Richard Ozanne Studies with Artist Gustave Nebel (France)
(At his studio)
I remember him well, Gustave Nebel, a teacher and artist with a long history of work:
Now to study with Nebel was not an easy issue! He did not readily take students as his studio was filled already and had been for some time. It was not an easy venture to find the kind of teacher that I personally needed, and as a budding artist it was surely-absolutely not an issue- of looking up 'art studio' in the Cannes phone directory, or simply accepting any artist as being a specific trainer, coach and master. Surely now everyone calls themselves an artist and every town is filled to the brim with artists, or retirees willing to give lessons in floral or landscape work to leave behind the history of art with which they may be totally inexperienced to teach. Nebel was a legend. He had been painting professionally since the late 1920's and had under his element a specific technique and range of a master artist. This was not "fun" time, nor a simple exercise of being a painter for laughs, fun or games. This is a craft of art and part of a legacy to learn more and gain more for my future career.
Gustave Nebel was born in Paris, France and became and American Citizen. He married well known American actress and children's book writer Lydie Vallois, who was extremely well known in the cinema and theater of France and Cannes as well . He attended the Academie Julian, Ecole des Arts Decoratifs, and the Ecole National des Beaux Arts. Nebel is known as an artist and illustrator of books for young readers. My Village, My World and Think About It: Experiments in Psychology were both chosen for Child Study Association's Children's Books of the Year in 1969 and 1968 respectively. My Village, My World was also chosen as Book World's Children's Spring Book Festival honor book in 1969.He was a magnificent artist who provided a vital insight into the form of art which I wished to study. He was a very good colorist and draftsman, as well as a resourceful teacher who knew the arts and personally knew every artist that one could possibly imagine that was living during period as well as a greater majority of the artists of the 20th century. He had met August Renoir as a young artist, and met Henri Matisse, Pablo Picasso, Magritte, Dali...and the list went on, this artist a legend of past, and my studies in memorium. His studio was filled with anacdotes of art as well as stories of being an artist in Paris during the German Invasion. His 3 hour sessions where intense. He would lean over his students, directing them as one would an orchestra to work on developing a high degree of facility and style. Most of his students, limited to a capacity of 5 were older artists and some were exhibiting during this period in Paris as well as Cannes. He was a professional/ Artist-Teacher, which seemed by analogy to drift back to the ataliers of the 19th and early 20th Century.
His studio was not easy to get into, one needed a very serious recommendation. Nebels students being older often shared their experiences in his Master Classes on Art that went from the sketchbook to the easle. I t was "Once in a Blue Moon" when someone would be allowed to study with Nebel, because of the sheer intensity of his teachings ..he would not often let younger pupils into the studio. I was lucky. Studio was available-
My personal reference was a noted Parisian art dealer named Marcel Asquinazi who first introduced me to Nebel. Asquinazi had a big gallery in Paris and also in Cannes that had its address on Boulevard Rue d' Antibes. His clientel were of note and affluence including stars of the cinema and stage in Paris that would come to center of the elite environment of Cannes Art Center to purchase fine work from established Master Artists.
During this time there was still regard to the concept of "Master Artists" in France. Artists were still regarded and sought. There wasnt the "popular consensus" readily established as in America, that "everyone" was an artists...this title belonged to very few..and in French tradition proved by study. It is a different viewpoint that gives art value and establishes the concept of tradition. Even a viewing of my portfolio was difficult..and for Marcel Asquinazi, a viewing of my portfolio was a special event that needed reference!
Twice a week I would go to Nebels studio. His wife Lydie would often be there to greet me as I carried my materials and equipment in for the session. I produced large amounts of work and finally achieved a level of confidence with Nebel, earning a local card that would give me an extra personal discount on materials at the art supply shop. In the 1980's there was a certain comradery in France between artists of a certain calibur. The artists in Cannes knew the artists of the Cote' d Azur, the galleries and private showings. When an artist like Salvador Dali would appear in Cannes, there would be a closed sesson showing of his work for private-not public view, the artist appearing for 1/2 an hour and then going. And I remember two experiences in reference to this at galleries on the Croisette. Nebel would tip me in on these events as well as others as they would happen.
