How's your (Art Fair) German?

AerfeldtArtStudio_KölnerListe

Did you learn German at school? Or maybe it was French, Italian, Spanish...?

Now that I live in Europe, I wish I had paid more attention in class and daydreamed less. I learned German in high school for three years (in theory) but really only concentrated for one year. The rest I totally wasted, as you do when you are fourteen and the teacher is not really a proper German teacher and she has been dumped with a year 9 German class to fill out the rest of her timetable.

I now find myself badly needing that German I neglected way back...

I am preparing to go to Cologne, Germany, in late April to present my work at the Kölner-Liste Art Fair but hardly speak a word of the language.

Panic stations. I have been told not to worry, by the artist friend that I am exhibiting with. She has shown in Berlin recently and says that 'everyone' speaks English. I still find it uncomfortable to assume that people in their own country will speak another language, and feel I need to get a grip on at least some German basics.

So with the idea of doing a crash course in German, I load Duolingo onto my iPad.

I get started with class 1.01, as you do, and race through the lessons as my old brain archives get dusted off. I get to say hello and goodbye. Ha, that was easy. So moving ahead, I get to phrases such as Schockolade ist lecker (chocolate is tasty) or das Kinder essen die Nudeln (the children eat noodles). Perhaps these are not going to be hugely helpful at the art fair?

I discover that words like like das Buch (book), der Apfel (apple) die Schule (school) das Brot (bread), die Kartoffel (potato) are still somewhere there in my brain, but how am I going to incorporate them into my art conversation with prospective customers? There are a couple of apples depicted in my paintings, so perhaps I could capitalise on this and point them out to my clients exclaiming 'Der Apfel!' in my best German. Yeah, sure.

 Work in progress for Cologne, 40x40 cm, oil on wood panel.

Work in progress for Cologne, 40x40 cm, oil on wood panel.

Best I start looking online for some art vocabulary in German.

I find a website with pictures of an art studio and everything labelled in German, which is a step in the right direction. But some of the words are killers! How will I ever remember these?

An exhibition is die Austellung. But which syllable do you put emphasise? A stretched canvas is die Leinwand (plural Leinwände). Lights are Scheinwerferlichter.

Better move on to phrases. I am surprised to find something that looks relevant. Maybe I have hit art fair gold...

Sprechen dich diese Gemälde an? (Do these paintings appeal to you?) Hmmm, perhaps not the best conversation starter...

Ich habe den Nachmittag damit verbracht, ein Bild zu malen. (I spent the afternoon painting a picture!) Haha, I wish!!!

Das Gemälde is den Preis, den Sie verlangen, nicht wert. (The painting is not worth the price you are asking!) Just as well there is no way I will ever understand this one, so can smile and be ignorant.

So, where does this leave me. The Duolingo lessons are gradually dropping by the wayside. I am getting email reminders that I have missed my daily goals and am falling behind. Just want I want to hear. How about a bit of encouragement to get me restarted?

So instead I am in my studio painting long hours, preparing my best new work for the fair.

For the first time in a decade I am making some small scale pieces (oil on wood panel), and am feeling surprisingly happy with the process and results. I have realised that working on either a very small or very large scale suits me, and is in harmony with the ideas behind the paintings. It's the mid-size where I run into problems.  'Dishwasher' size is my most dreaded format. I try to make it work, and stretch a 60x80 cm canvas as a test. I draw the image onto it, but it just looks wrong and I scrap it almost immediately. The woman needs to be either way under life size or much larger than life. The only solution is to crop the image to maintain the scale, so we will see...

As for showing in Cologne (minus any significant skills in the German language) I am hoping that my pictures and smiling face will speak the thousand German words that will NOT be coming out of my mouth.

 On the easel, new works for Kölner-Liste

On the easel, new works for Kölner-Liste

YOUR SPECIAL PERSONAL INVITATION TO KÖLNER-LISTE

Kölner-Liste Art Fair will be held from April 28-30 at XPOST Köln, Gladbacher Wall 5, 50670 Cologne, with the opening on Thursday, April 27th, 2017, 6 to 10 pm. I have a small number of invitations, so if you would like to attend the opening or visit on the Friday simply send me a message and your invitation will be emailed to you.

