Working Artists On Display

painter marcos marin
Brazilian painter Marcos Marin, as seen
last week at the Foire de Paris.

The 'Grand Marché d'Art Contemporain'

Paris:- Wednesday, 6. May 1998:- Something came over me last week, while talking to Marcos Marin, the Brazilian painter I met at the Foire de Paris.

He is in the 'art business' in his native town of Sao Paulo and, according to a postcard he gave me, has been exhibiting some of his works in a Paris gallery. Marcos also gave me an invitation to the 'Grand Marché d'Art Contemporain' which starts at the Bastille today.

I have passed up visits to this travelling commercial exhibition in past years. Some long time ago I went to a competing exhibition in two consecutive years, which largely filled the Grand Palais I think, and did not come away with a big impression about 'contemporary' art.

As you may imagine, when walking around certain areas of Paris, it is possible to pass a lot of gallery windows - and if you look in them, you will see all forms of every kind of art 'for sale.' I am usually in a hurry so I don't have much of a big impression about this either.

I don't know exactly why I've been indifferent for so long. Paris is 'made' for artists. The very notion of Paris is artistic. For a long time, many of the most famous artists in the world were all gathered together in Paris. As well as successful, famous and rich artists, there were the 'poor, starving artists' too; and these were very romantic if you didn't bother to read any biographies about them.

Basically, there are two kinds of artists: the dead and the living. A great deal of big-time money swirls around some of the dead ones. This 'trade' is a fairly major industry worldwide; involving dealers, agents, experts, auction houses, galleries, museums, critics, learned books and catalogues, and every kind of hustler, and buyers and sellers of course - and a great time is had by all - except maybe for the dead artist.

Artists who are living also fall into two categories: the known and the unknown. About the 'unknown' artists, little is known. Except for some of them switching to the other category - the 'known' - the unknowns may as well not exist and you may never hear of them.

Today's 'Grand Art Market,' at the south side of the place de la Bastille, and running down both sides of the marina known as the Arsenal, is featuring 450 artists, all alive, and most of them on the scene.

Last year in November, the same show had the same number of artists, and the 40,000 visitors who passed through it bought 2,000 works. The was the market part.

The other, perhaps most important part, is the possibility to meet the artists themselves - which is not always possible in a gallery, where they may only be present for the 'vernissage' - the wine-and-cheese party. With today's opening of this particular edition of the 'market,' the wine-and-cheese starts about 17:00.

From the Bastille, the art market looks like tent city, without camels. I exchange the invitation I got from Marcos Marin for an entry; and immediately ask the security guy if I haven't seen him before. We all go to a lot of salons and exhibitions, so it is possible even if he doesn't remember. Neither do I, exactly; it's just a feeling.

I am hoping that I'll run into Marcos, or maybe his Paris gallery, but neither are listed as exhibitors. This leaves me facing 450 strangers.

Luckily it is early and there are not too many art fans, so it is fairly easy to move past the display booths. What is not easy is giving each one a fast scan, to try and catch something so startling it can't be passed.

General impression: too much interesting stuff to see, but nicely diverse; a good variety of all types of work. Butlalmalattie - mirandol like in a supermarket, all is designed to 'catch the eye' so what does catch it is nearly pure chance - like stopping for a second to do a head-swivel.

Isabel is in front and Lalmalattie the painter is behind.

This catches Isabel Mirandol, who is the companion and agent for Pierre Lamalattie. Actually it is the paintings which catch me up. Lamalattie is using old-fashioned transparent paints, so there is a depth to them. Many also have edgeless blank spaces, sort of in the foreground, as if there is something blocking the view - as in real life - of the figures behind.

The 'why' of this doesn't matter too much, but I think it does add to the reason to do more than glance at the paintings. The undefined bits don't bother me; they force me to look 'beyond' them.

The painting behind Isabel Mirandol in the photo, may not have a title. Lamalattie thinks titles are too literary. Isabel and I chat about the art business - it's going good for Lamalattie - and joke about keeping the agent's commission 'in the family.' Isabel does all the business part. She wants me to meet Lamalattie but I have 449 other artists to check out. I do say I will try to come back at the time she expects him to be there.

Once started, I often ask directions to the next 'station' and when I do this Isabel takes me a few booths further back, to introduce me to Vincent Verdilly. Earlier I had passed his stand; his works are low-key - and there is a lot of visual competition here.

Now I am focused here, I see a lot of beaches. On some of them there are items which cast real shadows. Verdilly, who is 44 and is dressedpainter verdilly about the same as I am, lives near Le Mans, which gives him a choice of beaches to be near.

Beaches to the left, beaches to the right, Vincent Verdilly in 'high' relief in front.

Verdilly calls his technique 'haut relief' on account of the small three-dimensional figures or objects that are part of the paintings. At first the three-dimensions not apparent but when you become aware of it, the beaches take on life.

He has a card, with what he says is a poor photo of one of his paintings - 'Le Course du Temps' - and on the card the technique is called 'technique mixte.' He is right about the photo. He may rightly say the same of the one here if he ever sees it. I hate the camera's flash; when using it, it is always a toss-up to get a decent image.

He seems fairly satisfied with the business part of being an artist. He has a home with kids who want to play faster video games and are nagging him to get a better computer. We are all normal here, except some of us do art for a living.

After a good handshake, I continue on to the other 448 stands. Around the corner, Fenjan has a bigger booth and on its walls are big paintings. Except for the artist, nobody is in the booth, and it is possible to get long looks and then close ones.

Fenjan's paintings are richly deep, layered, with much over-painting which suggests a long period of gestation for each one. The works are mysterious too and some seem slightly oriental, as in middle-eastern.

Fenjan can talk - to me; I don't know how well he does with civilians. Fenjan is a bit younger than me, very tidy, and I ask him if he has a painting smock. He tells me Picasso had one pair of old pants he needed to have on to paint and he had a devil of a time making them last as long as he did.

When it comes to Fenjan's origins, he says they were at the Fine Arts Academy in Baghdad. He looks Armenian, but he says his family was from somewhere between Persia and Afghanistan, or somewhere north of the two. Way out there someplace. It's all in the past and Fenjan came to Paris in 1973.

He has had 'periods' and one was a realist and academic. For five years he was a neo-surrealist and from there he went back to engraving and lithos; for which he got a Beaux-Arts diploma. Since 1987, he has been painting.

While doing this, a fair amount of life has gone under Fenjan's bridge and from what he says he lived the carefree life of an artist in Paris. Which means he ate and drank, talked and danced; he worked of course, but he played too. I have tried that stuff and it is good baggage to have.

Like me, Fenjan is now a family man and when I ask if he does laundry, he smiles and says they have a daylady to come in. I haven't got one of these yet, so I still do the laundry.

He has a big breakfast, like a good logger, and starts work each day about 9:15. He has a beer about ten and then works to one, or two, when he has lunch. Then he has a nap and is ready for the kids when they get home. He watches TV in the evenings and thinks as much of it as I do, except I quit watching it.

Fenjan may take a couple of weeks on a painting, but more likely, he is working on a half-dozen at once. This is not steady - he might work several days on one until his ideas play out. Then he looks at them all, and does some work on whichever one is handy in his head. I think it is quite a luxury to work like this, and not be involved with all the deadlines.

As an ex-surrealist he has high praise for Man Ray. He never met him, but he knew others from the old days. Fenjan is very intense, talks fast and not loudly and I let him place himself so he can see any interesting browsers who maypainter fenjan be wandering by. We are very much on the same wavelength about the work and the life, and it seems as if Fenjan hasn't been talking about it much to anyone lately.

I asked Fenjan to reach out, so I could 'solarize' him, but I couldn't.

According to his press handout he has been having four or five exhibitions a year, going back to the '70's. We talk more about the art life than art and it is interesting how close we are. If you are interested, he has 50 paintings on show at the Bang & Olufsen shop at 222. boulevard Saint-Germain.

I still have 447 artists to visit so I get on my way - but first take a look to see if Lamalattie is in his stand after all this time, but he is not.

There is quite a number of booths to go through before I get a glimpse of the water in the Arsenal basin. Then I see that the stalls go down both sides of the marina; with the right-hand side going out of sight. Over there, there are the booths lined up, facing the fence overlooking the boats and the water. I'm afraid there may not be an exit at the end, so I don't go far.

Where the main part is, there are a few sandwich kiosks and open grills, and places where you can get drinks, and toilets. As this is the first day, the 'vernissage' has started, so it is free drink and peanuts for all.

For me it is late and a long way home. I may have to take the laundry out of the machine when I get there.

This whole art market conception seems to be the work of Eric Fantou and Cyril Gaillot, with an office just around the corner in the Village Saint-Paul. The next dates for it are at the end of May in Berlin, then in Bejing in August. After that, they will have it at La Défense, then Lille, and here at the Bastille again at the end of October.

I wasn't curious enough to ask anybody what it costs for a stand at the art market. However, the organizer's house magazine has the Bejing rates - and they are 15,000 francs. This seems reasonable as it includes the flight and the hotel plus some knickknacks.

Outside, evening gloom is settling over Bastille and the cars are swirling around. The white tents of the art market look as if some traders pitched camp here. It's in Paris, but parking near it seems doubtful at best. I dive into the métro and take the long ride.

Grand Marché d'Art Contemporain

The art market moves to Berlin from 27. May to 1. June; goes to Bejing from 19. August to 23. August; then comes back to La Défense from 30. September to 4. October, hits Lille from 8. to 11. October and rounds off the year in Paris at the end of October at Bastille.

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