Ejo #160 – What Is An Artist?: The Orquevaux Diaries (Denouement)

My application to the Chateau Orquevaux artist residency programme

Continuing on from Part One

DAY #8 – FRIDAY, 20th MAY 2022
Today the newbies (yes, we’re still the newbies, we’ll always be the newbies) attended an Art & Business presentation in the salon, where Beulah talked about the necessity of understanding and taking control of that side of your career as an artist.  It wasn’t really geared towards writers, but as an avid art collector it was still very interesting to be in attendance and to learn about what goes on behind the scenes in galleries.  Beulah’s experiences in the art world brought home the reality that most artists will never exhibit, most artists will never make it big, and most artists will never be able to make a living from their art.  Afterwards I had a chat with Catherine about NFTs, and how they are a way of directly connecting artists and collectors, and doing away with the middle-people; the gatekeepers, the galleries, the dealers and the brokers.  NFTs allow artists to actually sell their works and have them be seen by a larger audience than the traditional art world allows.  I’ve been considering doing a presentation about NFTs for my Writer’s Open Studio in a few days, and Catherine’s enthusiasm during our conversation has cemented my decision. 

I had lunch in my room today, foregoing my usual glass of wine.  I’ve decided to skip the day drinking.  Not because of what anyone thinks, but because it’s making me sluggish.  While I was eating I received a message from David complimenting me on my new overalls.  I had no idea what he was talking about, and was a little bit confused until he referenced the picture of Marcie I’d sent to the family group chat yesterday.  OMG, even my own husband is mixing us up! 

After lunch, I ran upstairs to the studios and interviewed Catherine, a painter who primarily uses oil on canvas (and sometimes wood) to produce captivating small-scale works.  When I walked into her studio I was enthralled by all the beautiful pieces hanging up on the wall.  Each of them inspired by Orquevaux landscapes, architecture and colours.  Catherine lights up the whole room with her energy and I find her really engaging, spirited and fun to be around.  So of course I loved our chat.  She reminds me of my friend Ellen, who I love very much, so it makes me very happy to spend time with her.  After we finished the interview I hung around, and we gossiped about our perceptions of the Chateau.  Our expectations, our reasons for being here, and our experiences of it so far.  We learned that we’d both been promised self-contained guesthouse accommodation, but ultimately been assigned a room in the main house.  And, we’ve both come to the same conclusion that, even though we were initially disappointed, we’re actually much happier to be staying in the Chateau, the beating heart of the residency, rather than in the village.  We agreed that being so much closer to the action has elevated the experience for us.  Which is when Beulah, who was (apparently) in her office down the hall, and could (apparently) hear everything we were saying, shouted out, “You two are hilarious!!”  Oops!  Catherine and I looked at each other, as our jaws dropped in unison.  I mouthed, “Shit!” as Catherine mouthed, “Whaaat?” And we burst into laughter! Beulah came in to explain the reasons behind the accommodation swap, but we didn’t really care.  We’re exactly where we need to be.

I sheepishly excused myself to drop in on Avital in the studio next door, and luckily she was also free to do our interview.  Avital is an Israeli collagist, and it’s been so illuminating for me to learn exactly what collaging is.  I must admit I had kind of conflated it with scrapbooking before I met Avital.  I now know that it is a serious visual artform combining photos, pictures and objects to create something that is completely new, whether that be an idea, a message or a concept.  It felt great to have two more awesome interviews under my belt.  I feel very comfortable with both Catherine and Avital, and have from the beginning.  Is it because we started our residencies together?  Is it because we are the grande dames of the Chateau?  Or is it something else?  Maybe we just really like each other, and our friendship takes little effort.  Avital is really affectionate and maternal with me and I love that.  Whenever she plays with my hair or squeezes my arm, I feel like purring and curling up at her feet. 

My babes, Catherine and Avital.