 

Are all your walls taken - no space for any more art?

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Are you, like me, a minimalist at heart, and don't like being crowded in by too much stuff?

Where does all this stuff come from? Maybe you have made a conscious decision to downsize. But it's a moving target.

Marie Kondo and her clutter reducing methods are the tip of a growing iceberg. More like an avalanche. You crave simplicity; wish for an empty inbox, a tiny to-do list, not to mention time to read all those classic books on your bucket list...

But how does this apply to art, because you LOVE art? Art is not clutter.

Unless your walls are crammed bumper to bumper and it all starts feeling a bit like like wallpaper, and new purchases are still unwrapped waiting to find a suitable spot. You have an art overpopulation problem.

Clearly, the solutions are not rocket science. You either recycle ie sell some of it, store it, lend it, send it to your office or holiday house, open your own museum, or do nothing and live with it as it is.

 I would argue that it's not necessary to live with the same artworks for the rest of your life. It is natural for tastes to change and develop, and that perhaps it is time to let a work go to make the place for a new one. It's not admitting failure or a bad decision. We move on, and perhaps it's time to for some of your artworks to find new homes.

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Art  is not meant to end up like wallpaper.

Art is supposed to add life, or drama, joy, tranquility - some deep emotion -  to your living or working spaces. If the feeling is gone and it becomes like wallpaper, it's time to act. Once a year I rehang most of the art in my home, pulling it down starting from scratch. Works placed next to different works or in other rooms create vital new conversations. It all feels fresh and amazing walking into a room with newly hung artworks.

Having to choose

As an artist who makes predominantly larger pieces, I often hear exasperated collectors asking about smaller pieces, because 'there is no room'.  It is true. Once the walls are filled you have to decide. You can't have it all. There is a choice between acquiring one major feature piece for a wall, or going for a salon style hanging of multiple smaller works. There is a place for both.

Newer collectors often mistakenly believe that a small room can't take a larger work. Personally I love the bold, confident choice of a single dramatic artwork in a small room, rather than hedging your bets and displaying multiple smaller pieces. 

The artist's idea matters

Finally, from the artist's point of view, the choice of how big or small to make an artwork is integrally tied to the idea behind the piece. We all know that if Jeff Koons' 'Puppy' were made the size of a real dog instead of a giant, it would read totally differently. In my paintings I have deliberately chosen to depict my female character as a heroic giant, larger than human size. So the paintings end up being big.

As an experiment over the past few weeks, I have been making some very small works. Small for me, that is - forty by forty centimetres; just to see what happens when I model my scale on the likes of Vermeer, Metsu and Maes. I am fascinated by the results. It's such a mind shift.

The big theme running through all of my work is about looking at and empowering the overlooked. In the large scale paintings you are forcibly confronted with a giant woman of mythical proportions. In the new small pieces she is still bigger than her surroundings, as the scale is relative, but it is much more quiet and intimate.

Here is a sneak peek, for your eyes only (almost complete but not quite). If you would like to see more, please visit Instagram and find more progress pics at aerfeldt_art.

 

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Blood, sweat and tears (part two)

 This was first posted in 2014 on my old website. I am reposting it now in 2016 seeing the painting is finally completed and showing in my solo exhibition at Castang Art Project.

In the last post I talked about the planning part of making a painting. Here is the painting part, mostly in images.  Every painting follows its particular course and has its own life, so here is the life of just one painting. Progress is not clear cut – there are steps backwards then forwards and sideways.

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So this is where I have stopped this work for now. It is pretty much finished (just needs to be re-stretched) but there is always the possibility that after putting it aside for a while I will want to make more changes. Sometimes enough is enough and I have to stop myself or works would never get finished. Often further changes will just make the painting different, not necessarily better. Best to move on to a new canvas. Knowing when to let go and move forward is not simple for me.

