Drowning in colour
22 May 2008 | Les Baux: Cathedral des Images
Sarah & Pip
Five minutes walk from Les Baux is the amazing Cathedral des Images, an old limestone quarry. The removal of great blocks of stone created a series of enormous galleries which look as if they are themselves built and dressed, but are the bare walls left behind by the quarrymen.
For some 30 years, this has been the home of an annual spectacle, commissioned and curated by the private owners. This year, it is an homage to Van Gogh, who of course spent some time in the region, particularly at Arles and St Remy de Provence, both of them close to here.
The start of the exhibition is a series of photographic reproductions of his self-portraits. The copies are very high quality. Next to each one, there is a reproduction of a detail, usually an eye. These capture the complexity of colour and brush work, the astonishing greens and blues and purples that create the auburn stubble across a cheekbone, or the sallow curve of the eye socket.
From here, you enter an enormous cavern with scattered pillars. Great projections of paintings play across these surfaces, changing in a sedate dance to Beethoven and Mozart. You stand in the astonishing yellow of the cornfields, disappear into the starry night. Above you the great heads of Provencal people bend down to look at the gawping audience, listen to the running school children. The delicate faces of Chinese and Japanese women, themselves details beside a window or behind a still life, peer across the dark floor.
A stunning experience, which for both of us gave a new understanding of colour. A new feel for how it might be used and how the artist transmogrifies the bright poppy leaves or threatening clouds. We certainly gained an understanding that we wouldn't have got from seeing the originals (some of which we have seen!), because of the detail, the quality of reproduction and the sheer scale.
A must-see if you are in the region, and if the Cathedral des Images expositions are always this good, then put Les Baux and the quarry on your list any time you come this way.