Monday, October 25

City comes alive in French artist’s sketches

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Jacques Servieres needs three things to get going — a pen, a big sketchbook and a fishing chair. The chair is a portable folding stool and barely two feet high when set up. It is disproportionately small compared to the imposing frame of the French illustrator.

But the nature of his work is such that he has to travel light. “I work in the streets. On this chair, I can sit anywhere ­ slums to markets.” Servieres has been camping in Calcutta for a fortnight as part of a residency of Alliance Francaise du Bengale.

“When I draw, it is a way of appreciating your city. It is not like taking photographs, which are aggressive. Camera stands for big power. When you sketch, people can see what you are doing. Often it is their first experience of art as their only education possibly has been in counting and writing,” he argues.

When he is sketching, Servieres does not use colour. “Black-and-white pictures convey more emotion. I use colour only in paintings. I don’t like to mix the two like young artistes do. Sketch is an instant of life, moving fast.” This is why Servieres does not do portraits. “A face is too rigid.” Sketching on the streets of Calcutta he gets requests to do portraits from passersby. “I tell them `You are too beautiful. I don’t want to destroy you’,” he laughs.

A session typically lasts 2025 minutes. The big ones take 45 minutes. He has completed 80 sketches on Calcutta. “I do not sketch so much at home. Here I see everything with a newcomer’s eyes and get surprised. There is something nice every 200m.” On his multiple trips to India since his Goa visit at the age of 22, people have always been friendly except for “a big lady in a Pondicherry fish market”. Though Servieres could not make out her words, her disapproval of his presence was evident.

Pouring a glass of pastis, an aniseed-flavoured spirit from the south of France, Servieres spoke of his life’s work — a sculpture park in Chessy, on the outskirts of Paris.

A play therapist in a psychological centre for children, he would sculpt at home. “But neighbours complained of the noise to police. So I had to find a different place.” He zeroed in on a site by the river Marne where an old bridge had been destroyed during World War II so enemy tanks could not cross it. “The bridge had been built in Napoleon’s time when clean water was brought to Paris via an aqueduct. The city chief allowed me to install my work on the public ground.” For the next four years, at his own cost he transported the big chunks to the site by truck. Each sculpture took seven months to a year. He sol- diered on to create 45 of them. “Sometimes the mercury dropped to 5-6 degrees Celsius when I worked.” But the hardship was worth it. “The lime- stone has mica in it. The statues glisten in the moonlight,” he says fondly.

With age catching up — Servieres is now 65 — he has given up the easel for pen and paintbrush.

Three subjects have caught his fancy in Calcutta ­ yellow cabs, the hand rickshaw- puller and the cycle rickshaw. “I plan to do a project with them when I return in April for an exhibition of post cards,” he smiled..

Source: Telegraph India

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