• James Eric Fristad

Old Chalk, New Lines

Updated: 4 hours ago

Lots of pictures in this narrative—interesting and relevant ones, I hope.

Those are pastel crayons (somewhat vintage ones) in the bigger photo up there. Pretty dingy, but maybe that's dust or oxidation from decades of neglect in one of Michele's newly discovered, vintage boxes. And I had no idea that there might be any use to these (ugly, blah looking cylinders lying there) ... until I began to read their faded labels and pick the things up and draw lines. Note the akimbo inset: surprising colors still reside inside those adjacent vintage art supplies.

In the last-published bunch o' sentences from me regarding the ending of this past April's grand trek, which may have felt like kind of a downer, I hinted that another cunning plan (yeah, Baldrick speaks again) was afoot. It is, and the pastel photos above have wriggled their way into the heart of one of those newly planned weeks. It's like this.

Vincent Van Gogh spent his final young-genius years in Arles, in the south of France. He was going mad as a hatter all the while, but was still inspired far beyond his era. His erstwhile pal was Paul Gaugin, another post-impressionist. Between the two of them, the entire Provençal region found itself sampled and emoted over and rendered into vivid colors and recognizable shapes. Form and feeling performing together on canvas. Van Gogh's paintings of Les Alyskamps looked like this:

You'll note the stone bench-like things in rows on either side of this avenue of trees (more about that in a minute) ... And his friend for those few months in 1888, Paul Gaugin, painted nearby (maybe 200 yards farther along the alleyway) scenes in his own, vivid style, shown here:

The place was a Roman cemetery, way back when. When the city was much smaller, that is (long years ago it surrounded/enclosed/annexed these curious acres). Roman citizens never buried their dead within city limits. And I guess for reasons of their own, they carved and chipped massive stones into these monster sarcophagi. Which sit in rows along these avenues of plane trees. And where through the centuries, refined folk have loved to come and relax. Long walks, relaxed conversation, a peaceful park in which to display your finery and greet your upwardly mobile peers. That is where late-19th century artists Vincent V-G and Paul G liked to ply their trade, shoulder to shoulder.

[This is the first burial site of a young Roman official, Genesius, martyred in the region in 304 a.d. But that's another topic. A truly interesting story, but I don't want to distract from the arty subject in this present essay.]

The thing is, I want to do pastels here among these massive (and thankfully empty, by now) stone boxes, under the wonderfully cared-for plane trees whose leaves should by then be dappled with autumn color. Not because I imagine I would return home in late November with actual, non-rank-amateur quality artwork. No such hubris lurks. But I want to spend some hours here, looking closely at shapes and textures, hues and light values. Really looking closely, which is what artists do. And wanna-be artists all the more, although with less skill. And put that likely awkward fluster into making pictures. Finding a comfy place whose composition is appealing, then making tiny structure-lines, selecting background colors, then ... well, if you have done this with some panache yourself, please skip past the above couple of amateurish sentences.

The point is, the outcome of the above pastime is one of the souvenirs I hope to cherish in the future. Whether wonderfully made or not, it will matter that I have done it here, right here, where the greats were. Saw some of the same things (though those things were a good 130 years younger then). If the very best output resembles my beloved grand-daughter's horse, given to us about age six, I will still hang it proudly. Probably next to the watercolor a renowned Riverside artist made of Grant School, once.

I love this.

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