Tonight was the Pomme Frites concert so I wanted to dazzle at dinner, but I’m running out of unique and interesting clothes to wear.  I scraped the bottom of my suitcase and decided to just fuck it, and wear a skimpy little silk robe as a dress.  Rock ‘n’ roll, baby!!  This thing is uber short but I’m no longer self-conscious about dressing up, and I’m actually having a lot of fun being a little bit daring.  Forcing myself to take risks has made me feel so much freer about what I’m wearing, and I’ve always promised myself that I’d be a more flamboyant dresser in my 50s, so now’s a great time to start. 

Before I left, I polled my friends about what sartorial vibe I should go for during my artist residency, and the overwhelming response was to stick to my usual palette of black, black, black. I decided to completely ignore this advice and packed a bunch of bright, whimsical, outlandish and swashbuckling clothes instead.

The Pomme Frites concert was a wild success.  Noah, Jad and Jonny performed a really fun 45 minute set for the rest of us on the steps of the Chateau.  We danced for ages on the front lawn, fuelled by rosé, joy and a beautiful sense of camaraderie, and when the party was over, we all walked down the hill to kick on at Charles and Jonny’s house in the village.  I was a little tired, so after a drink or two I hitched a ride back to the Chateau with a couple of the others on a commandeered golf cart.  Despite my best intentions, it was another late night.

DAY #9 – SATURDAY, 21ST MAY 2022
While everyone else went to the shops this morning, I stayed and interviewed Elissa, who is also a writer.  She’s a published novelist though, with a number of literary awards under her belt, so we’re not exactly in the same league.  She’s so passionate and knowledgeable about her craft, and very generously shared a number of sources and tips with me.  It’s been really great interviewing everybody because the very foundation of an interview is asking people to talk about themselves.  It’s not a real conversation but, still, the act of communication creates intimacy and closeness.  When I’m interviewing someone, I feel confident and sure of myself.  And so far everyone I’ve interviewed has been very generous and open with me.  I’m enjoying the process a lot, and I’m really proud that I pushed myself to do this project. 

After lunch I took off in my car and drove 15 minutes down the road to see my friends Nat and Andy, the ones who’d told me about the Chateau and the artist residency in the first place.  It was so wonderful to be with people who know me and love me.  It was so wonderful to leave behind, for a couple of hours anyway, the constant worry of how I’m being perceived and where I fit in.  It was a respite, and a salve for my soul.  We sat outside drinking wine and eating charcuterie and chatting for hours, and it felt like home.  I was a new woman on the drive back to the Chateau because I’d remembered who I was.  Carefully navigating the winding roads, I rolled the windows down, turned the music up and joyfully sang at the top of my lungs. 

Everyone was tired from the night before so they went to bed early, but Otto and I stayed up quite late, drunkenly chatting and getting to know each other better.  Otto, my fellow big drinker.  Otto, a beautiful and gentle soul from El Salvador who came to the Chateau to volunteer his time as a general hand, in exchange for a room and the chance to paint.  Otto who is learning how to speak French beautifully, but English not so much.  Which doesn’t really matter when you’re in the countryside, sitting under the stars next to a fire and sharing whiskey from the bottle.  I was thrilled to learn that Otto’s paintings had recently been accepted to an exhibition being held in Paris at the end of the month.  He’s so incredibly talented and I’m so happy for him and this amazing achievement.  He’s such a sweet, humble man and he deserves great success. 

DAY #10 – SUNDAY, 22ND MAY 2022
I am finally at ease now, on day 10 of 14.  My jaw no longer locks and clicks when I’m talking to people.  And today I talked a lot, racking up five interviews!!  First up was Charles, who creates wonderful street installations from reclaimed wood.  I chatted to him in his studio at The Stables, where he was putting together a large scale piece.  I love the organic nature of his work, and that he creates art for public spaces.  A few minutes into our interview, Charles became quite emotional as he recounted the connections he’s made with people that he’s met on the streets and on his travels.  When I saw him wipe away some tears, I jumped up and gave him a big hug.  I love a man who’s in touch with his emotions and is unafraid to express them, and Charles is all heart. 

