Last month, in Villepinte, France (the Villepinte of the southern Languedoc region, not the one north of Paris), a showing of the works of 40 painters of pastel was presented in the local town gathering all, known as the Salon des Fetes, under the banner of the local cultural organization, L’Avant Theatre.
The Salon International de Pastel Grand Sud—in English, the International Pastel Salon of the Deep South—located in the unremarkable, but authentic and delightful, village of Villepinte, situated a short hike across the highway from the infamous Canal du Midi, with just 675 full time residents and off the two lane road leading eastward from Toulouse to Carcassonne, received 90 entries for the April 26 through May 10 show, most from France, but drawing from other parts of the world as well. I was one of 40 fortunate artists selected to present my work.
I have participated in and been involved with many juried shows, both as an exhibitor and as a juror. This particular art show—Villepinte’s and the L’Avant Theatre’s second-- was possibly the most professionally juried event I have ever been privileged to partake of. The jury consisted of 8 members of the community with the selection of art conducted blind: without knowledge or reference of the artist’s name. Artists who were jurors appropriately excluded themselves from the selection.
The results of the jury were presented in possibly the gentlest and most dignified manner possible: The list of accepted artists was simply posted on the blog. Congratulatory letters were not issued, but kindly, there were no “rejection letters” needed either.
For the display of paintings, each artist was allocated a 4 meter wall arranged in the large room according to the artist’s last name, with no preference given for booth location.
On the evening of the show, opening at 6 PM, artists, guests and visitors gathered in the Salon des Fetes where all were welcomed by a small live band. Then each artist was invited on stage where Paul Dussel, the director and organizer of L’Avant Theatre and the art show, introduced each artist by name and spoke a little about his or her work.
The town mayor and the minister of culture were then introduced and each gave short speeches. After these formal introductions, wine was served and guests mingled with the artists. At 8:30, general visitors dispersed, and each attending artist and their guest sat down to wonderful dinner, prepared by the village volunteers. In classic French style, the main course of was served, followed by salad, then cheese, champagne, then dessert, and finally, coffee. Copious quantities of wine—red and rose’—accompanied the dinner. The mood was intimate and convivial, drawing from the best of what would come to mind with the notion of art and French salon—good art, good food, and good conversation.
The following 14 days of the salon, which was open from 2 PM - 6:30 daily, brought 1650 visitors, the many, many signs along the highway and around town, beckoning any who might be passing through on the post Easter holiday weeks.
Three workshops, concurrent with the show, were held in the adjacent Mairie, or city hall. The first was Lorenzo Rapelli’s landscape painting workshop.
The second was Annie Cassez portrait workshop and the third was Claude Carvin’s plein air painting workshop held along the Canal du Midi. The Mairie workshop room was large and the lighting particularly good. I happened by on the third day of Lorenzo Rapelli’s landscape painting workshop where the skill and care with which he was guiding his students to produce remarkable work was evident. The evening of May 1 featured a concert by singer and guitarist, Vincent Perez.
One other noteworthy aspect of this show was that paintings were displayed both without titles and prices. The effect of this was subtle but significant: as viewers strolled and viewed the art, there were no distractions to taking in and enjoying each painting. However, those interested in the specifics of the paintings could retrieve a notebook with a page dedicated to each artist, complete with a list of painting titles and corresponding prices. Twenty-eight paintings sold, including three of mine, in just two weeks.
It was a privilege to meet the genteel and softspoken pastellier, Didier Boinnard, pastel maker of Artisan Pastillier, who attended the opening dinner.
He had a vendor table dedicated to his pastels which are made in the town of Albi, about 1 hour north of Villepinte and the home of Henri Toulouse-Lautrec.
Below is my own collection of Artisan Pastellier pastels. I purchased the box on the left at the Salon. The box on the right with the blue pigments (derived from the woad--the yellow flowering plant common in the region) was one I purchased several years ago when visiting the Toulouse-Lautrec Museum as a keepsake never dreaming that one day I would meet the maker himself! (And it turns out he purchased one of my small paintings at the Salon!).
An additional table also included the business cards and marketing materials of the artists along with a few portfolio books and notecards.
The experience of this show for me, as a non-French speaking American outsider, was nothing short of wonderful. The pastel paintings of my fellow artists, most from Europe but one from Bolivia and one from Russia, had a flavor that was different than what one might see in the US. Some noteworthy differences: Many were framed with mats, most paintings were quite large (the small, “sellable” style painting was non-existent), and portraits and figures consisted of many more northern Africans….something that would make sense given the proximity of France to Africa. In a future blog, I will highlight some of my favorite paintings and say a little about the artist. Here are some of many that I loved:
The small size of the village and the dedication and warm welcome by the organizers of the show gave rise to an intimacy and conviviality that was pronounced.
That “smallness” would not be evident in the dedication of Paul Dussel and Michel Bequet to promoting the visibility of this show: the L’Avant Theatre blog was continually updated with photos and videos featuring the artists, workshops, and events surrounding the show, and the local newspapers featured the show prominently. I would guess that there were not less than 40 signs around the village promoting the show, as well as full color posters on all the shop windows.
I am honored to have been part of this show of pastels in France, featuring such beautiful work, and organized and promoted with the highest level of professionalism and warmth.
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