One special day I received a telephone call from Nebel telling of a special showing of the work of Salvador Dali at a Gallery in Cannes where Dali would be present. It was a showing of early work, and a variety of art of the master that was often unseen. Of course it was a closed session exhibit, and the reference of my teacher Nebel did open doors.
I arrived early and was received by a concierge at the door for a special invitation by the gallery, that was marked by a special invitation.
During the exhibit which lasted from 5-8pm it was about 6.30 that there was still silence as Salvador Dali entered the door. The gallery was not jammed packed for this was an invitational event only. I remember as he came through the door he raised his cane and bolted back his eyes in the remembered fashion of the photographs that I had seen. A four foot area was surrounding him as he came with two associates, art dealers who were from Paris to the back part of the gallery where a "Salvador Dali" chair was specially prepared. Of course there were the photo ops of the media and it was an exclusive event where a singular person was not allowed to carry their camera. Dali sat down and answered questions regarding his work to members of the art gallery as well as the conissures which had come for this special viewing. There was a circle about 20 feet wide on either side of Dali and the questions would spill forth. About 15 minutes passed and then the artist lifted from his seat and began to mingle a bit,his cane in hand, using it almost as a sceptre on occasion. Of course I carried a small sketchbook with me, and somehow I got away with this at this showing. I tried to somehow get Dali's attention via an associate from the gallery who I had been talking to, wanting to greet the master if possible as he had been one of my all time favorite artists. Dali was beginning to get tired and walked back to the chair when my associate grabbed his attention and he swung around looking our way. He was introduced to me...and I can remember the hand shake that seemed of an almost grandiose proportions. I was introduced as a young artist who admired his work.. "Dali!?...he questioned...somewhat timidly, and then took up his cane holding on to it...raised eyebrows..heavily waxed, and smiled almost in a ferrocious way. "A young artist!" he belted forth! I made my introduction..and he shook my hand again holding tight with a grip that was dynamic, pulling away as I smiled and bolting back his eyes..."Surrealismus!.." he said glaring my direction and raisint that cane slightly-as there was another round of photographs taken, and I was asked to stand back for these. His representitives then came in just as I began to talk with him whispering in his ear and he was guided out...
It was just a brief encounter...Ill never forget. It happened again during my studies in New York that Dali appeared by the invitation of Xavier Gonzales, a very well known and respected Art Students League professor who knew Dali personally..but I had only saw him through a crowd of people gathered in front of the League at that time.
Nebel was happy about the meeting and wondered if I had a chance to show him my sketchbook...then he smiled..and shrugged his shoulders looking back at me and making a statement that I would not soon forget. "Remember it is not a celebrity that makes the artist...not immitation..not being like them, but the artist must be himself!" Nebel responded, "It is never a case of being known that an artist is given his wings...its the fact that an artist is...just is...an artist" He didnt like Dalis work however. Nebel preferred the masters of the Nabis...Bonnard and Vuilliard as well as Sisley. I had a love at that time of Bougereau, the neo-classics. Nebel..just simply said "I had good taste!" and set upon his business...He sent me to Paris to meet with some other artists at that time and gave me the mission of spending 2 days at the Louve copying work as well as viewing art in Paris at several galleries that he laid out.
I went to Paris for 5 days and out of the five days spent 3 days copying artwork at the Louve. ( A special stamp was required for this ) On one occasion I met a fellow who was a copyist who became friends with me...watching each others easle and materials when one would take a break. He gave me tips on some work I was copying..a Henry Fuselli work. He introduced me to one of his friends who came from outside Paris to visit and we sat over coffee and talked. I received reference to see several artists and visit their studios at that time. Some of the most impressive were Benard Buffet, Maurice Boitel, Paul Collomb, Jean Monneret, Jean Joyet and Gaëtan de Rosnay. and painter Schagil Vergona- (I could never find any reference on this artist...older, classical artist in the style/manner of Manet (his work was exactly like the master) who liked my artwork and was open to taking me on as a student in Paris if I were to consider going to the Ecole d' Beaux Arts for my advanced degree.
There was a great respect for the Ecole d'Beaux Arts, although some of the older artists swore it off as becoming somthing of an academic papermill. It had a history that was long suffering as well as some of the academies that were associated with it.
And they talked about them..the students who studied there as well as the artists that they produced. The older crowd of artists were always interesting to talk to...often referencing old and bygone ages of art, exhibitions and times of the artists that were seemingly 300X more intense than what I had seen.