Afterwards I walked back to the Chateau, and interviewed Jad in the upstairs studio he shares with Noah.  Jad is a Canadian singer-songwriter who was accepted into the residency as a musician but has been inspired to try his hand at painting after spending time with so many talented artists.  And that’s the beauty of this place.  There are no rules.  Everything is possible.  I love being here because I’m surrounded by creative people who are actively and passionately pursuing their art.  My creativity was always something that I kept close to my chest because I was never around creative people for any significant length of time.  The environment in the Chateau fosters an understanding and an acceptance of the creative process, which has been such a luxury for me to be around, and which will change the way I live my life. 

Jad and I talked about how being here has reawakened his desire to paint, something that he hasn’t done since high school.  He opened up to me during our interview, and once again I felt a growing sense of ease and closeness with my confrère.  We finished our interview with a beautiful long hug.  Hugs all day!!  Maybe that’s what I’ve been missing. 

On a roll, I went searching for Christine, who was painting in her studio.  I really wanted to try and connect with her during our interview because we’ve kind of kept each other at arm’s length so far, and I desperately wanted to bridge that gap.  During the next thirty minutes I was surprised to discover a side to Christine that I’d hadn’t seen before.  She revealed herself to be a serious person and a very deep thinker, taking the time to carefully consider each question before answering.  It was enlightening to learn about how seriously she takes her work, pouring her entire being into every brush stroke.  I enjoyed spending a little one-on-one time with Christine, and as she spoke about her life and her work, I got an even clearer understanding of who she really was.  I realised that her aloofness doesn’t mean that she doesn’t like me, and it doesn’t mean that she’s judging me.  It doesn’t mean anything.  Thinking that I’m the only one with shit going on is so self-centred.  Everyone is conquering unseen mountains, and everyone is navigating unseen depths.  Just as Christine couldn’t possibly know about the turmoil hidden behind my smile, there’s no way for me to know what’s hidden behind hers.  We didn’t hug after our chat, but I did feel like the heaviness between us had lifted. 

Later in the day, I grabbed a few minutes to interview Andrew in his room, and when we were done he offered to show me some of his work.  His beautiful, reverent photographs of men’s bodies absolutely blew me away.  And gave me an idea.  I’ve long dreamt of posing nude for a Helmut Newton or an Annie Leibovitz.  I don’t really love my body, but I’ve always thought that it would be wonderful to have a beautiful snapshot of what it looks like now, knowing that I’m not getting any younger (or thinner, or firmer).  Knowing that one day I’ll look back and admire my relative youth (and relative perkiness).  Quickly determining that I may never again have 24/7 access to a photographer of his caliber, I blurted out to Andrew that I would love for him to take some photos of me sometime?  Maybe in the woods?  Maybe topless?  He said he would be honoured.  OMG!

After dinner, while everyone else watched the comedy special Nanette in the adjacent salon, I notched up my fifth and final interview of the day, spending 90 minutes quietly whispering with Viktoria in her darkened studio, so as not to disturb the movie-goers next door.  It was the longest interview I’ve done by far, easily outlasting Hannah Gadsby’s stand up show.  I’ve enjoyed a few long conversations with Viktoria in the last couple of days, and this one was no exception.  I find her a little bit mysterious, and a little bit enigmatic.  She fascinates me.  Everyone here does. 

DAY #11 – MONDAY, 23RD MAY 2022
Just as I’ve been interviewing all the artists here, Andrew’s been photographing them, and today it was my turn to be snapped.  For my photo shoot Andrew and I went downstairs to the spooky basement and took some very cool pictures, playing around with lighting, props and poses.  He makes me feel really comfortable, so hopefully I do get the courage to actually go through with a semi-nude shoot.  It would truly be a once in a lifetime experience, especially with such a talented photographer. 

Photo © Andrew Putschoegl

Tonight was Literature Night.  I finally decided to just go for it and read my essay about not wanting to have children, and my decision to have abortions.  I was super nervous about speaking in front of everyone, but I made the executive decision to just be bold.  Bold in what I chose to read, and bold in what I chose to wear.  Earlier that day I’d found a very fancy, over-the-top, dusky pink dress in the basement costume room which was absolutely perfect for my reading.  After dinner I got changed into it, twisting my hair into space buns, and creating a persona. An alter ego.  Cruelly, I was selected to speak first, and as I approached the lectern I looked around at all the familiar faces looking back at me, as my heart pounded in my chest.  I’m a writer, I’m not a performer.  But this was my chance to show everyone why I am here.  To prove to them, and maybe even to myself, that I am an artist after all.  I looked down at the words on the page, words that I had written, and as I read them out loud I could see that everyone in the room was in my thrall.  No-one was listening out of politeness.  No-one’s eyes were glazed over.  And when I was finished, I had a truly raw and authentic response from the audience, my peers. 

