Location | Paris: Meet Field School Blogger Shannon Nixon

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

Hello Paris Fine Arts Field School followers. My name is Shannon Nixon and I am currently in my third year of studies for my Bachelor of Fine Arts degree at Kwantlen Polytechnic University. Last summer, when Dorothy first mentioned that the school might be running a field school in Paris, I immediately began saving. Not only was it a great way to earn 6 credits towards my degree and travel to Europe for the first time, it was also a great opportunity to practice speaking French. I was in French immersion from grades 6-12 and since graduating high school in 2006, I haven’t had any chances to use the language outside of the classroom. I even took a beginner French class at Kwantlen last semester to brush-up on the vocabulary I lost over the past 6 years. Those three reasons were more than enough for me to apply to the Paris Field School.

Shannon hanging out by the Seine.
What has met or exceeded your expectations or surprised you about Paris so far?

As soon as we arrived in Paris I was eager to begin conversing with the locals in French. I would try to distance myself from the group in order to not stand out as a tourist. My attempts to blend in as a Parisian only seemed successful until I began speaking. People could instantly tell by my accent that I am not a Parisian and that French is definately not my first language. Sometimes it was so obvious that when I would ask someone a question in French, I would get a response in English. Although this made it slightly discouraging to continue practicing French, I still kept ‘truckin on’.

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?

Gustave Caillebotte, Rooftops in the Snow (1878)
Before the trip I was assigned Gustave Caillebotte’s, Rooftops in the Snow (1878) (or its French name, Vue de Toits (Effet de Neige) as my central focus for studying artworks from the Impressionist period. This work is currently at the Orsay in Paris and after closely studying it for a month through online representations I finally got to see it in person. Rooftops in the Snow, along with many other works by Caillebotte and the Impressionists (Renoir, Degas, and Manet just to name a few) are located on the very top floor of the museum. The gallery space resembled an old attic that had been transformed into a place to exhibit art. I found this interesting because after the Haussmanization of Paris in the 1850’s, the very top floors of buildings were commonly inhabited by artists and people of lower status. In addition, Caillebotte’s Rooftops in the Snow is an urban landscape that predominately depicts these spaces. To place the Impressionists work in this space speaks to the ways in which their group was rejected by the institutions in their time. After seeing their work in the Orsay, I would argue that they are the most highly regarded in the museum today. I found these rooms, even though quite large, were filled with the most viewers.

As I mentioned earlier, I spent a month studying Rooftops in the Snow before coming to Paris. When I first came across the painting I was amazed with how much texture there was in the way Caillebotte painted the snow. His buildings appear to be painted with very thin layers of paint while the snow appears to be smothered on with a palette knife. The results were that of an urban landscape that had just been blanketed with a heavy layer of snow. Suddenly the French title, Vue de Toits (Effet de Neige), made sense to me. When directly translated into English it means ‘View of the Rooftops (Effects of Snow). Caillebotte successfully portrayed the effects of snow in this piece with his contrast of thinly painted buildings and thickly painted snow.

Today’s activity was located around Documenta. What were your impressions?  What will you take away of the experience?  What, if any are the memorable moments for you?
Our hotel at Documenta has been hosting large groups for decades-- memorabilia from past exhibitions
was on display throughout (photo courtesy: Kyubo Yun)

Enough about Paris and the Impressionists. After our two weeks in Paris a few students went home while the rest of us hopped on a train to Kassel Germany. Documenta 13 was our reason for this little side trip. For those of you who are unfamiliar about what Documenta is, it is the equivalent to the Olympics of contemporary art exhibition. It showcases works from artists all over the world and only happens every  5 years. We planned for 2 days to be spent at Documenta and at first I thought that would be too much time; I quickly discovered that was hardly enough time. All the works are scattered over the city center and after 2 days I had only explored about half of the works, many of which I wish I could have spent more time with.
Andres and Rosaura making their own imprint on Documenta outside the main exhibition hall.
 One work that really struck me was in a large tent that presented the work of Paul Ryan and his invention of Threeing that he created in 1973-1976. People were invited to enter the tent (provided they removed their shoes) where volunteers were assisting in teaching the ideas of Paul Ryan’s "Threeing."  When I first arrived, a German woman was explaining to three other German women how Threeing worked. Because I cannot understand German, I stood off to the side and tried to understand what they were doing based on their body movements, a video that was playing, and some instructions that were written in terrible English. Just as me and a few other students in our group were about to leave, we were approached by a woman named Sara who spoke English. She explained to us in clearer form what Paul Ryan’s concept was around Threeing. She explained the different roles of the three people involved: the first person’s role is to be spontaneous while the second person’s role is to be reactive to the first. The third person is the mediator and their role is to mediate the actions of the first and the second person. The three German women were doing exercises in three through body movements. Sara showed us how you can also take this practice and apply it through drawing.  I believe this exercise could be useful to art students as an aid in collaborative art making.
Overall I have really enjoyed both Paris and Kassel. A few of us have decided to stay and continue our travels around Europe. I am off to Munich for a couple days then finishing up my trip in London where I hope to go on a guided tour of all the street art. I fell in love with street art after seeing Exit Through the Gift Shop and I even bought a book about the myths and legends surrounding Banksy while I was at Documenta. 
Canadian artist Geoffrey Farmer's epic collage was another art project that garnered a great deal
of attention at Documenta (photo courtesy: Dorothy Barenscott)