Skip to main content

Six Graves

The last two times that I've taught in Paris, I've been very fortunate in renting an apartment just a few minutes south of the Cimitiere du Montparnasse. It isn't as spectacular as Pere Lachaise, but for a relatively small rectangle of land it contains the graves of dozens of interesting artists, politicians, historians, actors and actresses, and more. Some will be more well known to French people than foreigners, but in the course of quite a few walks across the cemetery during my recent trip, I either sought out or stumbled upon the following graves.

Piero Crommelynck
Piero Crommelynck, along with his brother Aldo, ran a printmaking atelier in Montparnasse for more than half a century. Clients included Braque, Picasso, Arp, Hockney, Salle, Dine. As I've mentioned several times on this blog, my etching teacher worked in their studio for a time in the 1980s. So only a small number of people in the world (the tiny world of the history of printmaking) might feel their heart leap when they find this grave -- but I'm one of them.

Jean Seberg
The American actress Jean Seberg, who starred in Jean Luc Godard's 1960 Nouvelle Vague masterpiece Au Bout du Souffle. The pebbles have been placed around an old movie magazine showing stills from that film. I noticed that the grave had fresh flowers every few days.

Chaim Soutine
The great painter Chaim Soutine, who lived in Montparnasse for the longest time. It took a hell of a long time to find this grave, because I didn't expect this eastern european Jewish immigrant to be buried in a grave with a crucifix on it. For my photo, I found the most Soutine-like drawing in my sketchbook and placed it next to the grave.

Sartre and de Beauvoir
Jean Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir, buried in a joint tomb. Her apartment overlooks the eastern side of the cemetery.
Georges Auric
The composer Georges Auric. An obscure choice, perhaps, but I know his music a little bit through his association with Les Six, a group of French 20th century composers that included Satie and Poulenc, and his scores for films by Jean Cocteau.

And Brassai, the great photographer and denizen of Montparnasse who was friends with and photographed Picasso, Matisse, Henry Miller, Giacommetti, and whose shots of everyday life on the streets of Paris are part of our mental picture of the city from sixty to seventy years ago.

I don't know why I like graveyards so much. Maybe it's because they are always an oasis of greenery in the most urban of neighbourhoods. There's no special aura or magic that emanates from these graves, or anything like that. But if recognizing a name causes us to think even for a minute about a painting they did, a book they wrote, or a moment from their life, I think it creates another small link in the chain of memories that keeps our civilization going.


Popular posts from this blog

How to etch a linoleum block

Linoleum as a material for printmaking has been used for nearly a hundred years now. Normally, you cut an image out using special gouges similar to woodcut tools, cutting away the lino around the image you want to print. This is called relief printmaking, because if you look at the block from the side, the material that remains stands up in relief from the backing material. You then roll ink with a brayer over the surface of the block, place paper over it, and either print by hand or run it through a press. You can do complex things this way (for example, reduction linocuts), but the beauty of the process is that it is quick, simple, and direct.

A few years ago, I saw some prints that were classified as coming from etched linoleum blocks, and I loved the textures I saw in them. In the last few months, I've been trying to use this technique in my own studio, learning about it as one does these days from websites and YouTube videos. I've also had email exchanges with several pr…

Brancusi in Plastic

Artist Mary Ellen Croteau is showing these columns made from recycled plastic cartons and lids in the window of the Columbia College bookstore on Michigan Avenue. They are a playful homage to Brancusi's "Endless Columns", with a serious environmental message for our times:

Mary Ellen also runs a wonderful experimental art gallery in a window space in west Chicago, called Art on Armitage. I will be exhibiting a mixed media piece there during August 2012.

Artist-Writer-Artist: Gerard Woodward

I am extremely pleased that poet and author Gerard Woodward agreed to be interviewed for this series. Gerard and my wife, Patty, were colleagues for a short while at the end of 2008, when Patty taught for one semester at Bath Spa University, where Gerard is a faculty member in the Creative Writing program. Gerard spent the spring semester of 2011 in Chicago on a reciprocal visit. Gerard has published poetry, short-stories, and novels. "Householder", his 1991 collection of poetry, won the Somerset Maugham Award in the UK, and his novel "I'll Go to bed at Noon" was shortlisted for the Booker Prize for Fiction. Of his most recent novel, "Nourishment", The Daily Telegraph reviewer wrote: "It is a novel to be savoured, and Woodward is a novelist to be treasured." It turns out that in addition to his success as a writer, Gerard started his adult life in art college, and still draws and paints when he can. So here, from a writer's point of view…