‘Conter Fleurette’ Series
Conter Fleurette series from September 2019
Studio Faire Residency
In Jan 2019 at Visual Arts Scotland open exhibition ‘Alight’ my piece ‘Yours Peggie’ was awarded the Studio Faire Residency Award, which was a 4 week, artist residency in Nérac, South West France.
This was a big deal for me as I’m not much of a traveller; we are more day-tripper’s and maybe do the odd long weekend, so quite an adventure for me.
Sep 2019 I took up this residency; this was a self-directed residency, so in other words I could do what I wanted. I wanted to make the very best of this opportunity and was keen to try and make some work relating to the area, the history and the people of Nerac.
I had gone out to France with a whole load of ideas that I wanted to work on, but once there I realized I had too much going on, for the first 2 weeks almost I was a bit like a rabbit in headlights, doing a bit of this and a bit of that and getting nothing much done; so I wrote up a list of all the things I wanted to do, I prioritized them and said I’ll work on the top two and if anything else gets done it’s a bonus. From there I gained a focus and energy I wasn’t aware I was capable of.
I was interested in a local story of a brief relationship with a young girl Fleurette and the Prince of Albret (went on to become King Henri IV) (1571)
According to legend, Fleurette was, of all the mistresses of Henry IV, the only one who loved him sincerely and the only one who remained faithful to him. A statue of Fleurette realized by Daniel Campagnac in 1896, is exposed in a cave of the Park of the Garenne, with Nérac. The monument is accompanied by a plaque: “Fleurette: hardly had they seen that they loved each other with love. She was 16 years old; him, three more. Delighted, Fleurette to this love gave her all her life. Henri, Prince d’Albret only gave him one day. ” (Wikipedia)
This relationship gave rise to the word ‘Flirt’ and as the legend goes, Fleurette was so heartbroken that she drowned herself in the river Baïse at Nérac.
This also gave rise to my series of collages called ‘Conter Fleurette’ which means ‘To (or try to) seduce’
I had bought a job lot of vintage photographs from a Flea Market (Brocantes) and proceeded to make some work. There were a lot of photographs of the same woman, in quite a few different settings. I liked that these photographs had a local link
I didn’t know anything about this woman and could assume that these were in the flea market as part of a house clearance, so someone has died and their relatives have cleared their house, these items no longer required.
During my time in France I made a series of works around this legend of Fleurette and her prince using the images found in the local area.
Quite a few of the pieces have a link to Studio Faire, whether it’s a piece of their old wallpaper, or the title, or a ticket from a visit to a chateaux in the area, this links the collage to me being there in Nérac and taking inspiration from the present as well as the past.
A lot of the mark making in the collages is in reference to the landscape around the river Baïse and all the trees and foliage but also by the emotion of the relationships being explored, the relationship between Fleurette and her prince, passion, frustration, anger, love and loss: also what about the relationship that this unknown woman now has to this story and also me, where do I come into this?
This collage I may call ‘Waiting’, it may be more about me waiting on the inspiration or way forward in exploring this story, there is a piece of Studio Faire wallpaper in there and the figure seems to be waiting patiently.
This next collage shows a child out on their own, vulnerable, do the red marks mean danger, are they playful?
Then we have ‘The Rendevous’ a collage showing a child in a woman’s body, is this about innocence, virginity? The negative shapes and images came from remnants leftover from other works so there are two figures almost hiding in their silhouette, meeting in secret perhaps. Or are the figures walking away, does that illustrate leaving something behind or someone.
And we have ‘The Swimmer’ which has sexual references with the pencil marks looking almost sperm like but also relates to Fleurette drowning in the river as only the legs are showing, is she diving in to the water.
This next image is ‘At the Bathhouse’ There is a still a building by the river in Nerac called The Bathhouse where people including the prince would gather and socialize, Is this where Fleurette met her prince, the unknown woman from my photographs has certainly been there, was she looking for her prince?
This next collage is ‘The Ladies Man’ so working again with the negative space, this is still about Fleurette and whatever it was that she had hoped for or had thought about her prince and their brief time together, it left its mark. His is the empty space, the vacancy, and her shape, faceless, is filling his space. The expressive mark making still evident, still quite disturbing, the emotion of it all scarring the image.
These next three pieces I feel work well together and best illustrate the full story
The collage ‘Little Red’ references fairytales, the stories we tell our children to help them make sense of the world and the dangers that may be around; also the dress pulled up over the head again is a nod to lost innocence. The vigorous mark making relates to the passion and also the heavy growth of the botanics around the river, so, to nature, is it human nature?
Here ‘From the Usher Hall’ shows a vulnerable child, holding a romantic bouquet of flowers more like a balloon rather than a bouquet, the vigorous mark making emotionally charged. The bouquet is more wallpaper from my room at Studio Faire, a room so large they have called it ‘The Usher Hall’, hence the title and a reference to a safe place, yet the child is leaving the safety of home to follow a playful romantic notion.
Now we have ‘To the Bath House’, this time not in reference to the bath house where they would socialize but perhaps to Fleurette drowning in the river. It’s the first collage where you can see the face of the woman albeit looking like she is already underwater with the ripples and bubbles. The bouquet of flowers now faded and pale.
This next collage is a larger piece, with an empty boat, the women’s figure is outside the boat and yet there is a shadowy figure looking on from the bank, is this her prince, or is it me wondering about it all or is it you the audience?
Final collage in the series is, ‘Julian – Jan 1941’ also known as ‘Missing’. Collage for me always seems to throw in something that I hadn’t been expecting or something that surprises me, in some ways collage seems to have its own agenda and i think this collage demonstrates this.
This piece while inspired by Fleurette’s story is about an old school friend I hadn’t seen for over 20 years and who just before I went to France had gone missing, her friends and family along with the police and TV and internet campaigns had been searching for her, she was seen on grainy CCTV footage walking through her local town centre. Some days after she had gone missing she was found dead in nearby woods. It wasn’t until I had made this piece that I made the connection as to why I was so drawn to Fleurette’s story, and the CCTV footage of her walking may be why I was so drawn to these grainy photos of this unknown woman and why it is mainly her legs and feet that can be seen in my collages. When i presented my works at the end of my residency to the other artists, i felt quite emotional, when i began talking about this collage i hadn’t been sure i would even share this piece however i do think it belongs with and may even be the reason for the whole series. I also think it has been my minds way of working through how to deal with something like this and make some kind of sense of this journey that we are on.
I like to think that vulnerability is something that I explore in my work however I also hope to show some sense of the strength through the mark making, through documenting this conversation and this journey that we have taken together in some way. Fleurette, The woman in the photographs, my friend from school and myself, (not to mention the audience) our connected histories and conjoined identities exploring how lives can be linked by experience no matter the distance or the time that has passed and on this occasion brought together through the medium of collage in South West France.