A Painter’s Cycling Journey Through Provence
Q & A with ExperiencePlus! Traveler John Owens
John Owen has been commuting by bicycle since 1971 when he rode to the University of Washington. He and his wife Joan Andersen also like to bicycle for recreation and make use of the numerous bike trails in the Puget Sound area. His urban design work involves bicycle facilities planning which includes ways to promote safer more accessible biking from that angle. He joined ExperiencePlus! in October 2015 to bicycle through Provence and was generous enough to share his paintings and thoughts from the trip.
I started painting when I was 4 and have continued as a hobby since then. I hope that I have continued to improve but am not sure about that.
How has your style developed over the years?
I have tended to become more stiff and less expressionistic. In the Provence pictures, I have tried to be a little more “sketchy”. I also like the pictures to tell a “story” so I sometimes use different vantage points or add some text to provide a clue of what was important to me. When I draw something, I try to depict the subject’s meaning rather than the subject itself. This can be my emotional response to the scene, some allusion to an historical or cultural connection, or some functional or “structural” aspect of the subject. For example, the image of Chateau de Sade is shown at night with a creepy red light in a solitary window in reference to de Sade’s depraved reputation. The split image of the Pont du Gard is my attempt to integrate the aqueduct’s engineering brilliance with its bucolic setting. And, the image of Mt Ventoux is just a way to help me remember the wonderful experience and the people I shared it with.
Do you have any suggestions for other cyclists interested in taking up painting?
I would advise them to keep a small sketch book in their bike case and sketch what they think is interesting when they have a chance to stop. I don’t try to paint when I’m cycling – it takes too much time. I will just do a quick pencil sketch and then finish the painting either in a hotel room, or more usually, at home from photographs. Quick sketching at stopping points, however, really does help you to see things more completely and embed your memory of the place. And, painting after the trip extends its pleasure.
Have you painted professionally or is it primarily a hobby for you?
Mostly a hobby but I do quite a bit of watercolor rendering as an architect/urban designer. And, I use my travel experiences to inform my design work so some of the sketches and watercolors, such as the Cours Mirabeau sketch are notes for me to use later.
What artist/piece of work do you most identify with?
Well, it’s pretentious for me to say that I identify with a great artist, and I enjoy all kinds of art, but I tend to gravitate to those who do representational work but who also extract more emotion or meaning from their subjects: Turner, Hopper, Cezanne, Homer, etc. For me, David Hockney is doing some amazing things based on his exploration of how we perceive the world and give it meaning.
Had you been to Provence before?
I had just passed through in the 1970’s and to return was something I always wanted to do.
You have a painting that is reminiscent of Cezanne’s famous painting that features Mont St Victoire how did that come about?
On the last day of our ExperiencePlus! trip, another member of the group and I rode out to Mont St Victoire. I had always revered Cezanne’s paintings and wanted to get closer to the mountain itself. What a great way to end the trip. It really satisfied a dream from my college days.
Why do you think Provence is such an attraction for artists?
It has some of the most picturesque scenery in the world – a combination of natural elements such as mountains and river valleys, rural landscapes, and human made features such as small towns, castles and churches. When I think about Provence landscapes, the word “harmony” comes to mind. Although I’ve been in many beautiful places, I don’t think I’ve ever been in one that has seemed so harmonious.
You and your wife Joan have now done three cycling trips with ExperiencePlus! – Cycling the Best of Provence Plus! the Luberon and Aix-en-Provence, the Camino de Santiago from Roncesvalles to Santiago, and the Bike Across Italy: Venice to Pisa – do you have a favorite, and if so why?
Nope! They were all wonderful in different ways.
How do the two of you decide where to go next?
Good question. Most of our travel decisions just fall in place. We’re lucky like that, I guess.
Do you have anything to add?
I hope this discussion encourages others to take the trip – and maybe do a little sketching on the way. In my opinion, bicycling is the best way to see Europe and our trips with ExperiencePlus! have been three of my all-time favorite vacations.
See more of John’s paintings and the photo gallery from his ride through Provence here.
Read More about Our Tours in Provence: