ART AND 'TERROIR'
I have just returned from a short holiday in one of my favourite places on earth, the Languedoc mountains in Southern France, where I spent a beautiful week visiting family.
I used to pass a great deal of time in this heavenly place. Opportunities are now more limited, but in that tiny hamlet, set on the side of a remote, wild, south-facing garrigue mountainside, some of my most important and poignant life-experiences were forged. During my sojourn this week, I renewed acquaintance with people whom I have not seen for fifteen and, in two cases, thirty years. I walked, I worked on the land, I read, I cooked, and I wrote poetry. I also drank a fair bit of superb, honest red wine, which tasted of the glorious region in which is produced.
It is the wine, as well as the moving experience of the past week, that has impelled me to write this piece. I want to talk about the concept of Terroir.
Terroir is the French noun that refers to the soil, the climate, the weather, and the vegetation that influence the flavour and other qualities of wine produced in a certain region. A particular grape grown in the Languedoc will, for instance, produce an entirely different wine from one made with the same grape but grown in, say, the Loire valley. Wines from my region of the Midi tend to be quite bold and tannic but, conversely, also delicate, with undertones of the wild herbs which are the natural neighbours of the grapes from which they are made, and the harsh soils of the region which can turn from acidic to calcareous in the space of a few metres.
The same applies to fruit and vegetables. During the past week I tasted (spread on the world's best organic artisan sourdough bread) some jelly made out of quinces from a wild tree that grows on the Languedoc slopes. In my garden here in England I have a quince tree whose fruits resemble the French ones, but lack the secretive, feral, herby and woody quality of their Occitan cousins.
The same – this is an art blog, after all – applies to Art!
My followers will know that my paintings have always been infused with symbology gleaned, subconsciously, from the Natural World. In my photography, I am fascinated by urban decay and the stark realities of modern human experience – these matters have also, at times, crept into my painting – but it is Nature that is at the root of my work on canvas.
I first discovered the Languedoc in 1988. Ever since, far more than the glorious verdant English countryside that I also adore, it is the savage poetry of the sun-baked Languedoc slopes, outcrops and terraces that have constantly surfaced in my subliminal reference. The colours of wild heather, of juniper, pine, broom, box and dog-rose sit in my mind, ready to burst forth and energise me when my soul needs re-alignment.
ECHO - Haydn Dickenson (2015)
UNTITLED - Haydn Dickenson (2010)
RECOLLECTIONS - Haydn Dickenson (2015)
A friend once described me as 'European, not English'. I think she was right. I love where I live now and it is right for me, but the wild South is where I have been in a previous Life, and where I may return in another.
The South, with its sharp sensuality, alternately seductive and hostile, is my Terroir.
Copyright Haydn Dickenson 2023