by Pendery Weekes
Once again Monsieur Marcel Grenouille from Nantes has done his good deed for the day and has included an unknown artist in the summer Art Festival 2020 at Port Pierre Canto Marina in Cannes. This year the unknown is Freya Stephan with her painting, Looking Out Over the Cornish Riviera. It was picked up by Grenouille while sourcing (smuggling?) artwork from Cornwall and taken on board his yacht back to France. Little do people know about the thriving art business on magnificent yachts in ports across the world with visitors made up mostly of private collectors and rarely art galleries. Following Cannes, other art venues will be in Marina Southampton, Port Hercules Monaco, Port Vell Barcelona, Marina Sentosa Cove Singapore, and Waterfront Annapolis – in that order. Some of the artworks exhibited are by Anselm Kiefer, Yayoi Kusama, Gerhard Richter, Mark Bradford, and Mike Kelley, to name a few. Everything is pretty pricey, so we wonder what the price tag of Cornish Riviera is, though this too is publicly unknown and may remain so.
After meeting Grenouille by chance at wild swimming, like myself an avid year-round sea swimmer, he invited me to visit his treasure trove of Cornish paintings and pottery on board his ‘little’ boat. It was just a little less than simply amazing. Obviously cheaper and less complicated to fill a boat with artwork than a shipping container, let alone tax issues, there were well known names bought from collectors in the county. However, a few pieces of simplicité were to go on show in the festival at Port Marina, as was the case with Stephan’s painting. It also opened a whole new world to me, the world of ‘little’ boat art transport and art shows in exclusive ports. But, I ask, why art from Cornwall and not from his native Nantes in the region of Pays de la Loire? Surely, there must be artists of this same calibre in his homeland. Grenouille has an eye for unusual work and when defending his choice of Stephan’s work, says that after all’s said and done, it’s time for simplicity to make its debut on stage. In the 64-year old art dealer’s opinion, the mouvement artistique basé sur la simplicité, unlike minimalism, implies beauty and ease of understanding.
In Freya’s painting there is unstudied simplicity with just two figures looking out at the Atlantic Ocean, blobs of colour, nothing special – some sea, a few waves, a stretch of sand, a few rocks, clumps of islands, a starfish and a man in a grey t-shirt with shortish black trousers beside a small girl in a print dress. In truth, it’s pretty boring, and offers nothing new. What is it and why the fanfare? The painting might better be called Clumps or Colour Clumps but not Looking Out Over the Cornish Riviera! How in the world did it even get chosen to cross the Channel?
Grenouille is convinced that this work will be a show stopper (a flop?) visitors will stop to look at it, but not because they are told to think that this is great artwork, for it isn’t, instead he says it will stop them because Stephan’s work can evoke emotions and memories, those atavic feelings and recollections crushed inside us since childhood. With people still searching for relief from the anxiety and fear of dying they experienced this past spring, this work seems to represent a sort of comfort painting, just like with our comfort foods, which we eat in moments of stress or sadness. Cornish Riviera is stupidly powerful, ridiculously incisive and most of all the big, strong man beside the little girl looking out over the sea pulls our heartstrings worse than any tearjerker on Netflix. What adult wouldn’t like to go back in time and look out to the sea standing beside their father? Practically unknown in her hometown Penzance, Stephan risks becoming the new star of the yacht art world, though in my opinion she doesn’t make the grade.
Life is a constant challenge, but as things attempt to go back to normal after the Covid-19 scare, surprises are abounding. A painting that banally reaches out to our return to simplicity is just what many of us are ardently searching for. Where is the easy life, the unfettered, uncomplicated existence? Freya Stephan was a nobody yesterday, however, she lives in Cornwall, that magical stretch of land that produces more artists than anywhere else in the UK outside London. But tomorrow, who will she be?
However, I disagree with Grenouille’s choice and think the work is dreadful; it’s childish and unformed; the colours are pure, unmixed, dabbed onto the canvas by what looks like an untrained hand. Perhaps I’m missing something. Why on earth would this make it to the citadels of art festivals on impressive yachts that Grenouille himself is promoting? We will see in how many ports this “capolavoro” will be dragged to before it is sold to some beleaguered client.
Again, we must ask ourselves, what is it that makes art art?
Studio Grenouille, 43 Rue de l’Hermitage, Nantes
Volume 35 no. 1 September / October 2020