Gerard Isirdi speaks about the creation of an iconic Provence art image
Visit a second home in Provence and you are more than likely to encounter the Homme au Journal poster of Gerard Isirdi.
Isirdi was born in Aubagne in 1950 and set up his gallery in Lourmarin in 1991. He paints both landscape and village scenes, and his work is recognised internationally.
However, there is one image above all other that captivates both visitors and residents of Provence alike – The Man and the Paper. Provence Guru caught up with Gerard Isirdi to ask him about the history of this much loved image:
PG: When did you paint the Homme au Journal?
GI: In its definitive version, in 1999, the 11 August, the day of the solar eclipse. But there were other images which led up to this one in the preceding two or three years
PG: Was the man and the journal a figure in the crowd in a larger village scene painting or an individual portrait?
GI: The image which is represented in the posters, came to me straight away. One can say that it is a portrait. It is a real person, who sat on the terrrace of the Cafe L’Ormeau every morning and of course we know him by name. The only thing a little different is that the person was reading La Monde rather than La Provence. I had a copy of La Provence close to me which helped me reproduce the articles which appear on the first and the last page of the paper. I painted the image from the terrace of the Cafe Gaby in one sole sitting. But as I have explained the Homme au Journal had preceding works which retrospectively served to announce its arrival.
PG: At the moment you finished the painting did you have any idea it was going to be such a great success?
GI: No, but it was a realisation that I would come to have. I knew that many people would recognise themselves in the image.
PG: There’s very little colour in the picture apart from the paper, why?
GI: The paper is the star. I am a great defender of the written word. The predecessor to La Provence, Le Provencal, was part of my childhood. It was always on the table in our house. My mother, the daughter of Italian immigrants, learnt to read with it, and read the paper right up until the last days of her life.
PG: Have you kept the original or is it in a private collection
GI: Private collection
PG: Today, it is one of the most well known images of Provence, why?
GI: Because it seduces people, not only from Provence, but around the world
PG: An impertinent question, how many copies have you sold?
GI: As many as there are lovers of the Homme au Journal.
PG: Good answer. Is the man happy or perhaps trying to hide from someone?
GI: The image is of a man reading his paper one morning on a terrace in Provence, after that if it evokes emotion, a charm in people, it belongs to them.
PG: Is the drink wine or pastis?
GI: Pastis, of course.
PG: Do you do bespoke versions often?
GI: I like writing on the Journal, what amuses me at the time. The freedom of expression of the written press must be defended!
To order a copy of Homme au Journal visit www.isirdi.com to read more about Gerard Isirdi, see Susan Manful’s article on the Modern Trobadors blog.
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