Patricia Chow, an LA-based abstract painter who creates place-specific sensory works, returned from her artist residency in France.
Firstindigo&Lifestyle: You have been living mostly in LA during the Covid. I imagine everyday life experiences have changed for you as well.
Patricia Chow: I was used to frequent international travel prior to Covid, so it was definitely an adjustment during lockdown. My art practice had been centered around translating place-specific sensory and mental lived experiences into abstract paintings, and needless to say, this failed utterly when the only place I experienced for 16 months was the inside of my apartment. My goal for 2021 was to re-acclimate to life in the world, including rebuilding my place-based art practice.
Firstindigo&Lifestyle: Why Vallauris, France, how did you find about this place and art residency?
PC: While the world began to reopen for travel in summer 2021, Covid infection rates continued to surge, so I used my skills from my day job as a data analyst to track international infection rates and identify regions where it would actually be safer for me to stay than Los Angeles, where I currently live. The other piece of the puzzle was to identify residencies in those areas that were still operating and had places for late 2021. Prior to omicron, France had been doing well.
I had wanted to spend some time in Collioure, France, to investigate the origins of fauvism, so this became a starting point for my search. I ended up 300 miles to the east in the town of Vallauris (val-o-REES), where Picasso did his ceramic work in the 1950s. I was very lucky – the A.I.R. Vallauris residency lasted five weeks, and soon after I left, France’s infection rate skyrocketed to 50,000 new daily cases.
Firstindigo&Lifestyle: The landscape and atmosphere are probably very different from West Coast of the United States. Can you explain what is special about this residency, regarding of art history?
PC: The Côte d’Azur region has beautiful light and dramatic scenery which have drawn artists for hundreds of years, as well as many museums dedicated to these artists (Chagall, Cocteau, Matisse, Picasso-who has two museums), and museums located in the former homes of the artists (Bonnard, Fragonard, Léger, Renoir), not to mention the fabulous Fondation Maeght. All of this was definitely a draw.
Another draw was the residency’s self-contained format. The six cohort artists live in the same historic building and work in the same studios, essentially forming our own Covid pod, which helps limit exposure for everyone. While the living arrangements were quite spartan, I felt very lucky with my cohort – we had a lot of synergy in terms of both artistic and intellectual interests, and the final exhibition turned out to be quite cohesive.
Firstindigo&Lifestyle: How did the new work get exhibited?
PC: Another interesting aspect of this residency was the exhibition space for the final show: the Chapelle de la Miséricorde, built in 1664, and housing an enormous Baroque altarpiece from 1724. Of course, this could be both a blessing and a curse – small works might feel overshadowed by the space, and censorship could be a problem for some artists since it is, after all, inside a church.
Firstindigo&Lifestyle: How would you think this location impacted your creative process, creating new sort of place-specific works?
PC: I created a series of five mental landscape paintings of Place Lisnard: four 50x50cm studies and one larger painting, a 100x100cm diptych. I call them site-specific paintings because they are the most location-specific paintings I have ever done.
Place Lisnard is an address, a pin on a map, rather than the conceptual space or idea of a city or place, and the paintings were made specifically for the exhibition space. The series explores different ways of translating the town square in paint, influenced by the many artists who came before me to the region.
They are unified by a common color palette, which is ubiquitous in the area – found on everything from building exteriors and tromp l’oeil window shutters to bus tickets. The final diptych remains in the collection of the Chapelle de la Miséricorde, where it was first displayed.
Firstindigo&Lifestyle: What do you feel you were able to take with you from this experience?
PC: It is so important to stay flexible. Things have a strange way of working themselves out. I had wanted to do a deep dive into André Derain’s fauvist paintings in Collioure, but ended up in Vallauris submerging myself in the landscape paintings of Russian-French painter Nicolas de Staël who had spent some time in the area. One of his paintings from Agrigento is here in L.A., but there is very little written on him in English, and the books in French are hard to obtain in the U.S. But in France, I could just walk into the bookstore at FNAC and pick up a couple of monographs right off the shelf.
Firstindigo&Lifestyle: During Covid, the material details of our everyday life have also been unusual. Did you experience some hardship during your five week residency, any obstacles and locally specific solutions for overcoming them?
PC: The availability of materials turned out to be a challenge – the R&F oil sticks I usually use are sold in only two stores in France – and both are in Paris, 900km away. I even wrote to the founder of R&F about it, and he recommended ordering them on Amazon. I ended up pivoting to locally available materials that I had not seen before – Cobra Artist water-mixable oil paint. I had only ever seen the student grade of these in the U.S. The artist grade was much nicer – actually like oil paint, without the complicated cleanup. And since the materials will always dictate to some extent the work that you can do, I ended up painting in thick impasto with a knife, like the de Staël master copies I was doing, while incorporating the specific characteristics of Place Lisnard, the town square where the exhibition space, studio and accommodations were all located.
Image above: The 5 paintings by Patricia Chow.