Artist Julien Mercure 25th exhibition

Combination of strength, kind good humour revealed

in Mercure's 25th solo show of watercolours and acrylics

Image: Watercolour, 'Julien peignant cheval et grange' by Julien Mercure. Image provided by the author.
'Artisan' Julien Mercure reveals the secrets of his 'trade' in an interview with 10-year-old Sophie.

Granny Witch, writing today as Geneviève Hone, welcomes True North Perspeective readers to an exhibition of watercolours and acrylics by her favorite artist, Julien Mercure. But first, please read this story!

Image: Photo of Geneviève Hone.

A friend and neighbor gives me a call: “Sophie is attending a day camp for budding artists. They’ve visited galleries and museums, but now she needs to interview a living artist as a special project. Would Julien consent to be that artist? She’s already made up a list of questions.”

Sophie, ten years old, describes herself as an artist. Indeed she has been drawing and painting since she was two. Her first efforts (markers on wallpaper) were, alas, erased from the dining room wall by her parents who quickly provided her with pencils, crayons, finger paint, a large coverall, and a desk all her own.  Sophie never looked back. On every occasion, she finds paper and colouring pencils, sits herself at a table and “works” at creating all kinds of images. She is acquiring a certain notoriety among the kids in her class: she has talent, say her friends, perhaps with a tinge of envy. Julien and I amuse ourselves when she describes herself as an artist, whereas Julien who has presented more than 25 successful solo exhibitions, each displaying between 40 and 60 paintings, refuses to define himself as an artist! Rather, he thinks of himself as an “artisan”, a craftsperson who works with his hands, hoping to create beauty through applying paint on canvas or paper.

  Image: Detail of self-portrait by Julien Mercure. Image provided by Genevieve Hone.
  Self-portrait of Julien Mercure, water-colour, 2011. Image provided by the author.

So the 10 year old artist and the 82 year old artisan agree to meet on the following day. They decide to let me observe as long as I don’t speak a word! Pencil and paper in hand, Sophie plunges right in. “What is the difference between your first painting ever and your newest one?”  I sense that Julien is a bit taken aback by this question: people usually ask for how long he has been drawing and painting. His answer would have been: drawing, for about 78 years; painting for about 65 years, but with more purpose for the odd last 42 years, having decided that painting would be an interesting and challenging activity upon his retirement from his work as a family therapist and university professor in the field of clinical psychology.  Usually, he would add how each painting has taught him something about himself, and challenged him to develop new techniques and approaches.  He would also have mentioned that he paints different genres: landscapes, still lifes, portraits, abstracts.

But he doesn’t go that way with Sophie’s question! Instead, he says: “When I did my first painting, years and years ago, I was of course brand new at this and I thought I would one day know everything there is to know about painting if I developed good techniques. Yesterday, I finished this painting (Julien points to a painting on the wall) and I now know that it is not possible to know everything about painting! I have come to enjoy “not knowing, not knowing how the paper or canvas will react to the pigment and not knowing what ‘mistakes’ I will make that might turn out to be the best feature of the painting. When I start a new painting, I embark on an adventure. I will have to face my limitations as I acquire new skills, and this is what I enjoy.” Sophie nods sagely like the wise old person she already is! And then Julien says: “To get back to your question, Sophie, my first coloured drawing ever was done with a couple of colouring crayons on a brown paper grocery bag. My family couldn’t afford to buy art supplies, so we made use of every scrap of paper that came our way. That first drawing probably went into the wood stove that cooked our food and heated our house. But, today, in a way, every painting I make turns out to be my first painting because in every painting, there are many “firsts” for me: the first time I’ve drawn a given subject, the first time I combined pigments in such a way, the first time I’ve worked shadows and light in such a manner.” Again Sophie nods sagely.

Sophie glances at her notebook and asks: “My art teacher says I need to work on my technique, so I can become a better painter. What do you do to become a better painter?”  Julien smiles: “You know, Sophie, I have never had an art teacher because there were no art teachers in the area where I grew up. So over the years I became what is called ‘self-taught’. I read lots and lots of books about drawing and painting. I spent long hours visiting museums, galleries and exhibitions put up by other artists. I travelled in Canada, in the United States, in Europe, in South America and many other countries, and everywhere I went, I would look at the art from those countries and, if I could, observe artists at work. I kept trying out new things and thus became more experienced. Sometimes some of my work ended in a recycle bin because I had made too many mistakes and couldn’t repair them. Today, I am a better painter, so I very rarely feel the need to destroy a piece of work. Keep on studying and learning, Sophie, it’s worth it!”

Image: Pot rouge et oranges, painting by Julien Mercure. Image provided by the author.  
Image: Pot rouge et oranges, painting by Julien Mercure. Image provided by the author.  

I have one more question”, says Sophie. “How do you draw hair?”  I have often heard Julien explain how our minds get in the way of our perceptions and how even the best of artists will paralyze themselves with their ideas about an object or a subject; for example, the idea that drawing a face is extremely difficult. In a way, drawing a face should be no more difficult than drawing a rocking chair! A face is just an object to be carefully observed over and over again till finally the artist can see it as a mass of shadow and light that makes sense to him, so I’m not surprised to hear Julien’s answer: “A good way to learn how to draw hair, Sophie, is to look at pictures of faces, over and over again, until you begin to see that the hair is made up of “threads” that together form a mass of light and shadow, and this is what you want to paint. It’s both simple and quite complex! As you get better at “seeing”, you’ll get better at drawing and painting.”

Another glance at her notebook and Sophie very seriously says: “I appreciate the time you have taken with me to answer my questions. Thank you very much.” Julien nods sagely, and I smile fondly as I see that Sophie has written a little note to herself: “Remember to say thank you like a grownup would.”



Welcome to the 25th solo exhibition of paintings by Julien Mercure
Friday, October 2, 2015, from 5 to 8 pm.
Saturday, October 3 to Sunday, October 11, from 12 to 5 pm.

At the home of Julien Mercure and Geneviève Hone
400 Stewart St, Apt 1401, Ottawa, ON, K1N 6L2, ring 0208

Image: Painting, Fleurs, September 2004, by Julien Mercure. Image provided by Genevieve Hone.

(Painting of peonies and vase, by Julien Mercure.
Image provided by the author.