Old master methods and materials

Over the past few years I have been researching old master methods and materials, not because I want to paint old fashioned pictures but because learning new skills and techniques expands my painting vocabulary. As a result I now refine my own linseed oil (the raw cold ground version) using gin or vodka and a kind of bran, and then thicken it in the summer sun just like Rembrandt and Velasquez. This makes for a much nicer painting medium which makes the paint dry faster and blend better. I have also totally eliminated solvents from my oil painting practice. I now mix my tube paints with the special refined and thickened oil, lightly 'beaten' egg white, and ground chalk (marble dust) from the Champagne region. All of this information can be found in books by Louis Velasquez (no relation) or on Youtube. He has called this old master ‘medium’ Calcite Sun Oil. It takes a while to get your head around the new way of working but it’s actually very simple.

Blood, sweat and tears (part one)

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This was first posted in 2014 on my old website. I am reposting it now in 2016 seeing the painting is finally completed and showing in my solo exhibition at Castang Art Project.

I realise that nowhere in this blog have I actually discussed in any detail the process I use to make a painting. People sometimes think that I stand in front of the canvas and get inspired, then just start painting. Unfortunately, like most things in life, it's not that simple. There's a lot of planning that takes place even before the brush hits the canvas. For artists reading this, of course you will know all about the planning stages, although everyone's process is different. My own way of working changes and evolves, and not every piece is made in the same way. It gets boring to have a set formula.

This is PART ONE as it started turning into an encyclopedia. PART TWO will arrive in another week.

For the purposes of the exercise I'm going to use the current painting I've been working on as an example. It's from the 'woman and lamp' theme I began a few years ago. The painting was put into hibernation (ie thrown aside in disgust) for ages because sections of the surface got too slippery to work on, which was my fault. As a result it almost got binned, but instead I restrained myself slightly and just ripped it off its stretcher, rolled it up and put it out of sight on top of a big wardrobe. For the following couple of years I kept seeing progress photos of it on my computer, and decided that I still liked the image amd composition and would start a new version, so I pulled it out and stapled it to the wall to do a tracing of it for the new painting. To cut a long story slightly shorter, I decided I had nothing to lose, so had a final go at the old version before it hit the bin. Fast forward a few weeks and it seems I have now saved the original version. I also, however, have a new verson drawn up ready to go on a new canvas... But we won't discuss this right now.

Here is the version that ended up on top of the wardrobe. And it looks a lot more finished in the photos than it actually is.

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Anyway, back to the topic, and sorry for the lengthy sidestep.

For me the idea comes first, usually as a thought out of the blue when I'm not expecting it, so it has to get scribbled down before I forget. It takes the the form of a little drawing and theoretically SHOULD go into one of my sketchbooks but often my sketchbook is not handy so it ends up on a scrap of paper - whatever I have around - an old envelope, back of a bill... I usually get around to sticking it into my notebook later or redrawing it there from the rough version. Funnily the first and roughest version usually captures the idea better than when I redraw it and start to think too hard about what I am doing.

Step 2 is editing the many ideas and deciding which to take further. I have many more ideas than I could ever paint, so coming up with ideas is not an issue for me. It's deciding which are the best ones. A theme usually develops. Or I try to stick to one theme at a time for practical reasons.

Step 3 is doing more drawings and planning the image in detail. I actually set up the scene with a model posing and props, some of which I usually have to make. This means I need to work out exactly what I require in terms of objects in advance, and set about finding, buying, making or acquiring them. This can sometimes take weeks, especially if I have to order items from eBay, and I then customise them for my purposes. Most recently I have bought masses of studs and spikes from China and have been attaching them to household objects that I had already or found in discount or charity stores.

Here are some of the props for the vase-lamp painting. I bought metres and metres of electric cable and lots of globes from the hardware store, then got my partner to wire them up. The fuses in the house only went once, thanks to one bulb that was wrongly wired. And of course it was MY fault for turning on too many lights all at once, that is until the real mistake was discovered.

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Step 4 is organising a person to model, setting up the scene and taking the reference photos. Actually all of my models are friends or people I know from somewhere. I would actually prefer to do paint the whole thing from life but I don't have anyone willing to sit for a month or more, so I take photos for the figure. I can always go back to the actual objects when it comes to painting the 'still life' component, and often do. 

