I finished my first artist residency in France! I wanted to share a recap of my experience for anyone who's interested or considering a residency for themselves.
Where I Went
If you're newer to the more institutional side of the art world, you might be wondering what an art residency even is. In short, an art residency is a time for artists to develop their practice and create art while they temporarily live in a different city, state, or country. Residencies can be creative in nature - meaning artists work on their art, and engage with other artists and the local community - or they can be more academic in nature. Academic residencies are often run by museums, colleges, or art institutions and typically have a more rigid structure: lectures, teaching requirements for artists, presentations to the local community or other artists at various points in time. Regardless of which way a residency leans, there is usually a presentation or dialogue at the end of the residency where artists discuss what they've worked on. This may take the form of an exhibition or an open studio. Artists present their work to other artists in residence and invited guests. Questions, feedback, discussion, the whole nine yards.
The third type of residency is somewhere in between, and that's what I attended at the Chateau d’Orquevaux Artist and Writers Residency in the Champagne region of France. This residency takes place in the Chateau d’Orquevaux which is a historic chateau that was once owned by the Diderot family and through a series of events landed in the hands of Ziggy Attias. Ziggy is a world renowned artist, designer, filmmaker, and writer. Ziggy partnered with Beulah van Rensburg, a talented oil painter and gallerist of 20 years to establish the residency. Together, they have worked with the local residents of Orquevaux to slowly add guest houses to the residency estate and begin on the journey of creating an artist in residence village. Their ultimate goal is for all residencies to be fully funded. All residents have private rooms throughout the chateau and the town within guest houses. Each resident is also provided with a studio space. Studios are predominantly independent, but may be shared in certain cases in order to make room for as many artists as possible in each round. Residencies can last for 2 weeks or a full month dependent upon available space and artist preference.
I cannot stress enough how breathtaking this environment was. Here are some images of the house and surrounding landscape from the hikes and walks we were able to take.
What I Focused On
Many of you know I'm an interdisciplinary artist. I started my career predominantly with mixed media painting and transitioned into a sculpture and installation dominant practice. While I’ve had time to develop my sculpture practice and small installations, I've really needed dedicated time to work on large scale installation development and proposals. Similar to sculpture, many people (even artists) don't quite understand everything that goes into this process.
Installation development is such a non-linear process. I started with working on a few perspective drawings for other installation proposals. Then I was inspired by a stick my studio mate carried inside. I took the moss covered stick and carried it throughout the chateau taking compositional photographs because I started to have an idea about how we can exist in places we don't belong in and make them our own – but I wasn't quite sure where I was going with the idea yet. Here's some of those photographs:
Now I had an idea I wanted to run with, but needed to test it. So I created a small scale installation within the studio out of sticks, moss, twine and burlap. Then I saw the end goal and needed a few more photos of this small installation in order to have a point of reference as I worked on drawing my final proposal. Here are the photos of that installation.
I then moved on to drawing and painting the final installation proposal. Here's that photo.
Then it was time for me to consider how I’d present my work for open studio. Even amongst artists, our creative processes don't always make sense. My studio mate kept looking at me like I had a third eye while I ran around with these sticks and moss! He was very supportive but didn't quite see where I was going. So I decided to make my open studio and installation to show the process of developing an installation. I chose to display the first few draft installation drawings, the photos of the stick in the chateau, the photos of the small scale installation, the small installation itself, and the final proposal that I worked on. In this installation I included pieces of my process: incense that I burned, coffee and hot chocolate mugs I used, watercolor stained paper towels, wet watercolor paint (because I finished painting the morning of my open studio), and the music I actually listened to while I worked. The song Huephoria by Septober played on a loop because I wanted to put others in the headspace I was in while creating. I chose to have a single point of light over my desk to highlight the final proposal. Here's some images of that open studio installation.
Highlights and Key Takeaways
There are so many highlights of this experience that if I tried to list them all here this blog would turn into a short story. So I'll keep it short and say the primary highlights were by far the people, the environment, and the food. I don't know that I'll ever have the words to describe the impact all of the artists, director, and staff artists really had on me. To be honest, I think I'm still processing those emotions. To be surrounded by such a supportive group of people and not worry about anything other than working on art, experiencing other artists' processes, taking in the environment, and getting all the inspiration I possibly could was likely a life-changing moment for me. And chef Marie!
I just want to give a very specific shout out to chef Marie. Every night chef Marie and Quenton (I will also give a shout out to Quenton) prepared multi-course meals and presented dinner to us in a way you’d see in a five-star restaurant. Each night was soup, salad, two or three main course options, and something devine for dessert like creme brulee or mascarpone vanilla whipped cream to go on fresh baked chocolate chip cookies. Dinner was distinctly important because most of the artists just kind of worked through lunch in a creative daze so we were always starving by the time dinner rolled around. You’d see a gathering outside of the dining room start to form around 6:45 since we knew the dinner bell rang around 7:00. This was the best time to talk with the other artists, have fun, have delicious French wine, and just take in the people. The ‘no phones at the table’ rule really facilitated that. Yes, I'm old school and if you know me you know I don't like cell phones so I was thrilled to hear that rule.
My key takeaways as an artist were significant. I realized I have access to all the tools I need to go where I want to with my art. I need to lean into that and have confidence in it. I was reminded that my art really does have an impact on people. I've had people view my work and cry before or tell me personal stories and that's always meant the most to me. But to have that same response and reaction from other artists who spend their lives studying and creating art was just something I really needed at this point in my life. Most importantly, I realized the wild dreams, projects, and impossible ideas can inform my practice now. I don't need to put them off in the distant future. I can start with the big idea and work backwards instead of only taking small steps forward.