“In a little yellow house with green door and shutters”

(Post) French Connections

Australian Print Workshop
Paris study tour
May – June 2018

(Post) French Connections, part 3

French Connections, part 1
French Connections, part 2
French Connections, part 3
French Connections, part 4
French Connections, part 5
French Connections, part 6
French Connections, part 7

(Post) French Connections, part 1
(Post) French Connections, part 2
(Post) French Connections, part 4

6th June:
I live in a little yellow house with green door and shutters, whitewashed inside — on the white walls — very brightly coloured Japanese drawings — red tiles on the floor.”
— Vincent van Gogh (1853–1890)
(Sprig of flowering almond in a glass, Arles, March 1888, oil on canvas, 24 x 19 cm; postcard on lap, 10 x 15 cm; Van Gogh and Japan, Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam)


7th June:
The chatter of dusty-headed Eurasian jackdaws by the cluster of trees planted, we imagine, to emulate a van Gogh landscape (before the Van Gogh Museum). Coots bobbing in the canal after a cruise boat passes. Grey herons, Swifts, and European herring gulls, perched, swooping, and gliding. In a letter to Theo (London, beginning of January 1874), van Gogh wrote, “always continue walking a lot and loving nature, for that’s the real way to learn to understand art better and better.” And so we walked and walked the curves of Amsterdam, before ending up at a market where we feasted on a potato and spinach gözleme made over a griddle with the second nature swiftness and assurance of hand like a bird on the wing.

8th June:
Like grey squirrels are to Hyde Park, Flopsy, Mopsy, and Cotton-tail rabbits are to Vondelpark. Like a couple of tourists missing the company of animals, we sat on the grass in the early evening and watched a rabbit with more moxy than the two of us combined. At any moment, they’d pull out their violin in the spirit of Utrecht’s automaton (Museum Speelklok).

* * *

The familiarity of Mary Magdalene, with her hair casting a shadow upon the halo behind her. Another roughly hewn head of John the Baptist. A row of early 17th century colourful wool caps as worn by Dutch whalers so they could identify each other. Yes, we couldn’t have been eyes-agog happier, in the Rijksmuseum, admiring fine lace in paintings and in the special collections. We loved it all, from Jan Asselijn’s The Threatened Swan to the Still Life with Gilt Goblet and iridescent lemon of Willem Claesz Heda, and the elderly couple dressed in faded shades of red who waited their turn and sat, side by side, on foldout stools (with the tags still on them) before Johannes Vermeer’s The Milkmaid and Woman in Blue Reading a Letter, so as to be bathed in the light of the Golden Age with supported joints. Petronella Oortman’s dolls’ house, made in 1686, to now recall a popular novel; the quiet intimacy and simplicity of Adriaen Coorte’s bundle of asparagus, bowl of strawberries, and four apricots, each tiny detail of white, red, and orange resting upon stone plinths within each tiny composition; romanticised hounds looking devotedly at their masters; the joy of finding the lighthouse of Sumatra from 1879, which we have used within our work for Looped (at State Library Victoria until the 31st of August, 2018), and the realisation it is roughly as tall as us both. Over the years, we have incorporated so much of this collection into our collage work (through their digital files) that seeing it with our own eyes today gave us an extra buzz. The unicorn horns we’d used as a horizon line, which are actually from a narwhal, there on the wall, one, two, three. And nearby, on a shelf, several ‘grapeshots’ of shot bundles (circa 1750–1800), from which we’ve made silhouettes (within A Weight of Albatross).


8th June (continued):
Bobbing along in Oud West, following a loose plan, and making a promise to adopt the same approach when we return home: to remain open to seeing things from a different perspective; to being tourists in our own city; and to continuing to take you with us.

9th June:
Art shows us who we are, and how we relate to the world around us. It also shows us how the world is changing — sometimes right in front of our eyes, sometimes behind our backs. Artists question the past, present, and future, and the Stedelijk collects and displays their work.... [and] considers the collection as a single entity — each work belongs to the time it was made.” — @stedelijkmuseum, Amsterdam. A museum, like art, in constant motion, which rolls a quartet of Bernd and Hilla Becher’s industrial forms “preferably photographed on overcast days” into Agnes Martin’s Grass (1967); Gas holders into the silver of acrylic and pencil on canvas. Van Gogh’s portrait of Augustine Roulin (1889), donated as a gift to the museum from the Van Gogh family as thanks “for the safekeeping of the artist’s work during the Second World War” hangs next to Cézanne’s disolving landscape; left and across at De Kooning’s Rosy-Fingered Dawn at Louse Point (1963), you’ll find Jim Dine’s The White Suit (Self-Portrait) (1964), and in the next room along Ger van Elk’s 1968 Study for: Apparatus Scalas Dividens, which “he invented to block interactions between visitors mounting the staircase to enter the exhibition and those leaving”. Anything but a grey afternoon.

* * *

“But now their houses are three storeys high, the fronts of them are faced either with stone, plastering, or brick, and between the facings of their walls they throw in their rubbish. Their roofs are flat, and on them they lay a sort of plaster, which costs very little and yet is so tempered that it is not apt to take fire, and yet resists the weather more than lead.” — Sir Thomas More, Utopia, 1516

At the Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam, where nature and technology converge in Studio Drift’s Fragile Future; where dandelion seeds have been attached to LED lights; where “two such extremes may well need each other to exist; where “slow design [meets the dandelions] unprecedented urge to survive”. We gazed overhead at Shylight, a motorised silk flower dance, which in echo of the circadian rhythmic movement of plants, dropped, opened, glowed, and made bees of those of us with cameras at the ready and video rolling. Survival mechanism of plants; survival mechanism of art? Lie down, take the picture. Gape. Shuffle. Gape. Shuffle. Fill with awe. (@studio.drift, Coded Nature)

* * *

A turn left here, a turn right there, part of the joy has been found, nay, relished in feeling our way along. We have drawn big arcs from our temporary abode to various museums and galleries, and not known what we would find along the way. 20,000 steps, too easy, callus upon callus, grey day, blue day, cat in the window after cat in the window. (Petite flâneur Lottie (c/o @pasadenamansions), are you ready for big, unstructured walks?


Image credit: Adriaen Coorte, Four Apricots on a Stone Plinth, 1698, oil on paper on panel, in the collection of the Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam