Location | Paris: Meet Field School Blogger Stephanie MacKay

Meet Stephanie (Sam) MacKay.
Picture taken in Rome where she was traveling ahead of the Paris trip.
Tell us a little bit about yourself—school, background, major, reasons for taking this trip, anything else interesting you want to share.

Participating in this Paris field school was an unexpected opportunity for me while pursuing higher education. During my previous career as an AME, I was fortunate to be able to travel; however, cultural history was something I knew little about. As an avid camper/backpacker, I usually avoid cities and venture out into nature based settings. I am a BFA student (at Kwantlen) and one of the most surprising and enjoyable parts of my program so far have been my art history classes. The history of art juxtaposes socially and politically within society in engaging and interesting ways. These complex, tangled relationships fascinate me and I think that combining an open studio class with an intensive and specific art history course is a brilliant and effective way to learn. My name is Stephanie MacKay

What has met or exceeded your expectations or surprised you about Paris so far?

I try to keep an open mind and absorb experiences as they arise. Paris has a larger-than-life reputation and I had no idea what to expect upon arrival. I spent 9 days in Italy prior to meeting up with the class, and was already neck-deep in history by the time I got here. Adjusting from low key stays in convents and budget hostels to being part of a large group has been a huge shift. I have thoroughly enjoyed observing the reactions of those new to travel as their senses are inundated with new sounds, smells and sights. I find the architecture here exciting, but I also love the interesting and chameleon-like graffiti that I have seen around the city. Space invader tile work, clever stencils and wild colours prevail. We have only been here a couple of days, but my favourite sight so far has been the stalactites growing from the ceiling at Jaurès metro station.

Discovering street art in Paris has been one of Sam's favourite passtimes

Give us some insight into your assigned art work from for the Orsay Museum. After seeing the work in person, what struck you most about it and/or how did the art work’s form, content, and context shift for you when seeing it?

Lautrec, La clownesse Cha-U-Kao (1895)
La clownesse Cha-U-Kao (1895) by Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec was my assigned image for this term. The painting became larger than life in my mind as I meditated on its meaning, on the artist’s experiences, used it for inspiration in my own work, and wrote papers about it. I entered the museum without a map and let my senses guide me. Immediately separated from the group, I took the path of least people. I stumbled upon the Lautrec exhibit shortly after and was pulled in.  A dimly lit room, with dark walls and low ceilings house the Orsay’s impressive collection of Lautrec’s work. The write up near the door describes Lautrec’s brush as caustic. I found my painting off in a corner, juxtaposed with an enormous family portrait: a strange combination. I watched while lines of people paused for the obligatory 3 second blurb on their rental headsets before finding myself a suitable gap to move in for a closer look. Pushing my face as close as I could without touching the glass covered card, I saw the spaces between. Lautrec’s brush strokes were indeed caustic, frantic, and provocative. He was a man with an insatiable fire to create; I could feel both his passion, and his release in this work.

Today’s activity was also at the Orsay Museum. What were your impressions? What will be your take away of the experience? Any memorable moments?

Interior shot of the Orsay Museum
Today was our first day of class in Paris. We embarked on a metro adventure, wandered through the Tuileres Gardens, crossed the Seine River on a bridge covered with love locks and found our first museum. The Orsay is breathtaking; as a converted railway building, the architecture is stunning. A vaulted ceiling draws your eyes immediately upward as you walk through the doors. After the initial awe, many hallways, rooms and floors present themselves for further exploration. Artistic highlights of today for me were Gustave Caillebotte’s Raboteurs de Parquet, Edgar Degas’ Petite Danseuse de 14ans, and Vincent van Gogh’s Self-Portrait. Between feelings of being swallowed whole by the crowds, intense gratitude for the opportunity to be here, and the vast visual bombardment of masterpieces, I was captured by the children, with long lines of red hats holding hands, clutching notebooks, and each other’s hands. How privileged they are to visit a place like this on a school trip. They walked in order; following their teacher, and sat cross-legged in neat little rows in front of various masterpieces to listen, to look. Some fidgeted, but most sat hypnotized. The honesty and raw emotion of these paintings landed perfectly in these open, young minds. We should all be so lucky.  
Clockwise from left: Andres, Rosaura, Sam, Charis, Courtney, Wei, Tessa

Sam spotted this gem just outside the Orsay.