Les Chevalets de Saint Paul – St Paul’s easels
The painters’ workshop
I had the opportuniy to discover the Art Therapy Valetudo workshop in St Paul de Mausole, a Psychatric clinic in St Rémy de Provence where I have been struck by the vision of the easels used by the patients.
This workshop represents one of the diverse therapeutic tools which enables these women to get other means of prevention, aid and alternative to hospitalization.
Today, the Clinique of Saint Rémy de Provence welcome more than one hundred patients. Doctor Jean Marc Boulon, in charge of the medical management of Saint Paul Health Center, received me there. He presented me the workshop which takes up the wings of the small flowered cloister. Here, these women can reveal their personality through painting but also through sculpting.
St Paul Clinic welcomed in the 19th century an unknown resident at the time, but famous and honored today, whose name is Vincent Van Gogh.
After he had mutilated his ear, the painter had been first treated in Arles, then, according to his request, had been moved to St Remy de Provence, to the men pavilion, during spring 1889.
He left it in May 1890, and joined “Auvers sur Oise ” where he died 2 months later.
This stay at Saint Paul de Mausole was a prolific phase for the artist. He painted major works there, like “Iris”, “The nap”, “Wheatfields with Cypress”… including visionary paintings which were the sign of the artistic upheavals of the 20th century like : “Self portrait”, “The starry night “.
It was with great emotion that I entered this place of peace, care and creation. I discovered these wooden easels, where the color reveals the absence of the works that were born of the paintbrushes of the patients initially, artists, also later. These rectangles surrounded by paint appeared to me like ghostly images of the missing paintings. They were an echo of the works of Vincent, created in this place, now dispersed in the world’s greatest museums.
Walking through the gardens and stone slabs that Van Gogh paced up and down, I was seized by dizziness, thinking of the artist, misunderstood and rejected by his contemporaries and so adulated today. The current enthusiasm for his paintings making the fate of the cursed artist even more cruel.
I wanted to make images of the easels covered in colors but showing the silhouette of the disappeared works. These colors and forms are prints that the artists of the Maison Saint Paul studio have left behind.
They are for me a reminiscence of the vague images of my research work of recent years “The Breath of Time”. These images had been “painted” while my eyes slowly deteriorated without my realizing it. After two operations in the eyes, I had regained the vision of colors and contrasts. I was curious to know what was going to happen before my rejuvenated eyes. And here I discovered this whirlwind of colors.
They are each a work by default in which I wanted to dive to see more than the surplus colors.
These achievements are no longer their works but have become, over time, through the regular use of easels, a collective work carried out without their knowledge.
These touches of color that emerge from the boundaries and arranged randomly by successive brushstrokes are also symbols of the tormented lives of these women marginalized in our community.
We discover, however, in what initially appears a chaos, an organization composed of windows open towards their disappeared creations. By the absence of these works, these stencils question our curiosity.
The white blouses, used as a rampart, are themselves stained by the contact between the work and the body.
How many colored keys have been deposited on the paper and have unintentionally slipped on the wooden panels to achieve this result?
These overflows are also proof that artists sometimes need to get out of the frame so as not to set limits to their imagination.
Thanks to those women who have left these traces of their creations on these wood panels.
I wished to fix their portrait in front of their easels. Many of them have been willing to face my goal.
The silhouettes are cut out in front of the easels on which, in an intimate way, these women were able to express their feelings.
The faces of the patient, expressive, sometimes smiling, sometimes sad, are in my eyes a reflection of their itinerary of life and their relationship to our society, which is often not very obliging towards them.
The look of these women, attentive, fleeting, penetrating or enigmatic is the image of their souls sometimes tormented.
But is torment not the daily life of the mind that questions itself?
Finally, I think they look like me.
I wanted to fix the act of painting patients in this workshop which must be, for them, an escape from the daily life of a psychiatric clinic.
Here is a mysterious approach coming from the bottom of the ages. This gesture than that of extending the color on a surface. It animates the hands, the eyes, the body and the soul of the painters.
What alchemy does the mind put into effect to convey feelings and emotions up to the point of the brush?
Do not these women, as Vincent Van Gogh a century before, exaggerate their anxiety, their fears or their impulses with this sweet gesture of caressing the paper with color?
Like other painters, Vincent also had to feel the intoxication and joy of seeing the fruits of his imagination on the canvas ripen.
They must undoubtedly receive the reward of the pride of knowing that they nevertheless exist. For my part, I receive as an offering the result of their creations.
The care team of the Saint Paul clinic in Saint Remy de Provence
I thank all the patients who let me capture their image, as well as Dr. Jean Marc Boulon director of the institution.
I also thank the members of the association Valetudo, Anik Boticchio, art therapist, who runs the workshop, and all the nursing staff of the Saint Paul clinic.
© Raymond Martinez