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Painting in Caunes, France

Carcassonne is a town in the south of France that features a medieval walled fortress that was heavily reconstructed in the 19th century by architect Eugène Viollet-le-Duc, who also worked on reconstructing the Notre Dame. The fortress itself felt kind of plastic and whipped, like Disneyland, and in the daytime it was crawling with tourists, they fly over on Ryan Air from Merrie Englande. We spent a night in the castle.

In the evening and morning the medieval city was pretty empty, and I could get into the medieval mind-set a little. I pissed in a grass meadow (moat-bottom) against the castle wall.

In the 13th century there was a big heresy in the Carcassonne area: the Cathars. As I understand it, they believed that the God of the old Testament was in fact Satan! Not so unreasonable, really, given all that “for I am a jealous God” stuff. My SF writer friend John Shirley says something like this in his novel The Other End, that is, he says the god who made our world is a demiurge who turned evil and became parasitic upon human worship and then became addicted to the vibe of human suffering. A line about Shirley comes to mind: “Eschatology is too important to leave to scientists and theologians.”

[Our teacher Glen Moriwaki by a 13th C chapel.]

Downhill from the walled fortress is the Low City, the realer part of Carcassonne, and we hung out there, buying some food and some paper for me to paint on. They have lots of red marble in the sidewalks and walls; that’s the product of Caunes, red marble from their quarry.

The market food was good. Croissants from the bakery every day, rubbery and yeasty and doughy and multi-layered. An apple tart from a bakery. Hard, chewy greasy salami. Serrano ham. Semi-soft cantal cheese. Olives.

Oddly enough the best meal I had in France was a coq au vin that Sylvia made in our apartment, with French chicken and wine and garlic and olives. The garlic here is damp and soft; not dried like in the U.S.

At the market in Place Carnot in the Lower Town of Carcassonne we saw a group of bagpipers (bagpipe=cornemuse) with bags that were inside-out goatskins, the whole goat with. They blew into the neck hole, played a flute coming out of one front leg and a drone coming out the other, and had one rear leg doing something for them too, with the other rear leg being the only one that had been snipped off and patched over.

SF concept: some alien using the skin of a dead human in this fashion.

[Star artist of the class: Kevin Brown.]

The days slide by, time as shapeless as sand. We get up, eat, paint, go to bed at any old time, nothing is punctual.

I got to show my slides to the group, and the teacher, Glen Moriwaki, gave me a really hard time about how big I sign my name. That was about all he talked about relative to my old pictures, which really got embarassing after a few slides.

But I like the guy anyway, he’s a character, an artist full of ideas. And I guess I’ll start signing my name smaller. I’d thought, all along, that it was funny and cute to sign my name big. Also I was doing it as a kind of Warhol goof, taking off on the fact that a key thing that makes my pictures potentially marketable is the fact that I’m a well-known writer, so the branding is an essential part.

When I raised this point later, Glen suggested that I could forget about the SF branding and try to reach a new audience of people who aren’t even interested in science fiction.

To break my habit of doing heavy SF paintings, I did a realistic painting of a yellow lawn couch, the style a little like Mel Ramos, a West Coast Pop artist. I was frikkin’ scared to sign it big…

Walking around the little medieval village of Caunes day after day. It’s so tiny. And on most of the streets you can’t see the horizon, or even any green. You just see the walls. It’s like being inside a very high-walled maze. The village. And when you get out into the green fields it’s such a relief. I see Thuy and Jayjay having this feeling in s’Hertogenbosch.

The other students are friendly, and accept me as a painter. It’s like when I started being a science-fiction writer. Everyone is, like, “Come on in, the water’s fine. The more the merrier.” Kevin painted a great portrait of Sylvia in about half an hour. He’s an inspiration. He rents the Live Worms gallery for his studio on Grant Street in North Beach.

Thinking more about Glen’s reaction to my slides, it might have breen that he was, like, flabbergasted by my paintings and simply couldn’t think of anything to say. Talking about this with Sylvia I said I felt like an outsider artist, and she said, “So what else is new?” Referring to my career as a novelist…

In any case, I’m here to learn, and Glen gives great advice on the paintings as they move along.

Still getting started on my workshop paintings, I wanted to paint these chestnut tree blossoms. I’d picked two interesting tendril-blossom flowers from a tree something like a chestnut.

I got two fig leaves and traced their shape onto some thick (140 lb) paper. I painted in the leaves, and then I mixed some local red marble dust with acrylic medium to make my own pink paint. I used that for the ground, then added some ultramarine to get a bluish tint for the sky. I wanted the chestnut flowers in front of that. But it seemed too hard. And I wanted some SF.

I got to thinking about how old married couples are so entwined with each other, sometimes billing and cooing, sometimes bickering, and I decided to have the flowers be mollusks grappling with each other. I gave them shells and did the tendrils. I called it “The Old Marrieds.”

6 Responses to “Painting in Caunes, France”

  1. merle Says:

    The last painting is just great! Both in concept and painting. I think it’s detrimental when people keep hammering on an individual ‘fault’ when they could as well ask themselves why they don’t do it another way themselves. So many people, so many realities. That said, the delicate shading of the yellow chairs does benefit from the small name; there’s simply less to distract from the colours. And as for the grappling molluscs.. some would say they’re intertwined – that keeps the possibility of grappling alive while allowing for a deeper interpretation of the molluscs. On a symbolic level I’m thinking you were probably also sensitive to the fig-leaves (Adam, Eve, meet Tree) and the shells molluscs either build or find to protect themselves.
    As an aside, I really enjoy your blog. The pictures expand the experience of the text, quite like the talk you gave back at De Waag was made more extensive in its presentation.

  2. rs Says:

    yeah, this is another one of your really great posts. if there is a blog contest somewhere we should nominate this. maybe there is an outsider blog forum?

  3. Steve H Says:

    Rudy, I looked at some of Moriwaki’s art; it struck me as very controlled and abstract. Since your art is specifically representational and full of happy accidents and huge splashes of color, he may not exactly be the best guru for you. You have a vision already, while many artists spend years honing their technique while hoping for inspiration (“paint blue dogs,” whispers the little voice) so you should continue painting sentient mollusks and dinoflagellates. You are exactly an outsider artist; instead of working your way up you just strolled in fully formed. And sign your name big; micrographia is a sign of low serotonin levels!

  4. BrianB Says:

    I just finished As Above, So Below a week ago and I come here to find you painting in France. I loved that book, and how you caught my attention through your Sci-Fi books and then led me back into Brughel’s world. It reminds me of how I got introduced to jazz through hip hop. So, yeah, keep on painting, writing, blogging about whatever inspires you and your art will inspire others, it’s a gift that comes through you.

  5. Arlington Acid Says:

    Who are you? I like your paintings but I’m afraid I’ve never heard of you. What’s this “SF” that you keep talking about? By the way, did you notice that chestnut blossoms smell like swimming pools?

  6. Gamma Says:

    Rudy good work – on thursday i managed to go to the Dali & Film exhibition at the Tate Modern (on the south side of the Thames) – it was the first Time i had been there & walked across the Millenium Bridge – i met my good pal Dave — & we entered into the Exhibition – the drawing he did of Harpo Marx was lovely – when we left the building i bought 2 ant fridgemagnets & my other Pal Martin bought some candies – Dave being a member (as he is with Royal Academy) got discount off the boox in the place (a LOT OF aRT) .. AS YU KNOW Zappastrasse is now named what next me wonders – yur alwayz a memory of perspiration give my love to yu all brightness on the SOFa


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