Scenes from Provence
By Gail Skoff
Berkeley, California: Gail Skoff, 2016. Edition of 3.
13" x 13" handmade accordion book containing 24 color photo montages including a tipped in map, 4 full-page spreads, and two cutout images. Archival pigment photographs printed on Canson Rives rag cotton paper. Calligraphy and map by Georgianna Greenwood. Enclosed in a box with a gold stamped spine and 2 inset canvases. Bookbinding by Andy Rattner. Cover and box painting by Dominique Perotin. Signed and numbered by Gail Skoff.
Gail Skoff: "Mixing reality, art history, and traditional French terra cotta figurines called Santons, 'Scenes from Provence' is a handmade accordion book containing 24 color photo montages. … The cover resembles an old fraying book, and the interior relates to Provence at the end of the 18th Century."
Introduction: "Before the invention of trains and planes, tradespeople of southern France wound their way along dirt roads from village to village offering their wares on foot, wagon or horseback, trading news and gossip along the way. Santons are terra-cotta figurines modeled after these artisans.
"Santons first appeared at the end of the eighteenth century in Nativity scenes as everyday characters from old Provence, each one portraying a different métier or role. In traditional dress and with tools of their various trades, they represent village life at that time.
"This collection places Santons in imaginary contexts with real objects and details from photographs and paintings, including those of the Impressionists, who were inspired by the lavender fields and olive groves of Provence."
Inspirations for Skoff's montages include Pierre Bonnard, Paul Cezanne, Claude Monet, Vincent van Gogh, and others. Another source of inspiration in the tomb sculptors of the Court of Burgundy.
The montages reward close inspection. Look for Skoff behind a camera or behind an easel. The montages build on each other so there are bits that move from one to another (for example, the doll maker's scene incorporates images of the butcher, the women washing, and the violinist).
Technique from the Artist: "I choose the Santons … for their expression, clothing, or role that they are portraying. I imagine a story that goes with them and create a photographic collage. This composition process has many layers and elements including my own photographs, pieces of paintings I find in museums or books, collage, and sculpture. For example, when I found my woodsmen and his wife in a flea market I took them home and first photographed them in front of an image I’d taken of a real forest. I then photographed rabbits and placed these in the 'forest' to populate it. … I re-photographed the couple in front of the photo of themselves with the added animals and birds along with a pile of twigs I had gathered and tied together with string to add to their bundles. … At times I use Photoshop to montage and integrate all the elements together into the final photograph."