That really is the collective noun for artists – a colony – but it sounds more like something unwelcome that might take up residence in your loft or under the floorboards. I have been wondering about a better one – a creativity of artists? An inspiration? A sparkle? An outpouring? Anyway, our village of Huelgoat is definitely a place where painters, poets and writers live in large numbers, finding the beauty of the forests and the rich cultural traditions conducive to their work.
In fact, despite what people may think about Brittany being a rural backwater, it is always easy to find exhibitions of artists’ work, concerts and book festivals, and well-known writers sit behind tables at local markets selling their books. It’s nice to imagine J.K. Rowling or Martin Amis doing the same… But I did not know until last month that Brittany can boast a prestigious art gallery in Landerneau – “Fonds Helene et Edouard Leclerc pour la Culture”. Housed in a former Capuchin monastery it is a marvellous, light-filled space, and this year it hosted an exhibition of the work of Marc Chagall. Chagall is my favourite artist, and so we went to Landerneau for the first time to see it. To help tourists find the art gallery, a green line has been painted along the streets – a sort of follow the yellow brick road idea. I thought this was great and wondered how it could be useful in my home town in Devon, although tourist attractions are thin on the ground there now. Perhaps a red line could be painted to lead people to the Citizens’ Advice Bureau, or a gleaming white line could guide people to a dentist who still takes National Health patients. The gallery had collected together nearly 300 pieces of Chagall’s work; it was like standing in the middle of a huge, delectable feast and not knowing where to start eating first. A true cultural banquet. I loved it.
We are lucky enough to know some of the artists and writers in Huelgoat, and shortly after visiting Landerneau we went for coffee with Liz, whose whole house is like an art gallery. She had been busy working and her table was covered with twisted paint tubes, brushes and rags. If it hadn’t been for the plastic gloves, it would have looked like Van Gogh’s kitchen. Liz doesn’t paint abstracts, so I was surprised to spot two beautiful abstract paintings amidst the creative clutter. They were both stunning, and I was so drawn to one of them that I actually picked it up. I would never usually dream of touching her paintings, and live in fear of knocking against one, or splashing a bit of coffee on something, especially when she is getting ready for an exhibition and there are canvasses everywhere. But this painting was crying out to me. I told her how much I loved the different textures – there were places where the paint had been applied very thickly, and others where it was flat and calm. There were splashes of bright colour, like sudden inspiration, and the whole effect was gorgeous. She listened to my musings with one eyebrow raised, then explained that these were the two old bits of card on which she mixed her colours. Well I hope she doesn’t just put them in the bin – I would certainly hang them in my home. Get them signed, mounted and framed Liz, and put them in the next exhibition! Chagall – eat your heart out.