The photos usually get taken in my living room where I can control the lighting. Setting up lights is an art, one which I am pretty bad at. It's a lot of trial and error, so learning more about photography lighting is on my agenda for the future. Most often I prefer a single or limited light source - whatever is needed to get some decent shadows which help in modelling forms. I used to not worry too much about the backgrounds as I could photoshop them out, but I'm becoming more picky now as it can be a lot of work erasing stuff later that didn't need to be there in the first place.

Taking the photos for a couple of paintings takes most of a day. 

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Step 5 is sorting through the images and digital editing. Sorting through the hundreds of shots can take several days. It usually gets reduced down to half a dozen possible shots per painting, and then I start working on the computer, adding in backgrounds from my image library, and doing a lot of digital changes, including quite major distortions, colour and tone enhancements, and testing various possible compositions. This can take another week. I need time to think about the different versions rather than just launching into the painting. If the composition is not right before you begin it's like building a house on foundations that are in the wrong place. Deciding you want a bigger bathroom is a lot easier to achieve while it's still at the plan stage. It takes a lot longer to fix it later.

Below is the my digital source image. I pasted in a background photo I took of the sea near where I live, although you don't get to see much of it. You can see I've flipped the original photo. I can't remember exactly why, but often if I'm doing a series of several related paintings I don't want all of the figures facing the same way, so I mix it up. 

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Scale, meaning the size of the painting, needs to thought out too. What is the best size for the work? As I've mentioned in a previous post, I make all of my figures larger than life size for maximum impact. I want them to look more like giants than normal people. I have a basic idea of the size I want from the start but to fine tune I project the digital image onto a wall. Practicality does come into it. I need to make works that fit into my studio and will go out of the door. I am still dreaming of making a 3 metre version but need a bigger door first.

By the time any painting gets started it's at least a few months into the process.The preparation generally takes fifty percent of the time, and actual painting takes fifty percent.

I will post the second part very soon.

 

Edited with BlogPad Pro

Reliving the past - scary nostalgia

Today was gallery set up day in Perpignan. No, I wasn't hanging artworks, but I was arranging my decorated spiked objects in a glass cabinet.

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As a teenager I worked in my relatives' gift and hardware shop during school holidays.

 I dusted shelves and attractively arranged little objects for sale. Moving on to my early twenties, I spent a year in between studies in a high class jewellery and fine china shop, and again found myself dusting and arranging objects in glass cabinets. Several years later I was a retail manager, in charge of the jewellery and accessories division of a large department store. Once again I was dealing with objects displayed under glass.

 Now let me tell you that as a child I absolutely detested the ornaments we had at home in glass cabinets. It was not being allowed to touch these 'precious' (kitsch) items, and their innate uselessness that most annoyed me. There must be more to it than that, but it runs very deep.

So suddently finding myself confronted with another glass cabinet today, so many years later, was almost an out-of-body experience. I found myself acting on pure instinct, hardly allowing myself to think, and simply letting my body take over and do what was needed.

My spiked objects are partly a commentary on all of this personal history...

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And here are a couple of sneak previews of the setting up process in the rest of the gallery.

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I would love to see you at the opening, otherwise stay posted and you will be the first to see gallery images right here. 

What's your side project?

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We all have parts of ourselves that are separate from our normal work or daily life - let's call them side projects.

It's fascinating when you discover things you don't expect from people - like a weird hobby or interest that clashes with everything you think you know about them. Suddenly we have to totally reevaluate our mental classification of that person.

I feel disappointed that many of my side projects are quite predictable. They go with the general aesthetic territory. For example I love chairs and Bauhaus furniture; traditional textiles from different cultures than my own; fonts and lettering.

If I have to think of non visual stuff this is what I come up with:

  • I don't mind creative cooking, especially Asian flavours
  • I used to sing and write songs and play guitar in front of crowds
  • I was once a pretty good golf and tennis player but was way too competitive
  • Yoga classes are my substitute
  • I like walking in natural environments as long as they're not below zero degrees (but doesn't almost everybody)
  • I love gardens but am an expert at killing indoor plants. I talk nicely to them when they are sick in the hope that they will get better.

