” I love Paris in the springtime
I love Paris in the fall
I love Paris in the winter when it drizzles
I love Paris in the summer when it sizzles
I love Paris every moment
Every moment of the year…”
Remember this song? I particularly like the version sung by Ella Fitzgerald. The song is soulful and simultaneously uplifting, just like Paris, one of the most cultured cities in Europe.
My trip in Paris this year was particularly special, which is why I want to share it with you in this blog. It was spring while I was in Paris earlier this year, but it was unusually chilly. It later snowed, taking us by surprise. Apart from the unusual weather, the trip to Paris provided two unique cultural experiences, which would not have availed ordinary tourists.
Our primary reason for being in Paris (not that we needed any truth be told) was to visit Latiff Mohidin’s retrospective art show at Centre Pompidou. Latiff Mohidin (1941) is a very senior, accomplished Malaysian artist, sculptor and a talented poet. The show “Pago-Pago: Latiff Mohidin (1960-69)” was significant as it was the first time Centre Pompidou showcased a South East Asian artist, and through this show, Latiff of course became the first Malaysian artist to be exhibited.
The show featured over 70 modernist works that Latiff is most known for but it also included works that were not shown before such as works Latiff painted when he was in Paris for a scholarship by the French Ministry of Culture to study etching in Paris at the Atelier Lacourière-Frélaut in 1969.
The art opening was extremely well attended by the French art world, and judging by the reaction of the visitors, it was a success. As Latiff studied art in the Art Academy in Berlin, Germany in the 60’s, – his expressionist art works were very familiar to the European crowd. It was an amazing feeling of pride to just see a Malaysian artist being honoured and admired in an internationally renowned art space. We look forward to more Malaysian artists being pushed into the international spotlight.
We have a deep pool of artistic talent, and we could see the need to provide more opportunities to our artists so that they benefit from international exposure at distinguished cultural institutions and critically, through good documentation, which include films.
I was fortunate that on the same trip, I learned about the art of lithography, an old printing process involving limestone slabs and ink at a famous and ancient printing studio called Idem
Idem is in the Montparnasse section of Paris, originally built by the printer Emile Dufrenoy in 1880, as a space to house his lithographic presses. Over the next century, subsequent owners of Idem preserved the art of lithography at this studio, producing lithographs by master artists – Matisse, Picasso, Miro, Braque, Chagall, Léger, Cocteau, and others. Today, the tradition continues. And, amazingly, the atelier still uses 19th century flatbed machines, powered by a gas steam boiler, to keep the tradition of lithography alive. The surrealist filmmaker David Lynch paid a visit to Idem and fell in love with what he saw, so much so that he produced a short documentary highlighting Idem’s artistic process ” IDEM PARIS ”
At Idem studio, two distinguished Malaysian artists, Ahmad Zakii Anwar and Jalaini Abu Hassan created artwork using the lithography printing method, which required etching first on fairly large limestone slabs, which would be washed, after the artists use oil based crayon to create images, leaving the oil based, water-resistant images on the stone. The final step was to position the slabs on the ancient printing machines, which will continuously print by applying ink on paper pressed to limestone slabs. What a fascinating process!
The whole creative process was done in a printing studio dated over 100 years old that has seen a long line of illustrious artists doing exactly the same thing on the same slabs of stones which could be reused over and over again once acid is used to washed away each etching on the limestone slab once completed. And so that is how an artistic tradition and heritage shall continue in this studio in one small corner of Montparnasse for centuries.