Tell us a little bit about yourself—your background, major program of study, reasons for taking this trip, and anything else interesting you want to share (maybe something people might not know about you).
After years of science, math, and language studies and an especially harrowing year studying molecular biology in Montreal, I decided to turn my life around, come home to Vancouver, and enroll in art school. Art and music have always been a part of my life and identity, and naturally, making one of them more than a hobby or interest was my next step. As of now, I am just finishing up my first year at KPU, making me the baby of the group both in terms of school and age! Last semester, during color theory class with Elizabeth Barnes, one of our professors on this trip, she introduced us to the field school. As a student and artist passionate in ceramics, sculpture, and painting, I could not pass up the opportunity to experience art from both the past and the present for myself. It’s said that to make good art, one needs to see as much art as possible, so what better way to improve myself than by visiting one of the historic art capitals of the world as well as a global hub for contemporary art?
What has met or exceeded your expectations or surprised you about Paris (or Kassel) so far?
The love of history and culture that Parisians have is incredible, and is truly something that we should learn from. Students, from an elementary school age, are visiting 19th century opera houses, 14th century churches, and viewing medieval and prehistoric art in museums. This allows them to appreciate and learn to love their history, and learn both the good and the bad from it. An appreciation of art also makes for a passionate population, and I believe that we in North America can really use that.
One evening, I had a great conversation with a Parisian gentleman who explained to me this concept: In Paris, no one likes skyscrapers, floor to ceiling windows, or penthouse apartments. Here, we live modern lives within a beautiful old city, and we would never have it any other way. This man, who I had met on a warm summer evening in the historic Tuileries gardens, had come to feed the fish in the pond that had served citizens for hundreds of years. He gave my friend Alice and I a crash course on French history, yet he was not a historian, teacher, museum guide or anything of the sort! It is this love of the historic nature of the art-filled, ancient city that I wish we could adopt in our ever-changing society.
Give us some insight into your assigned artwork from the Orsay Musuem. After seeing the work in person in Paris (and any other related art from the same artist or art movement associated with the assigned work), what struck you most about it and/or how did the artwork’s form, content, and context shift for you when seeing it.
My assigned artwork is Gustave Caillebotte’s Rooftops in the Snow (1878), located in the Impressionism section of the Musée D’Orsay. It is known for being one of the less scenic, beautiful, and easily digested artworks, compared to the harbor, city and nature scenes that Caillebotte painted in his career. The photographic replication of Rooftops in the Snow was of a different colour scheme than my painting was in person, and that was the greatest shock to me. What seemed to be a gloomy, hazy blue and white atmosphere to me became one with harsh lines, high contrast, and full of purples and grays. The work was placed next to paintings by Degas, Monet and Renoir, with their loose brushwork and soft colours, while Caillebotte’s had strong lines, dark shadows, and stark, bright whites. This painting stood out strongly to me against a blur of others, maybe due to the fact that I had been studying it for so long, but the way that the snowy rooftops were captured looked nothing like its neighbors. In my opinion, these qualities made the work even more modern than its counterparts, and the photographic qualities of it were clear. While beforehand, I was not able to see why Caillebotte was included in the Impressionist group of painters, his traditional techniques yet unparalleled content made him innovative and “Impressionist” in a way unlike any other artist.
How did you approach the creative task of responding to this assigned work in studio? What were your challenges as an artist to be in dialogue with the artwork and artist? Would you do anything differently now that you have seen the work in person?
I scroll past images of gardens, sunsets, and parks on the daily, desensitized to them. The concept of capturing the everyday ephemeral and eternal beauty, the banal, was one that I had come across just prior to starting field school. Coincidentally, this was a concept that the Impressionists, along with writer and poet Charles Baudelaire, valued greatly. While they were asked to capture modern beauty, I asked the question, why are themes and images considered typically modern and beautiful rejected today in the contemporary art world? “Never say, ‘it’s pretty,’ or ‘I like it, it looks good’ in a critique,” is solid advice for a studio class critique, but why is that? With these questions in mind, I chose to explore the concept of bridging the gap between sculpture and painting. I was told before by a professor that paintings were not sculptures because they were restricted by frames, that they were flat, visual illusions and could be made to look like anything. As my personal way to challenge the institution as the Impressionists did, I chose to create two pieces that would break the frame by breaking the surface of the traditional board or canvas. By placing a sculptural structure within a painting depicting a banal scene to which we hold no more significance, I am able to both bridge the gap between mediums a little bit further, as well as force the viewer to contemplate the idea of superficiality and overconsumption of aesthetics and imagery.
After seeing the work in person, and having been more inspired by Caillebotte’s use of perspective and unusual angles, I hope to create more pieces within this series rather than change what I have already made. After my return to Vancouver, I plan to go plein-air and try to find an usually beautiful hidden location with unconventional perspectives to add to this series of multimedia works.
Today’s activity was a sunset bike tour through Paris. What were your impressions? What will you take away of the experiences of this day? What are the most memorable moments for you?
Activities today consisted of a nighttime bike ride that started off with a scenic tour led by a guide through the streets of Paris. We wove through cobblestoned streets and past traffic on wide boulevards onto Rue Saint-Germain, into the Latin Quarter, past beautiful centuries-old churches, and then over the bridge onto the Île de la Cité, where the Notre-Dame cathedral is located. There, our group stopped for some gelato, and enjoyed the warm evening sun. Continuing on, we pedaled through the city onto the riverside of the Seine, where we then hopped on a boat which brought us down the river and then back up, allowing us to get up close and personal with famous Paris monuments such as the Alexander III bridge, the Eiffel Tower, the Musée D’Orsay as well as the Louvre.
To be honest, I found this activity to be entirely too touristy for my taste at first, as I prefer to travel as a local would, enjoying a café or picnic, art galleries and museums, or browsing some shops along the street of a particular area in the city. However, I found myself thoroughly enjoying the tour to my surprise. Although we had to wear bright yellow safety vests and travel in a large group, loudly announcing our presence to the locals around us, I no longer felt self-conscious after a while. It felt good to enjoy tourist attractions, to participate in some self-indulgent photo-taking and wine drinking on the Seine river, completely ignoring whether or not Parisians were disgruntled. Although we came across some hiccups and bumps, I truly did enjoy myself on this nighttime bike tour. It let me forget any self-awareness for a little while, and see Paris breezing by on a summer night, like a flaneur dragonfly speeding through the city.