“Sometimes, something good can come from something bad,” Rae Dunn writes in the foreword of a new book entitled France: Inspiration du Jour by Chronicle Books. Before creating this visual ode to France, Dunn never considered drawing as a practical medium for documenting her travels. The theft in Spain revealed a hidden talent brought out by necessity, and her journal soon became her sketchbook.
“In order to remember the things that I wanted to remember I quickly drew sketches of them in lieu of taking pictures. I never went to art school, never took a drawing or painting class, and didn’t think I could even draw very well,” she writes.
She learned to rely on a new set of artistic channels; namely her eye, hand, and pencil, in what would become a watercolor memory book. Rae Dunn describes the act of recording her lived experience through art as distinctly visceral, with memories captured as if she “had just pushed a button,” allowing for a “deeper connection to the object.”
The sketchbook captures Dunn’s immediate, fleeting experience of France, and although the book contains photographs, it’s not reliant upon the sudden opening and closure of a camera shutter. The photographs act as complements to the drawings, rather than the other way around, and the result is a meditative, quiet observation of Paris as seen through the lens of an American girl.
Her goal was not to capture reality as a camera would (or would it?), but to relay the essence of the object and moment on her own terms (Gertrude Stein, anyone?). This focus on essence, on the ephemeral, personalized nature of objects, is what makes this little francophile art book so charming, and for lack of a better word, real.
The book’s pages contain windowshop dresses, sweet cakes, cutlery, all the little items she would never buy, fields, color palettes, ice cream, and even shades of rosé. France: Inspiration du Jour can be found on Amazon here.
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