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Art Heaven in Southern France

"I wish that life should not be cheap, but sacred. I wish the days to be as centuries, loaded, fragrant." -Ralph Waldo Emerson

California artist Carole Watanabe eaches art and paints every summer in Soreze, France.  Warren LiebHave you ever imagined living and creating art in the world of Matisse, Bonnard, Van Gogh or Chagall? Have you yearned to discover your creative self in a medieval French village, surrounded by fields of lavender, sunflowers and four hundred year old stone houses? Come, live in one of those ancient houses in the village of Soreze, on the edge of the Montagne Noire, in the Languedoc region of Southern France. Welcome to LIVE ART.

"Release your creative spirits and live life asan art form" says Live Art founder Carole Watanabe. So we paint, write, dance and eat with abandon for two weeks!

Today our easels stand in a field of sunflowers stretching to the horizon, their yellow faces smiling skyward, nodding encouragement in the soft summer breeze. Broad brimmed straw hats fending off the sun, our palettes are pools of burnt sienna, chrome yellow, and cobalt blue. "Put the energy of what you see on your canvas," Carole calls out. "Hear the birds, feel the sun, paint from your soul."

Most of us have never painted before but by lunchtime canvases explode with color. Randi, a California marketing executive, has layered yellow and orange paint into sunflowers waving under a cranberry mountain. A pale figure flying over spinach colored fields emerges from Delisa, a San Francisco gallery owner. Over our picnic lunch we discuss the morning's work, reclining in thick beds of wildflowers as we dine on cheese, fresh baguettes, salad, and apple tarts. "Is this Art Heaven or what?" laughs Carole.

Each day we paint in a different French environment. Gardens, picturesque villages, alongside waterfalls, in the LIVE ART studio. "Painting is learning how to see, both outwardly and inwardly. It's very seductive." says Susan Dorf, one of our painting teachers. Afternoons we fling our bodies into motion, led by dance instructor Lisa Alpine, whose approach is "let your body move its own way". We whirl, twist, spin, gyrate to African and Caribbean music. Inhibitions gone, we perform spontaneous dances for each other. "My body is a metaphor for my spirit," says Evelyn, an English teacher from California, "Dance helps me focus physically on my center. That helps me paint with abandon." In between art and dance classes, we write essays and poetry. Kathleen, a New York lawyer, gives herself a French name, "Etoile-Marie, because I am becoming a new person, being reborn here in France." Her poetry mirrors our exhilaration:

May this day which is more than halfway gone
Open open open me to
breathe in your tender aroma.
The sky so beautiful, air so clear,
food so rich.
My desires so deep, so omnipresent.

Students at Global Live Art also take day trips to paint this historic abbey and hypnotic lavender field.  Warren LiebThe artistic journey is intense, and Carole encourages us to change pace. Some of us hike into the mountains, others browse village groceries for pate and chocolate, or exchange life stories over coffee. Sabine L'Hoste, our doting Concierge, shares her pathway to art. "I was oblivious to color until I met Carole," she laughs. "I only wore black and white. But after studying with her, at fifty plus, I discovered a joy that was hidden all my life. When I paint, I'm flying." Sabine is now a professional artist, painting both in France and the United States, and helps Carole manage LIVE ART in Soreze. In between conversations, painting, dancing, day trips, and sumptuous meals, I luxuriate in lavender bubblebaths. Is it truly possible to relish each moment of daily life, to "live life as art"? How can I apply this at home?

I notice Carole's handwriting on the tiles over my bathtub: "Art is nothing anyone can teach you. You already have it inside. Close your eyes and envision your feelings in form and color. Paint your passion."

Carole has had a lifelong passion for art. A graduate of La Jolla Art Institute and California College of Arts and Crafts, she founded the first nationally recognized Gallery for the Fiber Arts in San Francisco in 1975. She lived in Kyoto, studying Japanese textiles, hand-made paper, and Tea Ceremony. "Spending five hours making a cup of tea taught me about humility and respect," she recalls. "I learned to be there for every moment, like a ritualized dance." In 1982 she founded The Apprentice Alliance in San Francisco, a non-profit organization that places apprentices with masters in the arts and business. Today her tapestries, handmade paper works, and paintings are in private and public collections throughout the world. Asan artist, Carole projects her inner rainbow of creativity to the outer world. In Soreze she fell in love with two four hundred year old stone houses, imagining them asan art retreat and education center. With the help of family and friends her dream came true, and LIVE ART opened in 1993.

The artist colony, Global Live Art, is in two historic houses in Soreze; House #1 is called LArt Vivant.  Warren LiebIn the two houses, called Le Villette LIVE ART and L'Art Vivant, each room pays homage to a renowned artist. The Matisse Bedroom recreates his whimsical 1924 painting, "Interieur au phonographe". Walls are a mix of stripes, floral and geometric patterns, with a bearded Matisse peeking mischievously from behind a curtain. The table from his painting is there in the corner, encouraging quiet hours of journal writing or day dreaming.

Hallways, dining, and livingrooms are also magical. Masks adorn ceiling pipes, broken dishes are colorful wall mosaics, alcoves display statues of Buddha, Madonna, and whimsical red horses. Vases of sunflowers beam from every corner, votives on the diningroom wall flicker as "art altars". Each day overflows with painting, writing, and dance, yet we find time to enjoy a local mime performance of "Siddhartha."

On Saturday, we shop the Farmer's Market in nearby Revel, bringing home gauzy floral dresses, fragrant soaps, and juicy white peaches. There are days off from painting, exploring the medieval walled city of Carcassonne, or dramatic gorges in the Pyrenees Mountains.

Of course, eating isan art in France and our Chef Nese Pelt unveils daily feasts: homebaked baguettes, garden vegetable salads, lasagna with bechamel sauce, garlic gratine, fresh fish. We are unable to resist her chocolate mousse ice cream or fresh peach tarts. "Artists need incredible nurturing to keep their creative wheels moving," smiles Carole. "Beautiful food, stimulating activities, a soothing environment. To livean artful life, you must take care of the creative fire."

Delisa Heiman, a six foot beauty, creates a painting/poem on her creative fire:

I realized I haven't wanted to take up space in
the world because I am so tall. I inhabit small
spaces as not to intrude. Now I want to love
all of who I am. I am too precious not to. I want to dance ecstatically and feel my heart
spring open.

Two weeks in France at Live Art, and we have all sprung open.

Inspired by sunflowers, the finished Art.  Warren LiebFor information on Carole Rae Watanabe's LIVE ART workshops, contact Global Live Art, 736 Pine Crest Avenue, Sebastopol, California 95472. Telephone: 707-823-9663; Fax: 707-823-8202 Email: liveart@sonic.net; Website: www.artfully.com.