There are moments where fate or bad luck guides you from one destination to another without your consent but with your full participation. We were on a mission to find a perfect piece of artwork that would describe the Parcours d’Artistes. The only problem was that we started this mission at 11:50pm when most of the exhibits closed at 12:00am. In hindsight we should have been more prepared but to tell you the truth who is ever prepared on a Friday night when meeting friends for a “quick drink” before pursuing artistic adventures. We wanted to see where young minds cultivated work that was thought provoking and socially uncomfortable to insight change.
We were hungry to find the cool kids and in that urgency we scurried from one place to the other only to see shutter slowly lowered in front of our eyes and open signs get flip to closed as we pressed our desperate faces against the windows. I began to feel like I was getting locked out of my dream of seeing the master piece that would not only change my world but would also change yours. It turns out young artist sleep early these days and we were left to walk the streets deflated and slightly forlorn.
We found what felt like the last light in the street. A studio with bright yellow walls and three people decadently drinking tea and eating cake. We sheepishly asked permission to snoop around and our request was graciously accepted.
There are places that stay open that little moment longer than the rest not because they are trying to attract more people but purely because they forgot to close the door. There are places that greet you with a smile and show you the art that you want to see just not in the package you thought you would find it in. This was one of those places.
The studio we walked into was the home and creative workshop of Blaise Patrix. He was not your young renegade artist but he was amazing just the same and stretched our minds anyway. He was not just a painter; he was someone who wanted to give back to the world and to make art a form of life and life a form of art. He didn’t possess the anger and fire of the youths but he had their passion and soul as he tried to find the path of least resistance through his art.
He was a master of portraits.
He had 100s of them collected from years of honing his craft. A craft he first exhibited in the 1970s. These portraits were stacked some gently and some carelessly in piles all the way through his major workspace. He knew the subject of every one and as he told us the stories his body language would change. You could see the piece that in sighted anger, pity or pride and as he let us into their worlds he also let us into his. He explained the story of the people still living for him in those mesh-covered frames. He introduced us to that young man, a 23-year-old circus nomad who was the best of the best until he was injured, he told us about the old Russian lady, he also told us about… well he told us about all the people that were left behind in his memories stacked in different places in his studio. These were the faces not sold for money; these were the people he collected. He inherited their stories, and their faces, some stacked gracefully and some stacked carelessly all within the walls of his beautiful atelier.
One of the paintings touched him the most, instead of being packed in one crevasse or another it sat tall in the middle of the room commanding a presence that was greater than all his other work combined. The portrait was of an aging man, not young, not old but further down the journey. He was bold with piercing blue eyes that were strong, but sad. His body took up the whole canvas like it was a statement of his strength that commanded respect. The story behind the man was weaved with brush strokes through the picture. He was a chef/ lifesaver and odd combination but one that he made work. For the majority of the time he was doing the cutting, the chopping, the cleaning and the scrubbing and he continued his everyday duties only disengaging when he heard the ringing of the bell which indicated that someone was in trouble. Like superman he would disrobe and head out to sea to perform the rescue.
Now times had changed and due to the immigration crisis the bell rang constantly piecing eardrums as a way of relaying the pain that was washing to shore. The lifesaver part of his title had been dropped by the powers that be and as the bell consistently rang he had to continue the cutting, the chopping, the cleaning and the scrubbing.
Only a thief can recognize the footprints of another thief on the surface of a rock
The painting was intimate, all of his paintings were. He explained that he paints his subjects from the ground, sitting at their feet and looking upwards to their faces. His theory is that when you paint someone at eye height the voice your brush tells is that of privilege not of service. From that vantage point you are unable to be humble enough to see the person for who they really are. He relayed his theories on this further saying “Only a thief can recognize the footprints of another thief on the surface of a rock”. What he meant was that like-minded souls can see each other clearly and the familiarity between him and the person he was painting was something he wanted to express to his audience through his creations.
These paintings were a collaboration between him and the people in the portraits, every movement and emotion was recorded, so if their phone rang and the person dived to receive it so did his painting. I think it was this element that made them feel alive. These motions made his portraits messy but strong with each one possessing a different distribution of paint that appeared to fit the subject. There was only a vague artistic familiarity between every piece of work but there was more of the subject contained in the canvas than himself. His pictures, some violent, some weak, were all displayed in front of us. These were the ones left behind by the buyers who didn’t understand the privilege that they were given by the artist’s hands. These were his friends and his subjects and these were the ones he would recognize forever.