Sunday, April 25, 2010

Provence: Day Five

Wednesday, April 14

We woke up in Apt and hit the road early to make it to Saint-Remy in time to enjoy the Wednesday market we read about.  (As I jotted down broken lines of notes on the trip, Chris asked what I was writing about, and in play, asked if it was about him.  When I smiled and said, Of course, I'm not sure he knew how to respond.  I kind of enjoy it when he gets worried about what I may include here.  Does that make me bad?)  As it was too early to check into our hotel, we found a place to park a few blocks from the center of Saint-Remy and, armed with an empty basket, set off to shop.

Though the town was typically beautiful, the day was perfect, and the streets loosely packed with marketeers, we found ourselves a little disappointed.  It turns out that markets are markets, the landscape closely mirroring that of others.  We did do a little shopping, though more in shops instead of market stalls.  I must say, though, how delighted we were to find the very same cheese vendor from whom we'd purchased some pretty fantastic product in Apt.  We'd since finished the chunk of heaven we'd bought our first day, we took the opportunity to not only buy more of the same, but actually learn what it was. Comte.  Eighteen-month aged Comte cheese.  Our market buys ended up being nearly identical to the first market day we'd spent, though this time we bought a little more - 2 kinds of cheese, a kind of sampler of salamis, and I found a scarf I really needed to have.  It's like a strip of striped jersey material and it so fits my jeans-and-T-shirt style.  

We found ourselves moseying about, trying really hard to find something new to be excited about.  Once the market vendors packed it up around lunchtime, it was just us and the town.  We began following the sound of music and singing down one narrow street, but before we could actually reach the festive spot, my attention was abruptly snagged by a photograph of a man in a window.  You couldn't see his face, for it was cast down, his arms hanging in a way that allowed his clasped hands to cover his manhood, while his angel wings hung half-spread from his back.  It's difficult to describe the type of beauty I saw in this sad and dark photo, but there was no way we were walking past this small gallery.

Kamil Vojnar is from the Czech Republic, once lived in New York for a stretch of 12 years, and now lives in Saint-Remy, Provence, France.  When I asked what brought him to this small village, he simply replied that he'd fallen in love with a French woman.  

He began his career in a more commercial fashion, using his incredible gift for photography to create and sell artwork for book and record album covers.  I was surprised to see a book I own on his shelf, Lorrie Moore's newest novel, A Gate at the Stairs, given to me by my good friend, Katie.  He likes to keep copies of books and albums that feature his work, and it was fun to look through it all.    His images are hauntingly beautiful, shot through homemade filters to create an aged feel.  Many play with Christian imagery, and so aren't always as popular as others, but as he explained to us, his goal is to create more questions than answers with his work.  He likes to invite thought, and I was mesmerized by his technique, his eye, and his world of art.  Kamil talked about why he prefers photography to painting, explaining that you can paint anything, but you can only photograph something that was really there in some form.  Sure, he plays with perspective in some of his photographs, but it's all real, in some aspect.  Kamil now has galleries in Prague, Paris, NewYork, Seattle and Santa Fe, displaying images that include a young winged girl dressed in white in a bathtub, sometimes standing, sometimes seated.  In some she is underwater and staring out, her wings over the sides of the tub.  In another series he's captured a beautiful young girl laying in the grass, white flowers dropped all over her hair, spread across the ground.  One of my favorite images features again, a young girl sitting balled up at one end of a red couch, over which hangs a picture of a grand cruise ship, and under which hides a toy ship in the shadow.  A string of lights stretch across the top, and this photograph is entitled, "Journey."

We spent a lot of time in Kamil's gallery, I asking questions and openly gushing over his beautiful work, secretly wanting this insanely talented artist to want to be my friend so we could talk shop all the time.  There is something in his work to which I related immediately.  I cannot paint to save my life, but photography and writing are two mediums I've wanted to mix for a long time.  Kamil paints over the top of his work, creating a more reflective, textured quality.  His mix of mediums absorbed me completely.  Sadly, as he is an amazing artist with galleries in many important places for art, we really couldn't pay what his work was clearly worth, so I was content to look through his small stash of trial-run prints, the ones that didn't quite make it, or haven't yet.  These were just prints, with nothing fancy done to them, like some of his other work boasts, but it's the images I love.  We bought two, and I love them.  I felt extremely lucky to have happened upon this little gallery in this little village, because I got to meet this artist who is not only accomplished and successful, but brilliant and whose work speaks to me directly.  Saint-Remy just got a whole lot cooler.

Oh, I forgot.  Saint-Remy is also the birthplace of Nostradamus, so his birth house is marked and his bust decorates a corner near Kamil's gallery.  Van Gogh also spent some time here when he committed himself to a mental hospital.  He painted his famous "Starry Night" in Saint-Remy.

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