Monday, 19 August 2013

History and a load more art

Royal Chateau, Collioure
In a change of mood that could almost be seen as a case of morning after the night before, Saturday morning brought a spell of sustained and heavy rain to follow the fireworks and festivities.

Having taken the opportunity for a lie in, as the rain petered out, we decided then to amble around to Boramar for … well, pretty much anything that took our fancy.

By the time we sat down at one of the cafés overlooking the village’s central beach, the weather had not simply improved – it had turned into a glorious day.

A refreshing Coke later, we took the opportunity to make our way up to the chateau.

Vauban's work at Villefranche-de-Conflent
Part palace, part fort, the latter was begun in the first years of the 13th century by the Knights Templar and integrated into the royal castle in 1345.

Added to and changed over the following centuries, after the French finally annexed Roussillon in 1659, Vauban – his age’s number one artist when it came to military engineering – took it in hand.

Marshall of France to Louis XIV, he added substantially to its structure as well as upgrading Fort Saint-Elme, which watches over Collioure and Port Vendre from a nearby hill, while Fort Miradou, which stands at the back of the village’s Mouré quarter, also bears his hallmarks.

As I’ve said before, this part of the world is peppered with fortifications – a sign of its importance over centuries of tiffs between France and Spain as they fought to gain control of Catalan country.

You can pick out Vauban’s work quite easily: the chateau had thick walls added that also make it into a star fort – a form that made it harder for canon fire to do serious damage, while also allowing defenders to lay down overlapping fields of fire.

View across Port d'Avall
And then there are the classic Vauban sentry boxes, which I swear I’d recognise anywhere, having seen them not only in Collioure, but at Villefranche-de-Conflent too.

There, Vauban not only fortified the tiny town itself, but also built Fort Libéria on the hill above it to defend this crucial area in the Pyrénées, with the rivers Têt and Cady nearby and the plain not far away.

Anyway, back to Collioure.

We’ve been around the chateau before – and even attended a concert there – but it’s well worth a ramble around in it’s own right, plus there is usually an exhibition being staged. Or in this case, two exhibitions. So all that for €4 – you simply cannot go wrong.

One was made up of photographs of Dalí, who was born not far away, over the border, at Figueres.

Sculpture, Félix Valdelièvre
Now I don’t mind a spot of Surrealism, and some of his earlier work (The Persistence of Memory, Dream Caused by the Flight of a Bee Around a Pomegranate a Second Before Awakening etc) I actively like, while it also makes me wonder how much of an influence he was on the likes of Chris Foss and other sci-fi and fantasy artists.

This exhibition provides no revelations, but it does remind you – should it be needed – that Dalí’s main work was himself, and that his was an ego that could make Picasso seem like Uriah Heap.

And this without mentioning that Dalí’s politics were, to put it mildly, highly dubious, given his admiration for Franco.

‘Stark staring bonkers,” we kept muttering. But very, very clever too.

There was one actual Dalí work there – a piece that, frankly, looked like a Rorschach test, with title and signature daubed in the corner.

We all, to a greater or lesser degree do what Dalí did: we make decisions about how to present ourselves to the world. If we choose, for instance, to follow fashion, we are making one statement. But if we choose not to follow fashion, then it’s every bit as much a statement; a deliberate attempt to convey something; to say something to the world about who we are.

Dalí took that and commoditised it – more than any other artist, his own face is iconic.

If the ability to paint the wildest imaginings influenced some artists, how much did the artist as a work of art influence others, such as Tracey Emin, who has subsequently commoditised herself and others in her own career?

Sculpture, Félix Valdelièvre
After musing over the photos, we made our way further up through the chateau, past the bakery – a tiny little room with a double ‘oven’ that is, in effect, outside the main part of the building – and to the highest points of the chateau.

From there can be enjoyed magnificent vistas. And if you want a single reason for our continuing love affair with Collioure (and there are many) look at the sea at Port d’Avall.

Photographed on an iPhone and with no adjustments to the colour, that really is what it’s like.

Having wandered around Vauban’s walls, we made our way down to the chapel, to see the other exhibition.

This was a very different affair.

Félix Valdelièvre is a sculptor from the south of France, whose first exhibition was in 1999.

The works on show here were from his Volumes selection. And the more you look at them, the more intriguing they become.

Not only are the shapes themselves interesting – and many of them appear to defy gravity – but the manner in which he achieves and uses different textures is too.

Anchovies, Au Casot style
They seem to be primarily created from pieces of stone that are then sliced and polished or roughed up, to provide some of the contrasts, with contrasting stones and metals used sparingly to offer further contrasts.

In art speak, his website explains that he “puts the asymmetry in symmetry, the elevation in the straights, while recognising a taste for contradiction”.

Well, I found myself ‘seeing’ insect cocoons, torpedoes, sci-fi creations and strange armour. As I said, very interesting.

These were firmly non-figurative, but Valdelièvre’s work also includes more figurative pieces.

You can find out more here.

Suffice it to say that art can be found in many things. And later, when were headed to my beloved Au Casot for our first evening meal out of the holiday – and our first return visit to this restaurant – there was art on a plate too.

Squid, delightfully presented – superbly cooked
After enjoying an exquisite starter of two varieties of anchovy, with hard-boiled egg, roasted red peppers and black olives (pretty much a Collioure salad), it was on to baby squid with a persillade dressing.

Now go on – tell me that doesn’t look like art? It tasted like it too, because the chef at Au Casot keeps food simple, but knows how to top-quality, regional ingredients to absolute perfection.

Oh – and the coffee ice cream and apricot sorbet (my own special combo) that I had to finish was the highest quality too.

There’s no end to the art that’s available to enjoy here in Collioure.

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