‘The Midi fires the senses; makes your hand agile, your eye sharp, your brain clearer,’ wrote Van Gogh.
He couldn’t get enough of the light in this region and Picasso and Cézanne soon followed.
This quote comes to mind whenever I think of the artistic draw of France. The southern region in particular brings talented artists to try their hand at capturing the illustrious light. The long shadows during seemingly endless days, the bright sun, the vivid bolds and the soft pastels leave an imprint on your soul. It is hard to explain an amber sunset, or the turquoise iridescent blue of the Mediterranean Sea. Some feel a strong sense of creativity while visiting, where people explore a more internal journey and the expressions that come from that self discovery.
I met Libby Page while she was working on the luxury barge Tango during the 2014 barge show here in Capestang. I noticed how her inner light shines while she interacts with the visitors on board; one of those shiny happy people you naturally like being around.
On the wall behind the piano of the boat was the most amazing painting depicting the Canal du Midi in Spring. The green caught my eye and the reflection in the water of the canopy of leaves above head with the sky peeking through captured how I feel when I walk under the plane trees along the canal. It was exactly what my imagination conjures up, but alas I am not a painter. I asked Libby, where is this painting from? I expected her to say it was a copy of a famous artist, but she modestly said it was her work and my eyes widened… I had just discovered a great painter!
I sent Libby’s artwork to an old friend for analysis, a connection I made from years selling high end art work in Canada. I am no art expert but working in the industry as a side job for over a decade and an avid collector myself, I like to think I know a thing or two about good art. However, like music it is subjective and a second opinion from a person in the industry for over 40 years is always a good idea when buying art.
‘I looked at Libby’s website and her artwork reminds me of the Group of Seven. Libby has a bold stroke and a broad colour palette. The scenes are very soft and simple but have an artistic edge to them that is timeless. They look very good.’ Gary Patterson, Canadian Art Dealer for GS & Company The Art Gallery
Libby is the one to watch, and in thirty years we will look back at this moment. She will be known as the one who captured the Canal du Midi and the majestic platane trees before they all came tumbling down. Click here to learn more about why the sickness is killing our trees
My Expat Life – A Fledgling Artist’s Interview
Who are you?
My name is Libby Page, and I am originally from Bath in the UK. I studied sculpture in London. BA(Hons)
But who am I? Wow! That’s quite a biggy! If I could easily answer that question my life would be a lot less complicated… but then, it would also be less rich. I once met a lady who told me the most interesting people she had met during the course of her own, very varied 70 years, were those who had never quite figured out what they wanted to do ‘when they grow up’. That always encourages me when I grapple with the dreaded ‘So, what do you do’ question.
More recently, in an endeavor to simplify things and also to focus on doing something that I love, I have been practicing the phrases ‘I am an artist’ and ‘I make paintings’. They sounded ever so strange at first; a little like learning a whole new language. However, after a while I began to take this new path seriously and so far so good…
I’ll let you know who I am, besides just what I do, when I figure it out!
Why did you move to France?
To help a friend with a renovation project. I imagine 99% of your readers are familiar with the lows and highs of what that entails so I’ll skip to the next question!
Did you experience culture shock?
YES! I can’t blame France entirely for this though. I went from being a fairly social bubble type, working in a nice little art gallery with lots of chums to meet up with of an evening, to living and working with the same three guys and one dog 24/7, for three years. Not to mention, I was one of the crazy ones who skipped across the channel with only a ‘Bonjour’ and a ‘Je m’appelle’ in the phrase book to help me.
Did you do anything since moving to France that you never would have expected?
Learn French! Not a natural linguist and having studied German at school, this took a wee while but thanks to Michel Thomas (I highly recommend his technique to any fearful/lazy language learners) I got there in the end. I raise my hat to the patience of my French friends, thanks for hanging on in there through blank looks and massacred pronunciation.
What do you do for a living?
“I am an artist, I make paintings” See! It’s working 😉 OK, to divulge a little further… 4 years ago I managed to find my way out of the construction industry. I was kidnapped by a band of marauding pirates and we set out on the high seas… well, the Canal du Midi to be a little more accurate.
I fell in love… nope… no parrot perches stole my heart, rather the leafy green lieu of the canal itself. The trees, arching cathedral-like overhead as one glides from tranquility to tranquility, lift one’s spirits up with them as they reach into the blue skies whose dappled light reflects gently on the waters…. I could go on, I’ll spare you. Go and experience this yourself… but hurry! The trees are coming down. Everyone knows the sad story by now.
So, my paintings of the canal are a homage to lost love… forgive me for sounding melodramatic; perhaps I’m getting into this artist role a little too well!
Now, a few seasons on, I have to wave the boat goodbye as the painting takes over. Thanks to everyone for your support. Here’s to trees! (Ok ok, my exhibitions later this year might feature some other areas of this beautiful region too.)
What did you do to integrate with your community?
Oddly, it was bumping into an English gentleman watching the Six Nations that was our first point of contact. He took pity on us, introduced us to his French girlfriend at the soirée she was hosting that very night. It was not exactly a clash, rather a wave of surprise as beer swilling English rugby fans met civilized wine sipping French young proffessinals. We raised a few eyebrows but quickly learnt what wine can do to your language confidence!
What is the worst thing about being an expat?
Oooo, that’s a toss up between the paperwork and the language barrier. However, the latter is surmountable and the former at least encourages one to develop a Zen like patience, which can be applied to all areas of life.
(The visual image to go with this question is an English person barely visible, beneath a mountain of paperwork, telephones and computers, rocking gently back and forth whilst quietly whimpering “Always look on the bright si-ide of life, da da, da da da da da da”)
What is your favourite thing about being an expat?
Um… can I say the Canal du Midi, can I, can I? OK, other than that I really like the way the French shrug their shoulders and say ‘bof’. There is a lot to be learnt from that. I like the defiant attitude that French is Best, mainly because my mischievous side can’t help but answer Stilton whenever asked about my favorite cheese. AND I love the way folks stop in their cars and have a little chat, even on a roundabout. It’s taken a while but I do. Oh, and the shops. Long may they force us to the beach (or some other tranquil spot) on a Sunday.
What do you miss the most about your home country?
And my chums. But then, they come and stay and we have quality time in a relaxed environment time so it is almost nicer.
What is a myth about your adopted country?
King Arthur? Oh, sorry, um… Ah, it’s obvious! That you can buy a property here, do it up, make loads of money, relax and lead a stress free life happily ever after.
What advice would you give other expats?
Enjoy the journey. (It was the canal that taught me that.) The destination is here, you have arrived. Live today and don’t put it off until tomorrow. Oh, and learn the language!
What are you currently working on? Projects, books, business ventures…
Well… as you happen to ask….
I currently (May 24th) have a little exhibition on at Galerie Inspiré in Azille. This gallery is worth a mention as Angela Saunders, an expat herself, has done an amazing job bringing all the vitality and quality of a London level gallery to this beautiful little village on the Canal. My show runs until 5th July. Check it out www.inspireazille.com and www.libbypage.eu.
August takes me to Les Salins in Gruissan with the Pic’sel collective form 1st – 31st August, and then my paintings will be exhibited in Lyon in October. I am very excited about my first solo show outside of the region. Rumor has it in December I’ll be returning to the beautifully renovated Chateau Cabezac, near Bize Minervois, for my second exhibition there following the success of the one last Christmas.
‘Ooh la la! It is a busy year for this fledgling painter.’