwin, with a focus on the Montparnasse and Saint-Germain areas of the city. I also spoke about the recent Beauford Delaney art exhibition at Columbia Global Centers, Reid Hall.

Monique shows the Beauford Delaney catalog
© Discover Paris!

I sat on a panel with Ed Pavlić of the University of Georgia, who presented a paper entitled "Who Can Afford to Improvise?: Black Music as Heard Listening Over Jimmy Baldwin's Shoulder." Pavlić looked at how music influenced Baldwin's writings and distributed a playlist of "music to accompany James Baldwin's career (and beyond)." During the question and answer period, he and I realized that we corresponded about Baldwin's Istanbul addresses eighteen months ago when I was preparing for a visit there. The information he shared with me helped me write the blog post that I published about my trip in March 2015. We were pleasantly surprised to have this opportunity to meet in person.

Monique Wells and Ed Pavlić shaking hands
© Discover Paris!

At the end of the conference, it was announced that a final international conference on Baldwin may be held in Istanbul within a couple of years. Previous conference venues include Montpellier, France (2014); New York City (2011), and Boston (2009).

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