Performance art (Photo © Avital Baron Izackov)

I feel so, so good about exposing my true self, and allowing myself to be so vulnerable in front of everyone.  We’re all artists here, but the art that I create is words on a computer, or on pieces of paper.  It’s been impossible for anyone to see the work that I’ve created the last ten days, or to know what I’m even capable of creating.  Tonight, I showed everyone what I can do, and so many people approached me afterwards, and congratulated me or told me how much I’d touched them with my story.  For the first time, I feel seen as a real artist.  I feel validated.  I’m floating, and I love this feeling. 

DAY #12 – TUESDAY, 24th MAY 2022
This morning I walked to The Stables to sit for Jonny.  I was a bit nervous but, as always, my boy effortlessly put me at ease.  He played me some of his favourite hip hop music and we made each other laugh while he painted my portrait.  I love the way he sees the world; with a beguiling combination of childlike innocence and refined sensitivity, and when he showed me the finished canvas after a couple of hours, it took my breath away.  I absolutely love it.  I love the way he sees me, and I love the way he’s painted me.  Is it wrong that I really want to buy it and put it up on a wall in my house?  Vain, much?  I am really going outside of my comfort zone during my residency and feel so good about doing things that I normally wouldn’t have the courage to try.  I’m so glad I was brave enough to ask Jonny to paint me, and that he said yes.  Working up the nerve to actually disrobe for Andrew is going to take a lot more guts.  And I’m not sure that there’s enough rosé in all of France.

If you zoom into the coffee cup, Jonny has inscribed it with, “I only drink coffee for coffee naps”. ♥

While I was at the Stables I ran into Charles and, feeling kinda sassy, I asked him if I could take one of his pieces back to Dubai with me, with the intention of putting it up in a public place.  He said he would make something small for me to take back in my suitcase.  And that’s one more item ticked off my residency bucket list. 

In the afternoon I saw Noah chilling under the big tree overlooking the lake, and I approached him about doing our interview there.  Noah is a self-taught artist, which makes his work all the more amazing.  He’s a versatile and multi-talented threat who seems to excel at everything he does!  Noah is an absolute powerhouse of a personality.  Happy, confident, loud and always the life of the party.  It was nice to get to know the man behind moustache.  

After dinner Jonny mentioned that he had a studio session scheduled with Ziggy to paint his portrait and I thought that would be the perfect opportunity for me to interview the man responsible for all of this.  I was so happy when Ziggy agreed, and we had a nice half hour chat while Jonny did his thing.  When we were done, I took advantage of the fact that Alonso was right next door, and checked off his interview as well.  A Mexican architect turned multidisciplinary artist, Alonso is so fucking beautiful that it sometimes hurts to look at him.  He’s warm natured, charismatic, and has a dazzling smile.  Oh, and the peachiest butt you ever did see.  If you watch Andrew’s video below, ladies and gentlemen, you’ll see exactly what I’m talking about.  You are so very welcome!

During my bedtime shower I discovered another tick, under my right breast.  I initially thought it might be a mole, but it felt a little flicky, just like the first tick that I found under my knee a few days ago.  On closer inspection, yep, it was a little bloodsucking tick.  Unbelievable.  It was after midnight, so I couldn’t ask anyone for help to remove it this time.  I’d have to do it on my own.  Google helped me out with instructions on how to extract the nasty parasite using tweezers, making sure to pull straight up, so as not to crush it or detach the body from the head.  Apparently crushing it, or detaching the body from the head is very bad.  Contorting my naked limbs by dim lamplight, I anxiously placed the tweezers around the body of the tick and pulled up, but the little cunt held on for dear life.  I kept pulling, nervously, and eventually the freeloader’s face let go of my boob, making quite a horrible, loud “pop” sound when his head came out.  I grabbed that fucker and I squeezed him, I squeezed him until he was dead.  No mercy.   