 

Anyway, my main hobby is that I have a little camera I carry around in my handbag. 

It gets pulled out wherever I happen to be, usually while walking in the city or country, in familiar or unfamiliar places.  In the absence of having time to draw, it's a way for me to look harder, to focus on segments of our surroundings and capture little rectangles of colour, shape, energy or stillness.

 Montpellier, centre ville, with my big, not my little camera. The big camera usually stays home.

Montpellier, centre ville, with my big, not my little camera. The big camera usually stays home.

These end up clogging my computer, however a small selection get posted to my Instagram account or on Facebook. 

Many people's Instagram 'feeds' are meticulously curated. All the pictures on the screen match like tiles in a big puzzle, together creating a beautiful whole.

No matter how much I try, my Instagram ends up looking like a dog's dinner.

It's 'stream of consciousness' rather than planned strategy. I went through and edited it at one stage, removing all the odd un-matching pictures, but now it's pretty much back to a dog's dinner again, so I am resigned to my patchwork look.

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Anyway, my snapshot habits are a side project for me. They usually have nothing to do with my art practice, and are just about looking. So here are some examples from the 7,217 photos on my ipad Camera Roll.

 

 Barcelona street scene

Barcelona street scene

 Passeig de Gracia, Barcelona

Passeig de Gracia, Barcelona

 Barcelona, Carrer del Carmé 

Barcelona, Carrer del Carmé 

 Barcelona, Gracia

Barcelona, Gracia

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 Port Willunga, Australia

Port Willunga, Australia

 The Camargue, France

The Camargue, France

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 Maybe you are a bit secretive, and don't go sharing your side projects too publicly.

I am starting to think that these small carefree pursuits are pain-free ways of opening ourselves to new experiences; experiments with possible new life projects. When we don't have so much invested and don't try so hard the results are much better.

If you have a side project you are game to share I would love to hear... 

Do you sew?

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I am never sure if it's an advantage or disadvantage to admit that I can sew.

Firstly, it's a traditionally 'female' pursuit, and I hate being stereotyped. And, depending upon who's asking, I can be a bit wary in case I suddenly find myself loaded with someone's pile of alterations. It has happened more than once. A single pair of trousers becomes a big green garbage bag bulging with multiple garments needing attention -  holes in crotches, hems to alter, zips needing attention...  I guess I have that kind of face and I do like to help, but there are limits.

 As a child I hated the boring clothes I got to wear.

I was blessed with a grandmother who was a talented dressmaker and tailor, so she made most of my clothes. I should have felt lucky but didn't, mainly because my mother chose what I considered to be totally dull patterns and equally dull fabric. And besides, where do mothers get the idea that it is cute for siblings to wear identical dresses. My sister was five years old and I was eleven so it was pure humiliation.

At the age of twelve I decided to take matters into my own hands, bypass the normal channels and approach my grandmother directly. I presented my pencil sketches of outfits I had dreamed up, chose some fabric, and my grandmother made the patterns and completed the commission. Finally - total satisfaction. I got to wear crazy tartan flares, and peasant dresses with shirred bodices and corset belts. My mother was not totally pleased.

Next I wanted to make my own clothes. Between home economics classes at school and sessions with my grandmother, I learned the basics and was on my way. By the time I was in my early twenties I had opened a shop designing and producing one-off silk evening dresses in a myriad of colours, but that's another story...

So, fast forward, and for some time I have been thinking about ways to combine my love of sewing with my painting processes.

At art school I stitched canvas and transparent plastic sheeting together, and recently felt an urge to revisit the idea. However I have been actively resisting, because it is such a female 'thing to do'. If I were a male artist I wouldn't hesitate to start sewing for a nano-second. In fact it would be a cool thing to do.

However as a female, it ticks all the old worn out boxes. I would much prefer to add heavy welding to my repertoire... But as it stands I happen to like creating forms and textures out of malleable fabric. And fabric is already in most painters' tool kits, as we commonly paint on canvas anyway. So that's the way it is.

