Location | Paris: Meet Field School Blogger Yvonne Lee

Meet Yvonne!
Tell us a little bit about yourself—school, background, major, reasons for taking this trip, anything else interesting you want to share.

My name is Yvonne Lee, and I have lived in Canada all my life. I have visited the United States several times, a few times to Hong Kong, and have been to Japan once. After hearing about the possibility about this trip from my teacher Dorothy, I realized I had to be in this class. I have never been to Europe before, and I always wanted to go. I wanted to go to see the artworks I have been learning about from art history in person, and this field trip was the perfect opportunity for me. I am in my 4th year at Kwantlen Polytechnic University, and I am aiming for the Bachelor of Fine Arts degree. I often work in digital media and paintings. I have always been intrigued by the traditional paintings and artwork, but I also keep an open mind towards contemporary art. What I wanted to get out of this trip is a better understanding of traditional art within the context of contemporary art. I also wanted to get inspiration, or at the very least some ideas of what I want to do next for my artwork.
Yvonne and other students had fun with the task of photographing Kwantlen's
mascot Quentin against Parisian backdrops
(photo courtesy: Kyubo Yun)

What has met or exceeded your expectations or surprised you about Paris so far?
In the beginning, what surprised me about this trip was how much I enjoyed some of the exhibits. The Orsay and Pompidou museums were quite interesting for me since there were many art movements represented that spoke to me. In the Orsay, I discovered Symbolism, which was an anti-realistic and anti-naturalist movement, and focused on imagination and spirituality. What I found interesting about this movement was how similar it is to the fantasy and sci-fi art I also enjoy. The Symbolists painters used mythology and dream imagery for their works, but painted paintings that were more personal to them. They would use symbols they would only understand themselves. I am really grateful for being able to see this exhibit, and my only regret is not spending more time at the Orsay to absorb more of it. The other exhibit featuring Gerhard Richter at the Pompidou was amazing as well and gives me hope to keep pursuing digital work. His paintings were hyper realistic, but each one had their own narrative. What I found interesting about his work was how he made the painting look blurry or show a motion blur. Something else that surprised me was some of the artwork looked smaller or bigger then I have imagined and there were some details that I had never noticed before when I looked closely at them in person. There was this Byzantine art piece called Cenni di Pepe, which had patterns in the back of the painting and portraits of people in the frame. There were also several large paintings where we discovered something new about them, because we were able to see the details of the painting instead of looking at it through a slide. I would love to come back to Paris to visit the other museums I have missed. I think being in Paris is a good opportunity if you are an artist. Even if you do not like the traditional art, there are other artworks to fit every genre and approach.

Give us some insight into your assigned art work from the Musee d’ Orsay. 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?

Paul Gauguin, Artist with a Hat (1893-4)
I was unable to find my assigned work, Paul Gauguin's Artist with a Hat but I did find a self-portrait of Gauguin that struck me; another self-portrait titled Portrait of the Artist. The colour palette is similar to his self-portrait with the hat: faded olive green on his shirt and yellow in the background. The brushstrokes outline his facial features, but the colours are quite faded. The style is similar to his other works where he aims for the painting to be more “primitive” looking. The painting was started when Gauguin went to Tahiti to escape modernism. Gauguin was very anti-modernist and wanted people to not forget where they came from. He saw that Paris was modernizing itself very quickly, and he needed a place to escape. Therefore he went to the French Polynesia and stayed there to create his art. Gauguin has made several self-portraits there, but what struck me about this painting was this is the first time Gauguin was looking away.
Paul Gauguin, Portrait of the Artist (1896)

There were no other self-portraits like this on display, so it made me wonder why he painted himself like this. Perhaps it was because he no longer wanted himself to look at the audience, or perhaps he was commenting on how others look at him. It is difficult to tell if he used a photograph or not, since it is possible to draw a side-view of yourself with a lot of mirrors. This does go back to the question of why he did this. Since this was originally created after his Tahiti show was rejected by art critics, the painting could reflect the kind of emotions he wanted to convey at that time. He was disappointed with how the art critics did not like his work, and perhaps he wanted to document himself like this.

Today’s activity was at the Pere Lachaise cemetery. What were your impressions?  What will you 
take away of the experience?  What, if any are the memorable moments for you?

Today we entered the cemetery in Pere-Lachaise. What I first noticed was how crowded the graves were in comparison to the ones I have seen in Vancouver. There were several graves that were an inch apart from each other. I first visited the artist Daumier to pay my respects to him, and it took some time to find. To my surprise, Daumier’s grave was nothing spectacular like some of the other graves. His grave was simple and undecorated. Daumier died poor so his family must have not been able to afford much for the funeral. Although, it looks like the top part of the grave was recently added. The bottom part of the grave had lots of moss, yet the block above it was clean. It was interesting to see Daumier’s grave amongst the other graves, since his was plain in comparison. What surprised me even more then Daumier’s grave was Max Ernst’s grave. There was no tombstone or sculptures to remember him by, instead it was a plaque, just a plaque on the wall just like everyone else. There was nothing special about it, and I had almost missed it because I assumed the grave was going to be special. All there was on his plaque was his name and when he died. It shocked to me that an artist who helped create a famous movement was treated this way. I then realized that perhaps this also shows how insignificant Ernst may have been during his time. I saw several new graves of people who died in 2000-2012 with large tombstones who I did not know, while a man who was trying to make a difference in his community was given a plaque.

Plaques along walls at Pere Lachaise mark death in a less grandiose way than the large gravestones
(photo courtesy: Kyubo Yun)

The group dinner was a special night for us all! 
After the cemetery, we also got to have our big group dinner. The restaurant was this cute hole in the wall kind of place with two great musicians. The staff were also very friendly and patient with us. We danced, we sang, and we laughed. It was probably the most fun experience I had on this trip as a group. My table with Yvonne Littlewood, Jess, Tessa, Erin and Amanda was crazy. It was so much fun. And Jessica has a beautiful voice. She gave us a small opera performance and everyone was just quiet as she sang. Andres was also quite the dancer. He was not afraid to show off his moves. To make things better that night, as we were walking home, there was a “flash mob” near the Notre Dame. It turned out to be an annual gathering of picnickers around the Notre Dame, something that happens the third Thursday of every year in June. It started out with a couple doing a late night picnic and has since grown to over 20,000 people celebrating this annual event. It was quite inspiring, and some of us have discussed wanting to do something like it back at home.
We happened upon Paris's famous Le Diner en Blanc  in front of the Notre Dame cathedral on the
way home from our special group dinner. At first, it looked like a massive flash mob!
(photo courtesy: Dorothy Barenscott)