I am a strong believer in being in the right place at the right time; in walking through open doors and welcoming unexpected opportunities. Call it destiny if you wish, or fate, it doesn’t really matter. I just know that I’m extremely happy when in uncharted territory, wondering what is just over that next horizon.
Last week in St Paul de Vence, I walked into a food store, hoping to snap a few photos for the blog and started talking to the only other client present, an older gentleman. In the space of a few minutes our conversation moved from the cheese on sale in the store, to the beauty of the village, to my evident enjoyment being there and suddenly to his invitation for me to visit his studio. Of course, without hesitation, I said yes. But I had no idea that the gentleman was a recognised artist, and that this chance encounter would mean that the following morning I’d climb into his car before breakfast and be shown his past fifty years of creative production.
Let me start from the beginning. Remi Pesce is a well known silhouette in St Paul de Vence. He has lived and worked here all his life. He was the handy man for La Colombe d’Or for ten years, until he got married and started his own business, gradually becoming a key figure in the village.
But Remi wasn’t born here, he was born in the east of France, and his mother died bringing him into the world. An aunt travelled to collect the baby and from the age of eight months he was raised by his grandmother in St Paul.
He grew up here and experienced the golden years of this mythical hilltop town. He played petanque with Yves Montand, dined with hollywood stars and sipped wine with Picasso, whose portrait he also painted.
St Paul de Vence in the 1960’s was buzzing with creative energy, and Remi became close friends with the sculpteurs Arman and Cesar. He watched some of the world’s great painters produce their art while at St Paul, and quietly in his corner he decided he also needed to create.
Remi started painting in 1963, and produced his first sculpture in 1973. He is known in the village for his horse sculpture standing tall on the stone ramparts, and for his big blue fish, but personally I fell under the charm of his paintings, and his masks and sculptures of heads and faces.
It is hard to convey here how touching it was to be shown around this working studio by the artist, who very simply and humbly explained his work to me. He repeated that he knew nothing about art, but was simply grateful to have found the means to express himself and his story, and find a creative past time.
This elegant man who turns 87 today, is self made and self taught in so many ways. From the motherless baby who was transported across France, he came to run a successful business in construction, and for as long as anyone can remember, has also run the Café de la Place in the heart of the village. He is equally self taught as an artist, following his instinct and creating what needed to be expressed.
I felt extremely privileged to visit his studio alone in his company. And when this man explained one of his biggest paintings as being the story of his life, I could see that all his life he has felt the weight of his mother’s death, and all his life he has tried to do well and be joyful, in honor of the woman who he never knew.
This painting portrays Remi as the fish or ‘Pesce’ coming into the world, with the village of St Paul in the background. His parents are represented on the left with their backs turned, and on the right is a person keeping care of him, but from a distance.
Today, as I write this text, Remi turns 87.
Happy Birthday to you Remi, and thank you for the beauty of your work and for opening your doors to me and my camera.
And if you’d like to contact Remi about his work, he takes appointments, and can be contacted here.
His website is here: Remi Pesce