Les Chevalets de Saint Paul
The painters’ workshop
I had the opportunity to discover the workshop of Art Therapy Valetudo of the psychiatric clinic Saint Paul de Mausole in Saint Remy de Provence and I was moved by the vision of the easels used by the patients.
This workshop is one of the therapeutic tools that gives patients additional means of prevention, assistance and alternative to hospitalization.
Today, the clinic of Saint Remy de Provence welcome more than one hundred patients. I was welcomed by Dr. Jean-Marc Boulon who is the medical director of the Maison de Santé Saint Paul. He introduced me to the studio which occupies one of the wings of the little flowery cloister. Patients express their personality through painting but also sculpture.
In the 19th century, the Saint Paul clinic welcomed a pensioner who was unknown at the time but recognized and glorified today, Vincent van Gogh.
The painter, after mutilating his ear, was first treated at Arles, and at his request he was transferred to Saint Rémy, at the men’s pavilion, in the spring of 1889. He left it in May 1890 to join Auvers sur Oise where he died two months later.
This stay at Saint Paul de Mausole was, for Vincent van Gogh, a prolific period. He painted major works: Iris, The siesta, The field of wheat with the cypresses … including visionary pictures of the artistic upheavals of the century to come: 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 had surveyed, I felt a vertigo thinking of the artist, misunderstood and rejected by his contemporaries and today so adulated. The current enthusiasm for his paintings makes even more cruel the fate of the accursed artist.
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