Thursday, September 26, 2013

My Work'ation: Part Four - A Love Affair With Light and Colour

 ...continued from My Work'ation: Part Three - A Long and Luxurious Bath in French Culture

It has been established that Paris is a great city whose downfalls are greatly outweighed by it's positive points.  There is something, however, that really makes Paris amazing and guarantees a return visit by me.  Paris holds in its grasp the art of the Impressionists and, more specifically, Monet. 

Monet's art is something I was introduced to a long time ago, but I had no idea the effect that he would have on me in the future.  I always knew that I enjoyed paintings.  I can't remember the first time I noticed the actual beauty that exists in paintings nor the feelings that looking at something beautiful on canvas gave me, but, for a long time I had an affinity for certain paintings that I came across in books, on the internet, and via other media.  I didn't know why and I really had no interest in figuring it out.  I just always knew that certain artists, especially one named Claude Monet, had painted some pieces that I really liked to look at.  Edgar Degas and Pierre-Auguste Renoir were also two cool painters whose works had a tendency to cause me to pause when flipping through pages and websites.  I had no idea that all of these guys were members of the "French Impressionist Era" club.
our trusty tour bikes

Considering my un-investigated enjoyment of Monet's art, it made sense that, when I came across a tour by Fat Tire Bikes involving a train ride to the French countryside plus bike riding, plus a visit to Monet's garden, I would feel the pull to sign up for it right away.  It was great idea; a taste of a cool painter, whose works I always enjoyed viewing, along with two of my favourite things in life, countryside and biking.  Little did I know that this tour would be a catalyst to an entirely new experience for me.  One that involved a fair chunk of learning and a whole lot of falling in love with art.

water lilies at Monet's garden
The tour was hosted by a guy named Kit who would probably have caused me to completely abandon my interest in biology and turn into an art history nerd if he had been my junior high arts teacher.  I hung on his every word and was even compelled to write some of what he said down, simply because I didn't want to forget his best "quotables."  One thing that hit home for me was his observation that, "we respond emotionally to light."  For any of you who've taken high school physics (and actually payed attention) you know that all colours are a reflection of various wavelengths of light.  It turns out that the colours, the light, that the Impressionists used in many of their paintings, especially Monet's landscapes, are colours that reflect wavelengths that emotionally resonate with me.  I learned a lot about art and the Impressionists and Monet from Kit.  Too much to go into detail here.  What is most important about my time on Kit's tour was that I became armed with a knowledge about art and Monet that would point me in a direction to enjoy paintings in a way that I knew other people experienced but I, personally, had never accessed before.

Blue Water Lilies by Monet at Musee D'Orsay
Soon after the tour I headed to the Musee L'Orangerie where eight (out of approximately 250) of Monet's paintings from "Series des Nympheas" (a series of paintings featuring the water lilies in his garden) are located.  Keep in mind that I was armed with knowledge of Monet's past, his career, and had just seen his beautiful garden in person.  The eight paintings portray his pond and water lilies from various perspectives and elements of light.  These are BIG paintings, approximately 18 feet long and 6 feet tall (totally my own estimates...nothing factual here) and they surround you in two oval shaped rooms, four paintings per room.

As soon as I stepped into the first room I felt at home.  The colours of Monet's paintings are the colours of happiness for me.  While simply standing in front of "Reflets verts" I felt myself slip into a zone of peace that I've only ever felt during deep meditation.  And this was in a room filled with people chattering away about the effects of the brush strokes and the thickness and layers of paint that Monet used.  Needless to say, Monet had an effect on me.  When I wasn't completely mesmerized I spent my time stepping closer to Monet's paintings to see the splotches of paint and colour placed in ways that appeared so random.  Then I would step back and watch as those splatterings of colour transform into an actual image; a beautiful image of water, trees, flowers, and light.

water lily pond green harmony by Monet at Musee D'Orsay
The art experience was not yet over.  I still had Musee D'Orsay to visit where I could experience more of Monet and was able to check out all of his Impressionist friends' work.  I happily ventured up to the corner gallery on the fifth floor of the museum.  It was here that I saw Monet's "water lily pond" and had the most amazing  feelings of joy well up inside of me that I found myself holding back tears.  Art, apparently, had become an intense experience for me.  It gave me a rush that I never had before and I was addicted.  I stood for ages in front of one painting after another not noticing my growling belly nor my sore and tired feet.  I was completely captivated.  I was on a high floating from one painting to the next.

It's amazing to be able to walk amongst paintings knowing that the people I had learned about from Kit (as well as from a book about the Impressionists that I bought while at Monet's garden) had actually touched these pieces.  It was THEIR brush strokes on THAT canvas.  It was THEIR minds that decided to put THIS line here and use THAT angle there.  These paintings were reflections of how the artists perceived their own worlds; reflections of the scene that was directly before their very eyes at a point in time in history.  So, essentially, I was entering the world that they were living in when they created that painting.  Not only was I seeing pieces of their worlds, I knew a bit of what had been happening in their lives during the period in which they were painting them.  I understood the significance of why they used such dark colours for the background, or the reason there was a dog in the corner of a painting, or why their model was posed in such a way.

the bridge at Monet's water lily pond

This is what experiencing art is all about.  To lose myself in a painting and then step back and let my mind wander into the world of the artist and imagine what it may have been like to brush his or her paint onto the canvas one loving stroke at a time.  This, for me, is Paris. The Impressionists.  The art.  The rush.  The high.  I will definitely be going back to see it and feel it again.

astride my awesome Fat Tire Tours bike

In Joy,

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