DAY #13 – WEDNESDAY, 25TH MAY 2022

Open Studio Day

Today was Open Studios.  Exhibition day.  We started in the morning, all of us going on a walking tour of the estate to check out Marcie’s botanical sculptures and Charles’ wood installations that he’d put up all around the village of Orquevaux.  Seriously spectacular works of art from both of them.  We then took a fabulous group photo at the village entrance.  We’ve all been through so much together the last couple of weeks.  Even if we never see each other again, right now it truly feels like we’re a family. 

Photo © Andrew Putschoegl

We headed back to the Chateau and were treated to a slide show of Andrew’s beautiful photos as well as an incredible video, composed of footage of all of us throughout the two weeks that we’ve been here.  Andrew’s movie is a priceless memento of our collective experience and I will always cherish it.  I’ve already watched it about a hundred times.  How lucky are we that we got such an accomplished photographer and videographer in our residency group.  Talk about winning. 


Suddenly it was time for my talk on NFTs from the artist’s perspective.  This is a topic that I’m super passionate about, and I feel like I got a really good reception to it.  I received a lot of thoughtful questions, and a few of the artists approached me afterwards to tell me that they wanted to learn more.  I’m not 100% sure how to go about it, but I would love to help facilitate the transition of artists from the traditional art world into NFTs.  Watch this space. 

After my talk, Charles asked me to meet him in the foyer, where he presented me with the piece that he’d custom made for me.  It’s an absolute masterpiece, and I fell in love with it instantly.  I honestly think it’s one of his best works.  I asked him how much I owed him and he said that he wanted me to have it for free, since the plan is for it to go up on a public wall in Dubai.  But as I held it in my hands, I knew that I would not part with it.  That it was too beautiful, and that I selfishly wanted it for myself.  We settled on $200.    

Isn’t it beautiful. I look at, and touch it, every single day and it takes me back to Orquevaux.

At 5pm we all marched up the creaky stairs to the studios to check out everyone’s work.  I was so proud of all my friends for the beautiful art that they have created during their time here.  I am in total awe of every single one of them, and their incredible work ethic and their drive to just produce, produce, produce.  That’s something that I would like to take away with me.  I particularly loved Christine’s paintings and arranged with her to buy one of the medium sized ones.  I’m splashing the cash today, but it feels so good to support the artists that I’ve met here, and I love that I’ll have a couple of beautiful and lasting reminders of my time at Chateau Orquevaux. 

A Little More Growth #3 by Christine Olmstead.

Later in the evening most of us walked down to The Stables to do a burn of one of Charles’ wooden sculptures, called Dead Man.  It was a beautiful night and everyone who was gathered around the installation made an offering to the piece that was being sacrificed.  I wrote a haiku about the Chateau, and pinned the piece of paper to the sculpture, watching the flames lick at it until it floated away in ashes.  It was beautiful and cathartic to watch, and reminded me of the impermanence of life. 

Jonny left earlier today, and I miss him already. 

DAY #14 – THURSDAY, 26TH MAY 2022
Avital left yesterday and I miss her too.  She was always the first person I saw in the mornings, and my morning ritual doesn’t feel the same in her absence.

After my shower I finally caught up with Beulah, for her interview.  I still have Otto to do but he’s been too busy this morning.  Even though we have one day left, it kind of feels like the end already.  The energy feels different, and everyone is running around cleaning up their studio spaces and preparing for their early trains in the morning.  I’m not leaving until midday tomorrow so I have the luxury of packing later.  So I’m just chilling, and writing this.  It’s kind of crazy that I came to Chateau Orquevaux to write, but haven’t written nearly as much as I thought I would.  Which is OK, because, even more significantly, I’ve been creatively activated.  And I think that will manifest more fully when I leave this place and re-enter the real world.  The Chateau’s mission statement declares: The Chateau d’Orquevaux Artist Residency emphasises the human experience and the creative process.  The residency creates an environment for the artist in their quest for personal growth and artistic expression – while reinforcing that the end product is not necessarily the principal focus.  Well, I’ve certainly been on one helluva quest.  And I am hoping that the body of work I create when I collate everyone’s interviews will result in a beautiful piece of art. 

