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 pictures of easels covered with colours letting the silhouette of the missing works show through. These colours and shapes are imprints left by the artists of “St Paul House”.
They are for me, like a reminiscence of the research work I have carried out in this recent years, “The Breath of Time”.
The images have been painted as my eyesight slowly deteriorated without me noticing.
After 2 eye operations, I had regained the vision of colours and contrasts. I was curious to know which subject would arise before my rejuvenated eyes. Then I discovered this whilwind of colours…
They each are a work by default in which I wanted to dive just to distinguish the excess of colours on them.
These achievements are no longer their works but have become overtime a collective work through the regular use of these easels.
These touches of colours that go out of the limits randomly arranged by successive brushstrokes are also symbols of the tormented lives of these women marginalized from our community.
Yet, we discover in what is initially appears to be chaos, an organization composed of windows open to their missing creations. By the absence of these works these stencils question our curiosity.
The white blouses used as ramparts are themselves stained by the contact between the work and the body.
How many touches of colours had to be placed on the paper and involuntarily slipped on the wooden panels to achieve this result?
These excesses are also prof that artists sometimes need to get out of the frame so as not to set limits to their imagination.
Thank you to the women who left traces of their creations on these wooden panels.
I wanted to make their portrait in front of the easels. Many of them agreed to face my lens.
The silhouettes are standing out in front of the easels on which these women were able to express their profound feelings.
The expressive faces of the patients, sometimes smiling, sometimes sad, are through my eyes, the reflexion of an intinerary of life and their relationships to our society, often not very compassionate.
The gaze of these women, attentive, fleeting, penatrating or enigmatic, Sometimes reflects their tormented Souls.
Aren’t tourments the essence of a mind which wonders ?
Finaly I think they look like me.
I wanted to immortalize the “act of painting” of the patients in this workshop which symbolizes, for them, an escape from their daily life in a psychiatric clinic.
Here is a mysterious approach coming from the depths of time.
This gesture goes beyond that of extending the colour on a surface.
It animates the hands, eyes, body and soul of painters.
What alchemy does the mind use to transmit feelings and emotions to the tip of the brush ?
Didn’t these women, like Vincent Van Gogh a century earlier, vanish their anguish, their fears or their pulsions with this gentle gesture of stroking the paper with the brush full of colours ?
Like other painters, Vincent has probably felt the joy of seeing the fruits of his imagination mature on the canvas.
They probably must receive the reward of the pride of knowing that they exist nevertheless.
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