Terres Noires / anglais 2006

iFrench artist Paule Riché lives in the black clay hills of the Hautes Alpes where she paints large mural sized triptychs using techniques based on ancient oriental landscape painters.

Le poème est une peinture invisible
La peinture est un poème visible.
Guo Xi


It is said that before committing brush to paper, Taoist monks sit in meditation for years,contemplating each brush. The work of those 9th century monks and an interest inOriental and Buddhist philosophies influenced the painting of a young French artist PauleRiché, a student at Paris’ prestigious École Nationale Supérieur des Beaux Arts in 1985.
Ten years later, in 1996, Paule Riché, left her position as art professor for the Paris schoolboard, rolled up her brushes, papers and paints, gathered up her new family, and moved to the Hautes Alpes region of France to fulfill a childhood dream of living close to the land, aland that inspired her for the past decade.
The Chinese word for landscape, shanshui, translates as "mountains and water"; thedownward flowing water and the upward thrusting mountains represent yin and yang, thetwo basic forces underlying the structure of the world. Taoists saw the natural landscape
as a sacred, welcoming place and believed that sacred mountains are filled withsupernatural energy connecting heaven and earth.
Riché begins her mural size oeuvres on the floor; moving as a dancer lightly balancedabove the stage. One moment Riché is scraping a wide swath across her paper canvaswith a broad bamboo brush and the next deftly outlining the contour that reveals thesilhouette of an ancient mountain. She swipes the unfurled rice paper with bulbous horsehair brushes, mixing varying amounts of water with soluble pigment to make opaque or
translucent blacks and grays. Then waving a feather duster dipped in a large tray of ink,she deftly caresses the paper, like a breeze blown across a stilled lake, the ink lightlytouching down, barely leaving traces of its passing.
The black Chinese ink soaks into the moistened rice paper, curls and spreads, wrappingitself around the fibers of the paper. At times the ink is absorbed, at others it flows thicklike oil. Riché’s hand, paper and ink unearth the sacred landscapes shrouded by the ricepaper, revealing mountains, sky, rivers and all the contours and fissures of the earth.
After mounting the inked paintings to the wall, Riché prowls like a sacred mountaintigress; she reflects; watches; waits; closes her eyes to the painting; reflects again; steps upwith her multi-coloured palette; then recoils; reflects once more until finally approachingthe painting. As if applying make-up to the earth’s formations, Riché smears a smallpatch of gold leaf with her thumb; her fingers and the palm of her hand massage traces of
pigment into the paper, light falls across the distant hills and slips through the mists.
A single stroke of the brush can create a masterpiece, but one has to know exactly wherethe stroke is needed. Riché’s elegant brushwork and deeply saturated colours against aubiquitous black and white background produce a quiet, yet splendidly patterned anddecorative effect that recalls the origins of classical Japanese Kano paintings.
Through patient and silent communication with her work, Riché waits for the paper to tellwhere rivers run, where mountains reach high, where clouds shroud a forest and whereseas rise up in tempest. There is no urgency, nor a sense of instantaneous inspiration, but
rather a duality of stillness and anticipation; a form of painting meditation which seeks outthe secrets of nature’s wisdom.
If the Tao can be translated as the way, the path that is the void out of which all realitymay be discovered, then the art of Paule Riché flows along that path. This is the story that follows the creation of a mural sized triptych by one woman, a painter, a mother, and aspouse, who made the choice to follow her muse and fulfill her dream. And while life in asmall village away from the gilded lights of Paris has its draw-backs, Paule Riché choosesto pursue the sacred while balancing the challenges of raising her family and pursuing herpainting surrounded by the black clay hills of the Terres Noires.

Paule Riché will exhibit new works at her atelier outside of Serres, France in September 2006.
Photography & Story by

Duane Prentice