Wednesday, 1 October 2014

Art for Collioure's sake

A child explores George Ayat's Collioure acrylics
A trip to Collioure just wouldn’t be the real thing without a substantial dose of art: it’s as integral a part of the village as are the anchovies that once provided its main source of income and employment.

Surf the internet and you’ll find various estimates for how many galleries line the charming streets – anything from 20 to 40 – this year, we even staying on Rue de la Fraternité, which boasts more galleries than any other single thoroughfare.

But even numbering the galleries accurately does not paint the full picture: many more artists display and sell their work from pitches along the promenade at Boromar or around the walls of the chateau, where visitors wind their way between the Faubourg and the Mouré, past the clear, turquoise waters.

Le filet du lamparo à Collioure by Willy Mucha
After two years of really excellent special summer exhibitions, the village’s Musée d’Art Moderne this year staged a much smaller temporary exhibit, together with offering the opportunity to view its standing collection.

Various series of geometric, abstract works by Jaume Rocamora, including Suite Collioure (2013-14) and Intervalles imbriqués (1996) are certainly interesting.

And the same can be said of George Ayats’s series of bold acrylic on canvas abstracts that are collectively titled Collioure, and which use a palette that is reminiscent of those used by Survage and Pignon in their Collioure paintings that formed the basis of those previous exhibitions.

But the standing collection is fascinating, as it concentrates completely on how a number of artists have chosen to paint this artistically iconic village since the early part of the 20th century.

Fort Mirador by Lucien Coutard
Sadly, there is nothing by that man, Matisse, but he is always in the back of your mind as you wander around the cool, white rooms.

Jean Peské’s pastel, Côte rocheuse (undated), has lovely textures and colours, while Augustin Hanicotte’s Les voiles blanches (1930) is another chance to see some fine pastel work.

Willy Mucha’s Le filet du lamparo à Collioure (oil on canvas, 1942-44) abstracts the subject in a way that seems to suggest the chaos and carnage of war amid the fishing boats.

Paysage de Collioure, by Henri Marre
Henri de Maistre’s Collioure, vue general (1941) is a very nice rendering in oil of the view from Port d’Avall, while Lucien Coutard’s 1945 gouache and watercolour on paper of Fort Mirador is a super piece of work.

The exhibits – at least given our direction of travel – concluded with Barques à Collioure (graphite on paper, 1931) and Vue de Collioure (watercolour on wood, 1929) by Survage, both of which are perfectly sound, but neither of which have the power or the inventive spark of the paintings we saw in the solo exhibition of his Collioure works in 2012.

But before that came Henri Marre’s Paysage de Collioure, a beautiful oil on canvas from 1915, painted a full decade after Matisse’s View of Collioure from the iconic year of 1905, taking the same view and treating it, if fluidly, still rather more conventionally.

View of Collioure, by Matisse
Indeed, this is, in many ways, what all these artists are measured against – the artistic explosion that was to be dubbed ‘Fauvism’.

And while most settle for considerably more conventional approaches than Matisse, Derain and Dufy, it’s perhaps indicative of the village’s incredible beauty and charm – and yes, its very special light – that these stand as a genuinely interesting and worthwhile collection of works by ‘lesser’ painters.

In the holiday season, a walk around the village – whose walls are peppered with nearly two dozen reproductions of the Collioure works of Matisse and Derain – provides quick confirmation of the fact that seeking a language to convey the immediate area has not ceased, and that not all paintings or painters are equal.

Vue de Collioure, by Survage
Some of the efforts also convey a lesson: simply applying vivid colours to a canvas will not make you into the next Matisse. Or put it another way: no, your five year old could not do this.

Among the most successful artists at conveying the village are Barry Blend (of whom much more here) and Jean-Philip Roch, who, entirely coincidentally, has a gallery slap bang next to Barry’s on the Rue de la Fraternité.

It’s a joyful style, which includes some very interesting artistic decisions – not least leaving out some trees in order to properly convey the terraces where the grapes grow in some pictures.

That self-defined Catalan, Picasso, wanted to live in the village in the 1950s, but with no house big enough for that megastar of modern art, the local council demurred at letting him have part of the chateau. A little short-sighted, perhaps?

Collioure view by Jean-Philip Roch
And even today, while this year’s bright, new headquarters for the Fauvism Trail is a huge improvement on its predecessor, one senses they could still make more of the connection.

For instance, if a fine art gallery in London can sell licensed lithographs of works by Matisse, then why not here, of all places?

But perhaps the rather low-key commercialism is part of the charm.

“No sky is bluer than Collioure’s,” stated Matisse.

And whether Collioure can – or would want to – exploit the connection more or not, it remains the case that this almost impossibly beautiful village draws those who want to try to capture its glories.

It’s difficult to imagine that ending any time soon. After all, Collioure without art would be like fish without chips. Or a pissaladière without anchovies.

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