“SOME TRANSFORM THE SUN INTO A YELLOW SPOT, OTHERS TRANSFORM THE YELLOW SPOT INTO THE SUN.” PABLO PICASSO
When I was a child my grandparents had an oversized oil painting over their fireplace mantle. A large ornate wooden frame, heavy for its size, bordered it. The canvas wasn’t stretched completely tight; perhaps it was damaged while being shipped across the sea during the war.
I can see that picture clearly in my mind’s eye having spent many days playing on the carpet below. In the top right corner of the original was a light from the sky, possibly the moon peeking through the wiry branches of the trees. In the darkened forest lies a small clearing in the middle of the empty woods, where a young child stood in the stream of moonlight. The boy, maybe four, wore blue trousers, a knit shirt and worn brown leather shoes. Reflected in the light, the youngsters porcelain face had rosy cheeks from the cold night air. Behind him stood an angel with open protective arms and massive golden wings stretched out behind her; captured in such detail you could see each individual feather. He couldn’t see her though, his back was turned, but that’s what she wanted. Terrors lurked in the corners of this somber painting, as the angel swayed in her luminescent dress, embraced in a heavenly glow. She was magic.
A good painting never tires the eyes, we get lost in the picture, like a story we play over in our minds.
Nearly the same age as the little boy in the painting, I spent hours lost gazing. I searching for more clues, any trace that the lad would be ok. I imaged what the warm light must feel like, thinking that it was surely the ‘marvelous light’ they talked about at Sunday School. Innocently, I felt someone would come soon, although sometimes my imagination would go the other way. But then his guardian angel and the heavenly light were ready to take him home.
Angela Saunders started her own studio in a small town in southern France called Azille, fittingly named Inspiré Gallery.
I first met Angela back when talking to Libby Page the then fledgling artist. Libby was hanging her paintings on the wall in Angela’s art gallery, when Angela rushed in, made her introductions and had to leave to teach an art class in the local primary school. Met only for a moment, she left a big impression; one of dedicated mother, loving wife and a strong member of her mostly French community. Her story is one of a women going against the norm, following her passions and opening the Gallery she dreamed; a showcase for artists to display their works. In turn, she helps support the arts and educates the community at the same time.
The Saunders’s story is inspirational, just like the name of her gallery.
My Expat Life Interview
Who are you?
We are Angie and Matt Saunders with our two young boys Oliver 9 and Harry 5 years old.
Why did you move to France?
Matthew’s heart has always been in France. We met in a bar in Windsor in south England when I was working at Windsor arts centre. My mum always said that you would never meet your husband in a bar, et voila, she was wrong.
Matt was living in Montpellier at the time, while visiting, he was on a night out with friends in the United Kingdom. We met that night. He never went back to France until we went together on holiday the following year.
We continued to holiday in France. Eventually we searched for a property as a holiday home and found our house in Azille. The idea was to move when our youngest reached school age but as our flat in Windsor quickly became too small, we decided to bring the move forward.
Did you experience culture shock?
Oh yes! Myself more than Matt as he had already lived in France for nearly 20 years when we met. Before we moved we were living in Windsor and both working in London so it was certainly a culture shock with regards to the size of the village we moved to and the language for me.
Did you do anything since moving to France that you never would have expected?
Learnt a new language! yeahhhh
Spending so much time on the beach and so much time outdoors, it’s really a gift for the boys; they couldn’t have that in the UK because of the weather.
I never would have expected being so involved in a community. This seems to be lost in the UK these days. It’s like living during my grandma’s time, only here in France!
Opening our businesses was also a new experience for us. We always dreamt of opening a bar/gallery. Matt is very creative, a musician and has a degree in Interior Design. We instantly clicked creatively when we met. He had also ran many bars and nightclubs and had secured his WSET (Wine, Spirits, Education Trust) training whilst working at Oddbins in Clapham, London.
When we arrived in Azille, Matt worked straight away to bring in a salary and I was looking after Oliver, our 18 month old at the time. My French was literally non-existent and so after Harry our second son arrived 2 years later; I was itching to work again, but I was not sure that my French was good enough. That’s when we decided to create our initial dream, which was the art gallery. Inspiré Gallery has been running for 4 years here in our village in Azille.
Through voluntary work and meeting the dynamic mayor of our village I was introduced to Genevieve Delanne. Genevieve lives mostly in Sens near Paris and has an atelier in memory of her past husband Henri Delanne, a superb artist (sculptor / painter) who died 10 years ago. She has a house in Azille and the basement was Henri’s art studio for 35 years. He loved being in the Aude and he is buried in the cemetery in Azille. All of Genevieve’s family is nearer to Paris and so she is there more often now. The workshop space was just perfect as a gallery space. When we met we connected straight away. She was delighted to re-energise the space and to keep Henri’s spirit alive. We now dedicate one expo per year to Henri and continue to show his work.
Genevieve has become part of our family and like a surrogate Mamie to our boys.
What do you do for a living?