Anyway, I ordered a big roll of heavyweight plastic. While waiting for the plastic to arrive I pulled out my sewing machine and started sewing some test samples. There was an unbelievably disgusting toxic smell. Was I just imagining pale wisps of smoke emanating from the motor?  If you don't know what an electrical smell is, let me assure you that you will have no trouble recognising one when it happens. Anyway, my machine motor was dead.

The plastic arrived and I now had no sewing machine.

Naturally, the first step was to look at getting it repaired, but it was an old model, so didn't make sense to invest so much in a machine that already had other problems and had never been fabulous anyway. So I started looking for a replacement. My ideal machine needed to be a lot stronger, to be able to bite through layers of canvas and thick plastic. A vintage machine was my immediate choice. No, not an old treadle model - I wasn't prepared to go that far - but a solid all metal workhorse.

EBay was my first port of call. Next online sewing forums to check out the models. Then back to eBay. I have always been one to slightly overdo the research process, so was off to YouTube next, with a notebook full of possibilities. There I saw an old Pfaff happily chugging through multiple layers of tough leather. Wow!

I took the plunge and bought this very same model on eBay - a Pfaff 91 from the 1960's, the era when West Germans proudly over-engineered everything. An old machine is always a bit of a gamble, but it was cheap enough and the description said it worked beautifully. When it arrived with its case badly cracked in transit my mood crash landed - but when I finally pressed my foot against the metal pedal my disappointment turned to delight as it purred along beautifully, running over anything I could shove into the gap under the needle.

So I am now ready to begin experimenting, that is as soon as I have the time.

 My upcoming exhibition is getting close.

The works are completed but there's a still catalogue to compile, wrapping to be done, freight to be arranged, invitations to be sent. Aaaaarghhhhh!!! More as the big date approaches (the big date being September 22).

PS You are invited to the private view of course, so let me know if you will be in the Perpignan area and I will make sure you receive your invitation.

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Glad you made it!

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Welcome to the very first post on my brand new website.

 Thank you for taking the time to come by. I know your time is precious. In return I will do my utmost to make sure that there will be some truly worthwhile content here for you as time unfolds, not just be about my work (because it's not just about me) but I would like to be part of the larger conversation involving art and ideas in general.

I'm nervously excited about my upcoming solo exhibition at Castangalerie in the south of France, opening September 23. I am not usually so confident before a show and can't wait to see it in this stunning white space.

 

I have literally been working on some of the paintings for several years now. Not sure if I should be admitting this or not, but I often consider them finished and put them aside, only to pull them out again some months later to make improvements. On the other hand, things don't always go well and I am sometimes sorely tempted to throw them into the wheelie bin in exasperation, but mostly roll them up and heave them on top of a large wardrobe to hibernate for a year or two.  (Well, a few do end up in the bin.)

Two of the paintings in the upcoming exhibition were started as early as 2011. One was a definite candidate for the wheelie bin. Anyway, here I am in 2016 reworking them entirely and am finally satisfied.

In the past I was very nervous about exhibiting my work and felt exceedingly vulnerable. There seemed to be so much at stake and it was like having my body parts dripping from the walls, but I have recently revamped my attitude. Instead of seeing my art purely as self-expression I realise that it is an act of sharing. This feels a much better approach. I have no idea why it's taken me so long to get to this point.

I used to feel vulnerable that my paintings were intensely personal (which they are), but I now understand that not allowing myself to be vulnerable is a bigger risk. We all have bad days as well as good days, feelings of self-doubt and struggles...

I am on a mission to help people feel that their lives matter and that they are significant, so am trusting that I can serve you by creating and sharing my images, continually striving for excellence and authenticity, forcing myself to grow and evolve and, above all, putting my entire heart into it.

So, enough of the deep and meaningful for now.

Here's a flashback. Earlier this year there was a comprehensive feature article about my work published in the French magazine Hérault Juridique and Economique (they have a distinct art focus). Of course it’s all in French but they have been very generous with the visuals as well.

So here it is, and if you would like to grab it in higher resolution there is a link to the PDF.

A très bientôt!

Warmly, Chris

 

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