A humid Saturday early evening, I climb the turreted staircase in Abbesses metro station to emerge onto a colourful children’s fair with trampolines, cotton candy, a merry-go-round. I wander a short block along the bustling rue des Abesses, once the haunt of Picasso, Picabia, Dali, Van Gogh, Monet, then knock on the door of Grace Teshima’s third floor apartment. The walls are stark white, the lighting over a series of tile-sized paintings by American artist Maryanne Pollock is gallery-professional, and yet there are two fabulously inviting crimson couches by big windows overlooking the bustling shop-filled street below. Teshima offers me a drink. I could be the first one at a party, but the room has been emptied of all other furniture and the walls have been carefully hung with three series of paintings and mixed medium works, another series and further works are displayed in an adjoining space. This is my first time at chez Grace, a monthly art salon curated by Teshima and which began four years ago “almost by accident” as she explains.
Though Paris has a longstanding tradition of the “salon”, bringing to mind the ambiance of Gertrude Stein’s place in the 1900’s, I have not attended one. Neither gallery nor squat, this traditional, homelike venue provides artists with what host of “chez Grace”, calls “an extended living room”. It is a place for one artist to share new or a selection of work. Chez Grace has become a popular community spot for art enthusiasts, friends, or travelers who want to take the time to really look at one artist’s work, to talk to the artist, reflect and discuss thoughts on the work, even ask questions about technique, personal history, home or the artist’s work environment. In short, it is a convivial space where collectors, casual spectators, fellow artists, even families, can purchase or really spend time with the art Teshima has selected for her once-a-month shows, or for visits any day of the week by appointment. Here, her guests mingle comfortably, lounge on giant couches in a space which is not as self-promoting, showy or theatrical as many of Paris’ vernissages. As cameraman and filmmaker Nicholas Kent notes, Teshima shows “a large variety of work” which he films for her posterity (some is online) and her blog. However, as Teshima admits, this “variety” also means there is “not one consistent eye—sometimes the work is professional and other times it can be amateurish. I select art by persistent artists, friends, those who I like.”
In the case of Maryanne Pollock, graduate of the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts (1982), and who has shown work in Egypt, Switzerland, Paris and throughout the USA, she certainly could have sought out a gallery for this show. However, as she says, she is “an educator”, “moving more towards collaboration”, widely involved in art projects throughout the world which foster greater community, dialogue, meeting—often working, as she currently does in the USA with at-risk kids—so this intimate venue fits her. Here, everyone takes time to discuss and inquire about the pieces, to interact with them.
The work itself is fabulously inviting, and perfectly suited both socially but also aesthetically to this context. Pollock’s show entitled “Human Grid” is made up of many small works, easily hung in a place this size, and which allows enough time and space for onlookers to take them in. Completed primarily in recent years though a few date as far back as 1992, these abstract and figurative pieces display great variety and dialogue between painting and drawing techniques (ink, water, acrylic, pastel)—such as in her “Cosmic Garden Series” which dominates the main room. “Cosmic Garden Series” is made up of dozens of tile-sized acrylic canvases plus a few paper watercolors which depict flowers, small male figures, or landscapes. Some are coated with ornate tile-like designs recalling mosques or iron gratings, as well as fabric designs: tartan or plaids. All of these hang alongside a single, startling miniature self-portrait out of which the artist, in hat, scarf and winter clothing views the viewer, confronts them. She is there, painted in unhappy red-nosed hues, a winter among all this vibrant summer. For Pollock, this series is a “post-9/11 kind of prayer”, touching on political themes, natural exploration, economics, and even her personal origins subtly through the references to her Scottish and Catholic Irish heritage as seen in the tartan paintings.
As the title does here, much of her work indicates a spiritual/cosmic component. “(I am) investigating the deeper realms of the conscious, subconscious and super-conscious minds” she writes in her artist statement. As such, the work is both evocative of earth and sky, of nature and man, of untarnished landscape and construction (grates, buildings and windows, as seen in a colourful pair of paintings which recall peculiarly appealing and lively housing projects). It also evokes unseen, minute or microscopic elements, beyond-language sensations which dominate recent abstract works, such as the show’s poster-publicity piece, “Phthalo Maze I”. Pollock states that her work links her to the original Sanskrit word for art, whose meaning is “to connect”, thus she sees these as “tracings” of “journeys, soul”, a space where “I abstract the visual narrative of everyday urban life.” They are also, she mentions, “daily windowscapes” looking outward even as, she states, “creating something is a kind of self-reflection”.
It is growing late, and I have stayed for hours when three of us pause looking together at one of her pieces. Pollock says, almost speaking to herself, seeing her work anew, “there is a static, geometric, architechtonic framework, and then those kinetic lines that fan out.” This summarizes the collection, a point stretching into line, an artist reaching towards self, towards other. Echoes of Kandinsky and Miro are evident to me, though she also adds that her work/practice references Motherwell—doing black and white rice paper studies before moving into color, “so that color doesn’t confuse me”—as well as women such as Judy Pfaff or Beatriz Milhazes (currently showing at the Fondation Cartier thru 21 June 2009) who are “unafraid to be joyful or women”. As we grab a last drink and mill about, Pollock states, “I pay attention to that interconnectedness. I pay attention to coincidence.” And I think, chez Grace, it is a nice coincidence to come inside a home, off the exciting bustling Saturday streets to find oneself in contact with such vibrant work echoing that life just outside.
Grace Teshima/ Chez Grace,
rue des Abbesses, Paris 18e,
tel : +3188.8.131.52.98 or +3184.108.40.206.69
If you are passing through Paris, do not hesitate to check in with Grace Teshima, to attend one of her shows or to have a private visit of works.
Contact for Maryanne Pollock: via her Artfile listing (scroll down alphabetically): http://artfile.wpadc.org/alpha.php?a=15
Jennifer K Dick is an author (of Fluorescence, Retina, & Enclosures) and teacher (currently at EHESS and Ecole Polytechnique). She co-organizes the bilingual IVY reading series with Michelle Noteboom in Paris which began in a gallery thanks to curator Susie Hollands. Jennifer is now completing her PhD at Paris III on visual uses of the page in poetry: text and image in works by Anne marie Albiach, Myung Mi Kim and Susan Howe.
New! Eye Prefer Paris Cooking Classes
I am happy to announce the launch of Eye Prefer Paris Cooking Classes. Come take an ethnic culinary journey with me and chef and caterer Charlotte Puckette, author of the bestseller The Ethnic Paris Cookbook. First we will shop at a Paris green-market for the freshest ingredients and then return to Charlotte’s professional kitchen near the Eiffel Tower to cook a three-course lunch. After, we will indulge in the delicious feast we prepared along with hand-selected wines.
Cost: 185 euros per person (about $240)
Time: 9:30AM- 2PM (approximately 4 1/2 hours)
Location: We will meet by a metro station close to the market
Class days: Wednesday, Thursday, Saturday, and Sunday
Minimum of 3 students, maximum 6 students.
Click here to sign up for the next class or for more info.
I am pleased as punch to announce the launch of Eye Prefer Paris Tours, which are 3-hour walking tours I will personally be leading. The Eye Prefer Paris Tour includes many of the places I have written about such as small museums & galleries, restaurants, cafes & food markets, secret addresses, fashion & home boutiques, parks, and much more.
I look forward to meeting you on my tours and it will be my pleasure and delight to show you my insiders Paris.
Check it out at www.eyepreferparistours.com