I studied fine art / printmaking at university, a very practical “Degree” spent some time working in various historic houses voluntarily. I became very interested in curating and education based work within museums, so I took a “Master of Art” in Museology and Gallery Studies. After that, I worked extensively in historic houses in Yorkshire and Humberside before moving to the south to take a post as Education Officer at Windsor arts centre. After 5 years there, I moved to the Victoria & Albert Museum in South Kensington, London, that, I guess, epitomized the reason I had continued in education to achieve a M.A.
I adored working there in the largest museum of decorative art in the world boasting over 100 galleries. It would take me 20 minutes to walk to my office from the main entrance and I was very privileged to have a private view of the amazing collections everyday.
My role as Education Officer for Families and Young People was diverse and inspiring, I developed activities and education programs based around the permanent collections and also touring exhibitions. I had the honor to work on exhibitions such as Vivienne Westwood, and Leonardo Da Vinci amongst others.
Soooo in our gallery I am inspired by past work positions and I organise exhibitions obviously on a much smaller scale. I work with local, national and international artists, changing expos every 6 weeks. We are very open. Our works can range from contemporary to classical or even installation based.
I run children’s creative art workshops during the school holidays and work with the local Azille schools and associations throughout the year.
The Maternelle visits with the children every time we change the expo and they meet the artist if possible and do workshops inspired by the artworks on display.
Matthew and I also work together to organise a music event once a month, either a live band or a projected concert. We serve Tapas during the evenings as well.
I also work with Matthew to run the bar à vins. This is the “new facet” to our arts space and one of Matthew’s new roles when he decided on a career change two years ago.
Tell me about Matthew?
Two years ago we had a sudden family shock. Matthew went to the local Doctor’s office with what he thought was a hernia and turned out to be testicular cancer. He was operated on a month later and went through sessions of chemotherapy. This made Matt rethink about his happiness in his work place. He had always been involved in the wine industry in some way or another. After his life changing illness, he decided to return to that love. He continued to a higher level with WSET training and we opened the bar à vins within the existing gallery, open Thursday, Fridays and Saturday evenings. It works so well within the gallery because the space changes every 6 weeks, it remains fresh and creates discussions.
Matt changes the wine every 6 weeks as well and through the communications with vignerons, he has built up great relationships. So much so that last year we invested in a mini bus and donned another hat in opening up a small Wine Tours and Tastings enterprise.
While I concentrate on the arts / workshops / events, Matthew focuses on the bar à vins and tours. We sometimes feel like we are spinning a lot of plates but it is very enjoyable and works well with our family who love being at the gallery. During the holidays we can change the hours slightly to suit and they get to spend lots of time with friends in the art workshops too.
What did you do to integrate with your community?
I spent the first few years working voluntarily creating exhibitions monthly at the Azille Accueil. We are involved in many associations and organise Christmas events with the Association des commercants in Azille. Last year we made 35 Christmas outfits with the village kids in Azille for a parade.
Matthew is part of the local winemakers Confrerie and I work with the Petit Écoliers.
We try to form at least 2 charity events per year, and last year we held a fine art auction night where 30 percent of all proceeds went to a cancer charity.
We have raised money for the Resto du Coeur and ABC autism (Narbonne) during these events.
Tell me something special about the Languedoc that most people don’t know?
I find the Languedoc very humbling! And I love that!
We live in one of the poorest regions in France. Hopefully this will change however it is undoubtedly one of the most beautiful regions too.
There is energy here for change. I see it in the parents at school and the clients who venture intrepidly into the gallery to see what we do, because let’s face it, here it’s all about wine not art. Consequently the gallery was something of a strange occurrence for the community to begin with. The older generations are searching for and embracing change for the younger generations and that creates positivity.
What is the worst thing about being an expat?
Missing family, as my boys get older it gets more difficult. Our eldest son Oliver is sensitive and we have many tears when we leave the UK after a family trip back there.
Frustrations with expats who refuse to learn French! It’s very difficult but so necessary to be able to integrate and love the county fully that you live in.
All of our text and publicity materials for the gallery / bar are written in French and English, but French would always be the favoured language because this is our home now.
Saying that!! All of our Wine tours info is in English as that’s our audience!
I love the mix of people here. We have so many different nationalities that come into the gallery / bar, it’s cosmopolitan!
What is your favourite thing about being an expat?
Meeting so many people and hearing so many wonderful stories of people’s adventures.
What do you miss the most about your home country?
Family, Real Ale, Pubs and Grass
What is a myth about your adopted country?
That it’s impossible to open a business in France. It’s not easy that’s true, but anything’s possible!
What advice would you give other expats?
Join groups for support. There are many, unfortunately, not that many for men, yet oodles for ladies!
Learn or try to learn the language!
Enjoy the experience / be open and try not to get too frustrated with French paperwork!
What are you currently working on? Projects, books, business ventures…
Wooow we are full on trying to crack social media. We would really love our Wine Tours to take off even more this year, so lots of blogging, tweeting, Facebook, working on our SEO for our website.
We are going to open fortnightly on Sunday’s as an “Open Mic” night for musicians who want to bring their instruments and enjoy impromptu jamming sessions.
Matthew is working with the MJC to open a music school for local children.
Continuing to organise events, exhibitions, and all the other things that we do!
Ooohh and “Jazzille” our Jazz festival in the summer, watch out for that one!