Wednesday, June 15, 2011

and Treasure in the Post!

I was sitting here procrastinating when I heard the letter box go. Hooray, another distraction! Hoping for something better than bills or a pizza leaflet I skipped downstairs. And hit the jackpot. A book has been delivered, and better still, I am in it! It is the very lovely, touching and beautiful creation of Ruth Phillips, titled Cherries From Chauvet's Orchard. It is memoir that tells the story of the birth of Postcard from Provence, Ruth and her husband Julian's life in France, the life of his paintings after they leave the studio and their journey towards making a family.

Back in February 2005 Julian began a project to paint one small postcard-sized picture each day, and to post it onto a blog. The paintings were all for sale. It was such an extraordinarily patient, dogged, committed and serious thing to do. I had known Ruth for some years and wished them both well in their new life and home. I watched the paintings accumulate, they were very good. They cost $100 US dollars. They were tantalisingly affordable to someone like me and I so wanted to support them in what they were doing. I agonised over the first twenty or so paintings. I loved the colour in one, or the subject of another, the green cooking apple and the jar of purple plums or the red pomegranate? I bought Apple and Green Bowl.

As the months went on I found excuses to buy one more, and then another, and one 'for my husband' and 'one for my son'. You can see where this is going. By January 2007 I had bought four paintings. I spent such happy times looking at the new paintings as they appeared, and creating a fantasy shopping list in my mind of all the ones I was planning to buy when I had a little money spare again.

Then disaster struck. The New York Times ran a piece on Julian and literally overnight he sold every postcard on the blog. He sold other paintings too on his main website. I don't really mean it was a disaster of course, it was the best possible thing that could have happened, but my little secret treasures were suddenly in the world's eye.

After that article each painting sold instantly, often many times over, as soon as it was posted online. Fastest finger was the way to go. I tried for a few but wasn't quick or lucky enough. At last Julian decided to sell the paintings by auction. A very sensible and fair way to do things. He would receive a better price for his work and, the holy grail of artists, perhaps make a living from them.

As a last treat I bid on the first one to go to auction, and won it. Apple half on a gold rimmed saucer. It cost more than twice the price of the others, but I suspected it might be my last chance to buy.

I keep the paintings in my studio, unframed. I like their edges, the tactile quality of the little boards. I pick them up to look at, and move them around. They are like little characters with stories. They have a fixed date in time, and record the light and atmosphere observed on that day. They are lovely.

When Ruth began her book she wrote to everyone who had bought paintings and asked them to tell her how they fitted into our lives. I wrote back and sent her a photo of my studio where they are propped on bookshelves. So now I am in the book. This is magical, and I love the way these paintings create narratives, and histories. They draw people in with a sense of belonging, and they reassure me that choosing a creative life, with all its attendant difficulties, can be totally worth it and ultimately rewarding.

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