“J’aime rechercher l’harmonie et la beauté en modest imitateur de mon createur.” -Arcabas
Always keen to see new places, we were pleased when Marie-Pascale planned a trip to Saint-Pierre-de-Chartreuse in Isère, north of Grenoble. We went to see the works of Arcabas, a local artist of contemporary sacred art. His most important work is the decoration of the church of Saint-Hugues-de-Chartreuse.
An amazing sight on entering
On our guided tour
In 1952, at age 25, Arcabas offered to decorate the damp dingy church for free. He worked in the church during three distinct phases of his life. The first phase was to depict the Last Supper, the Resurrection and the Ten Commandments in huge paintings in red and black. Only at the nartex and the chancel could he paint a fresco directly on the wall. The nave was so damp that he had to paint on woollen hangings to let the air circulate behind them. He also fashioned the beautiful stained glass windows in the side-aisles.
A modern representation of Christ on the Cross
In the late sixties Arcabas left to work in Ottawa, returning to Saint-Pierre in 1973 to begin his second phase. For the next 12 years he worked on the upper row of paintings, abstract designs with gold leaf which reflects the light.
The final stage was 1985 to 1991 when Arcabas painted over 50 images inspired by biblical texts. They are in no particular order and are full of movement and life.
This reminded me of Picasso
Besides the decoration Arcabas made a tabernacle and altar, a reliquary, and decorated the floors with brass inlay and designed the studded doors.
A very modern reliquary
and the altar
Arcabas was prolific in other areas too and was a set and costume designer in the theatre. His paintings are exhibited in many countries of the world and he created many works nearer to home, for example the panoramic stained glass in Notre-Dame-des-Neiges, Alpe d’Huez. He has also worked in collaboration with Etienne, his sculptor son, designing the liturgical furnishings of other churches and cathedrals.
However this church in Saint-Pierre-de-Chartreuse displays his major work. Arcabas donated it to the department of Isère and 100,000 people a year go and visit. Despite becoming an art museum the church is still used for worship. Arcabas, now approaching his 90th year, lives locally in Saint-Pierre.
After the long journey and what seemed an even longer guided tour we deserved our shared picnic. It wouldn’t be a good day out without one.
A welcome break between guided tours
Then off to visit the distillery at Chartreuse. And despite Marie-Pascale’s persistent questioning of the guide we still don’t know what’s in that green liqueur except a secret mix of 300 wild herbs. I would guess it is probably the same as goes into cough mixture.