Before dinner I sought out Andrew and asked him if he would photograph me.  Like, now or never!  He said yes, and I took him on a short walk to my special place near the swimming hole, the little copse of trees that I walk through every day after my morning skinny dip.  With my two buddies at the entrance of the grove keeping watch for me, I slipped off my bra and flung it into the trees, baring myself.  I took a deep breath and tried to relax, knowing that I was in the capable hands of a world class photographer.  It wasn’t easy, but I stopped focussing on Andrew and his camera, and started focussing on where I was; in my secret garden.  Chateau Orquevaux.  France. In my own skin. Right here, right now.  The poses that I’d practised in front of the mirror felt wooden and contrived, so I softened and just allowed myself to be.  I was still awkward as fuck, but it felt more natural to just be myself.  The timing was just right, and the golden hour light was absolutely perfect.  And at that very moment, magic happened.  

At our final dinner, everyone took a turn to say a few words to the group.  It was super emotional and by the end, we were all in tears.  I haven’t had an easy time of it but Chateau Orquevaux, and the people I’ve shared this experience with, will course through my veins for the rest of my life.  I know this.  And, as cliché as it sounds, I’ve learned so many lessons about myself along the way.  I’ve grown, not just as an artist, but as a person.  I’ve learned to look at the world around me, and not just focus on the world inside of me.  I’ve learned to be vulnerable.  I’ve learned to be courageous and bold.  I’ve learned to bare my body, and my soul.  I’ve learned to ask for the things that I want.  I’ve learned that being an artist means doing it, and not just talking about it.  And I’ve learned to say yes, fuck it, why not!!  And I have developed real friendships with my fellow artists.  Friendships that I know will last a lifetime. 

As the night came to a close, there was a flurry of individual goodbyes, and farewells.  So many emotions, tears and hugs.  So many promises to meet up in other parts of the world.  I genuinely love every single person here, but from day one, Marcie has been my le plus aimé, and I absolutely hated saying goodbye to her.  It physically hurt.  We hugged a lot, and when we couldn’t hug anymore, we said goodnight and went to bed. 

Marcie & Chryss (Photo © Andrew Putschoegl)

DAY #15 – FRIDAY, 27th MAY 2022
It’s time for me to leave.  I woke up early enough to fit in one final yoga session by the lake, and one final skinny dip in my swimming hole (yes, it’s mine now and they should just name it after me already).  I wanted to stay in the water forever, but I had a lot to do.  Having to pack away everything in my room (my room!) into a suitcase hammered home the reality that it was all over.  And most of the others have already gone.  I shook off the shroud of melancholy threatening to engulf me and lugged my suitcases downstairs.  In a mad rush, about fifteen minutes before I had to go, I cornered Otto and we finally did a quickie interview in the dining room.  It wasn’t an easy one, as we were unable to communicate in a common language (where’s that bottle of rosé when you really need it?)!  Despite that, it felt really wonderful that I had this last minute chance to talk to Otto, because it meant that I actually achieved my goal of interviewing every single artist at Chateau Orquevaux.  High five to me!!

Once the interview was done and the car was packed, I did that thing I’m prone to doing; of already checking out mentally, already looking ahead to what is coming and no longer seeing what is in front of me.  Even if it’s important.  Which is why I was almost startled to see Noah, Christine and Charles waiting to say goodbye. I almost cried!  And in my mentally frazzled state I totally would have just taken off without saying farewell to Andrew.  I’m so grateful that he came out to wish me happy travels because I would have really regretted not saying goodbye to him.  He’s one of the loveliest people I’ve ever met, and I adore him.  Also, he’s seen my tits, so we’re practically married now. 

I took one last look at the Chateau, knowing that I wasn’t taking any of it in, but also knowing, in my heart, that one day I would be back.  And then I drove away. 

What Is An Artist?

Header photo © Andrew Putschoegl

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