Of course the world, even at that time was changing...some artists were talking about it. It was quite apparent that art was changing too. I received some reference for some exhibits I could be a part of during my time in France. These shows, though not very large were geared for young artist and competitions. I produced work for these, and sent my materials in only not to qualify because I was not a resident of France. (This should have no bearing on the situation...but it did) Instead I was invited to exhibit my works at several small galleries in Cannes, Antibes,St Raphael, Nice and a possibility in Paris...at the Young Artists Exhibition at Center Pompidou (for more modern works)
Still my studies persisted. I worked at my art every day for many hours in sketching, painting and producing. My portfolio was 2 feet thick of flat work after my studies with Nebel.
After returning to Cannes and a couple of months study...Nebel took a special interest in my work...and began preparing me for the requisites of the Ecole d' Beaux arts. This preparation was intensive.
I had to learn how to construct figures from my imagination-without a figure present- in 20 different poses that are anatomicly accurate and plausable. (According to Nebel..this drawing test had to be done in less than 30 minutes in a closed room test at the Ecole) I also had to know linear perspective in at least 8 different ratios including the real concepts of the "golden ratio" in application to painting, drawing and architecture- without use of pantagraph, or other tools, shade/shadow and portrait. It sounded almost too rigerous. He provided me with an old copy of Gills Perspective-Drawing and several other older books that were on the human figure. I ate ate them for dinner (as a young artist) so to speak, with practice...and Nebel tested me. Before leaving his studio I was in his words-totally competent to pass the rigorous examinations.
Of course the world had changed since the "olden times", so to speak.
The time studying in France with Gustave Nebel was fruitful. He gave me a painting (a rather large one) in gouache-his favorite medium of a fountain that never ceased to flow-a most amazing painting, the colors so delicate that one would think just-genius the use of color from this masters hands! Of course he was one of the most diverse artists that I could remember. I look back remembering the crowded studio, and the special attention given, the treks to Paris and to meet his friends -gallery dealers in Juan Le Pin, Frejus, San Rafael and Marsailles. Those study tours are not far from memory, books some 250 pages in number filled up-the larger painting waiting at the studio for completion. Of course there was that measure of academia that was always taunting me-the degree needed for teaching. I would have always thought that the 'old way' of an artist working/studying with a master in his studio was a much more suitable way of 'learning' art, but then art is never quite learned, it is taken in and one experiences the process. There was a concentration on the MFA Degree offered at Universities in America that was the "mark" of distinction. Nebel also knew that this world had changed and he was receptive to his...remarking "I know of a very good art school in New York that has always been good...The Art Students League...Do you know of this very fine school?" he questioned. It was something of an irony that I later attended the Art Students League for 4 years the very next year. Mr Nebel was pleased at my gains and accomplishments, making me somewhat vow to keep up my work! "If its not exhibitions...teach!" he told me in a daunting tone addressed with a smile. He realized I was an artist with tenacity and the ability to see my vision through. I constantly continued my work in art..and have until the present day! "Of course there are warnings" he said, and "these warnings will try to change your ways!" He remarked. "The world is filled to to capacity of people who want to be, but few who are, dividing the wheat from the chaff..and many artists are not well known till they are.." (he laughed) and pointed at the ground. "But asides from that.." he continued, "There is something very special about being an artist, although the rest of the world will try to desuade you, torment you..and make you give up your work. It takes (pointing to his stomach) a little nerve, and a little guts! "-basicly translated, "And then you achieve the love of your life! Art"-He smiled and we shared a 'Gitanne' on his porch looking out over the Riviera. (I have several special photographs-last meeting in Cannes)
When I left Cannes I was still wanting of Nebels critique on my work. We stayed in touch a number of years...until his death. Remarkably he still remembered my work...The was a wonderful feeling when I would get a letter or postcard from France with Gustave Nebel written on the return address. And then there was that work that was uniquely Nebel-Memory-He died in 1987. On return to France in 1990 I saw a small eloquent museum set up for Nebel in Cannes. Marcel Asquinazi was still selling art and his wife Lydie still lived in the same studio where I returned to see her. Nebel had left a legacy of Art to the French Government as well as the pupils who had studied with him.