Sunday, January 30, 2011

Mmmnnnn...Louisiana gumbo!

The New Orleans writer and poet Sheryl St.Germain is spending her sabbatical in my winter cottage. The other night we were all treated to a traditional gumbo, complete with shrimp, chicken, spicy sausage, and lobster claws. Wow- was it delicious! Sheryl gave me two of her books- The Making of an Unruly Woman and Let It Be a Dark Roux. More rich and spicy nourishment.

I spent six years in New Orleans as a kid, but I was too young to appreciate the city and its cuisine. My 40th (!) class reunion is coming up in April this year. Time for a return visit to the Crescent City, and some more gumbo...

Five years

The fifth anniversary of my move to France is coming up. I have just been attending to the flowers in my barn studio. A little olive tree, a bonsai, baskets of daffodils and an amaryllis bask in the late afternoon winter sun. Do I miss New York? Not at all. I am becoming quite proficient at turning lemons into lemonade. I guess that's one good thing about growing up. For those of you who never saw this, here is my rant to The New York Times. It was published in full, save for the best line: "Tonight the developers celebrated their erection with a champagne popping party."


An Artist's Lament for Air and Light

Published: February 27, 2005

To the Editor:

Twelve years ago, I gave up my sunny rent-stabilized apartment on East 88th Street, across the street from the Guggenheim Museum, to buy a one-bedroom co-op on 96th Street with a small pile of hard-earned shekels. It seemed like a wise thing to do at the time.


The new apartment, unique in the building, was the back half of a much larger subdivided one, consisting of the small maid's room and bathroom, the kitchen and the dining room. Unlike the other apartments, with views that faced north or south, all my windows looked east over the roofs of a small row of shops and onto trees on Madison Avenue.

With the help of an Abstract Expressionist/carpenter friend from Maine, I set about breaking down old closets and walls and transforming my space into a small galley kitchen, a sleeping loft, plenty of storage space, a comfortable living area and a painting studio.

Blissfully happy in my new home, I have done some of my best work here. My last picture book, "A Spree in Paree," was named one of the 10 best children's books of 2004 by Time magazine.

Last summer, the small row of stores in front of my windows was torn down.

Gone were the shiny pyramids of green, yellow and red peppers in front of the greengrocer; the bright bouquets of peonies and lilies in the flower shop; the piles of peeled pink shrimp in the Japanese sushi shop; the sparkling diamante earrings in the watchmaker's window; the glittery shawls and faux furs in the Chinese dress shop; and the noisy schoolkids clamoring for bagels in the corner bakery at midday.

I sat in my bright apartment gazing out over the open space at the trees, leaves trembling in the autumn wind.

Just before Christmas, the trees on Madison Avenue were hacked up and heaved into Dumpsters. As suddenly as the shops disappeared, a hideous concrete frame soared into the sky, a few feet from my windows. In a matter of weeks, I had lost not only the trees and my view, but all my natural light.

I see my reflection in the glass of my windows. Behind the glass is a dark square, like a school blackboard. "Can't you paint a cheery picture on it," my aunt suggests over the telephone from her beachfront home in South Carolina.

Some of my neighbors in the lobby rubbed their hands in glee, mentally calculating how much their own apartments will be enhanced by this fancy new interloper.

My lovely sunny studio has become a dungeon, my living room a bunker, unfit for human habitation let alone an artist's atelier. My board is unsympathetic. They shrug, amiably: how were they to know that our air rights had expired in 1948?

Prospective buyers stream in and out of my apartment, some without stopping or uttering a word.

So here I sit, like J. R. R. Tolkien's Gollum in his dank cavern, alternating between dark depression and bristling resentment, until I finally give up, pack up my brushes and follow the little storekeepers to the outer boroughs.

I would like to think that this Manhattan neighborhood will miss its children's book illustrator along with the Korean greengrocer, the Chinese dress shop ladies, the Japanese sushi chef, the Jewish watchmaker, the Afro-American flower seller and the yuppie bagel baker. But the people sitting in the bright new cookie cutter stores across the street, contentedly munching Dunkin' Donuts and sipping Starbucks coffee, probably won't even notice we've gone.

Catherine Stock


Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Soirée de dessin- winter dinner

Not only has our Monday night drawing group survived into its third year, it's actually growing. Here are the regulars, though flu prevented Nicole and Christiane from joining our meal of foie gras, wild boar paté, jambalaya ( a New Orleans style paella), salad and cheeses, and lemon and rubarb tarts. Drawing makes you hungry after all.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Downed by the flu

Struck down by the flu for two weeks, I have been confined to my bed by my two concerned male friends who have taken on the cooking and cleaning. Well, scratch the latter.

This morning I ventured downstairs to confront the kitchen...

The painting is a study of another friend, Sylvain,
who posed last Monday. The painting is actually superimposed on another piece that I pulled out of the rubbish.

Saturday, January 01, 2011

New Year thoughts

"We must be willing to get rid of the life we've planned, so as to have the life that is waiting for us. The old skin has to be shed before the new one can come." (Joseph Campbell)

Not quite sure what that means, but it sounds really good. I am interpreting it to mean- Stop painting to make money (eg doing stuff that you know will sell) and just see what happens when you have a pencil and paints at hand, good music playing, and perhaps a glass of wine. Sounds like a good start to the New Year.