If you’re thinking of travelling to some place unique this summer, head for the rolling countryside of France and before you do, grab a copy of a recently published book called ‘Portrait of a French Village‘. The author is not your average travel writer. He is an exceptional cartoonist, caricaturist and reportage artist as well as a regular artist, whose candid images of famous people have been published in the likes of The Guardian, Financial Times, BBC Newsnight, Channel 4 News, CBS News and varied others over a span of some 35 years.
This is Richard Cole, an Englishman whom I was fortunate to interview a few years ago while he was here in Malta exhibiting some of his paintings. The fully illustrated book was inspired by his own experiences in the French village of Saint Geoire en Valdaine, a village fully immersed in rurality and tradition. Cole writes about how he discovered the village way back in the 60s and how he fell in love with the life there, the villagers, the ambience, the traditions, not least the baguettes.
He lovingly explains his experiences in this tiny village, which are all reflected by acutely drawn sketches and illustrations through which we, the readers, can see how this village breathed its daily goings on and how each important character lived his/her life. We meet them all…from the mayor to the baker, from the WWI survivor to the coffin maker…… each to his own and Cole provides unique insights into his personal interpretation of each personality. In his own way, he documents a passage in time, explaining how some places and people are now, alas no more.
Through this book we can see how Cole eventually decided to open a studio within this French context and become part of the landscape as a unique character in his own right…. the only thing missing in the books seems to be a cartoon of the man himself hiding in the shadows, carefully sketching away… or perhaps I haven’t look closely enough!
The full colour hardbound book which will make an excellent gift to any art lover or Francophile, can be viewed and ordered on-line.