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An Artist’s View of Paris in the 1960s: Paris, Paris, Let Me Swim in Your Streets Forever

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GUEST POST: The author Michael Lawrence shares with us an extract from his book TRIPPING WITH JIM MORRISON & OTHER FRIENDS: An artist’s search for beauty, art and identity.

“If everybody would stop to have a drink of this beauty they would start to get well.”

Paris is a perfect woman: she intoxicates everyone, charms everyone by having put aside something special, something personal for each of us, mysterious. She is a woman whom you follow from the broad boulevards, from the spacious, tree-lined plazas, into quaint streets waiting for you in Montmartre or Montparnasse. At the end of your excursion there is a bedroom, and she will always be there waiting, she is Paris.

I am 24 years old. For the moment I have myself to myself in my favourite city or at least one of them and I am going to sing, dance, explore. I have an attic studio with one window the size of a small TV that overlooks the Seine. Paris is a stage; each of us cast in our own movies, creating in our minds our own cinéma vérité. That is the pleasure of Paris: her atmospheres. Stations of the Cross, the possibility of poems or a list of things admired. Paris is noisy, refreshing. Even the language sparkles.

I am walking onto a painter’s palette. Each day I head out into the delicious autumn-winter brisk bristling to a different museum. L’Orangerie a perfect collection, and in the Modern I love sitting in Brâncusi’s studio. Recharging my batteries I see a retrospective of Mondrian and a collection of Egyptian masterworks from King Tut’s tomb. Seeing so much art and from such diverse periods, I begin to also see my influences and feelings more clearly. The language of painting and sculpture defines itself through cross-reference. It is not a vacation; it is a period of re-entry.

Looking at the artwork I seem to know the man, and he had an interest in my getting to know him. He wanted to impress me with something, and that force carries the image or the shapes or whatever it is that he wants me to feel. I feel it deeply. The world is running around looking for love, looking for fame, looking for beauty, and here it is right up on the wall not going anywhere, not needing me to complete its beauty. Yes, you could in a way add to it, invite it to meet your friends, or the other beautiful feelings you create, but it is not essential. It is a world complete unto itself and how puzzled it is at our struggle.

In the park Champ de Mars, the imaginary proprietor is Ray Bradbury, who points the way to a bank of lights arranged in rows of suns to illuminate the Eiffel Tower. This world is secluded by bushes and trees, but there is a park bench and a streetlight placed on the pebbled arena as if waiting for the arrival of an actor. My audience is a fellow artist I met at the etching atelier. I’d been to see them at her studio and she has come to visit me. I invite her out for a treat. We have a glass of wine and decide to walk. Walking in Paris is the usual therapy. There is a chill in the air and the smell of roasting chestnuts.

Clearly, what is important is beauty. The beauty of colour, of form, of feeling, the fullness of it, the richness. It makes no difference if it was created three thousand years ago, or three hundred, or thirty. All that matters is that it impresses me with its beauty. And if the beauty is delicate, rough, gentle or strong matters little.

When am I going to stop all the chasing around and just sit quietly for a while, for a year if need be, to drink in the beauty? Even a sip is renovating, cleansing, rejuvenating and filling. What does it matter if the world is topsy-turvy? If everybody would stop to have a drink of this beauty they would start to get well. I wanted to shout, to scream, to declare an international vacation. Everybody likes that word, ‘vacation’, and then I’ll sneak them in, one by one, and give them the tour. Impossible to leave untainted by beauty. I should feel invited to camp out, open a good bottle of wine and spend a few days with Cezanne or Vermeer or Pollock, or whomever I choose. Who knows what they may have to say about geometry or physics? Certainly they are experts on medicine and they will make you well. You will walk out a new person, ‘beautified’, and with luck you will infect the neighbourhood, which will in turn infect the city.

In a month or so the country will be inoculated. There will be an international plague. Beauty will no longer be just skin deep, it will be the whole caboodle clear through. And then we have a chance for love. And that will be that. We won’t have to worry about anything. That’s it, folks! That’s my scenario for the cure. Well it’s a fine notion anyway.

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Wednesday 9th of November 2016

This great article has us dreaming about Paris! What a beautiful city and what a beautiful piece. A real pleasure to read :)