Hey, it’s Emilie Johnson, photographer and contributor … and Gaura Tibbits, co-founder of Couleur Nature. In this piece, I interview Gaura about a recent trip to Provence.
Emilie: Gaura, you’ve recently released a new design for Couleur Nature, Avignon. Can you tell us what inspired you to create this print?
Gaura: A road trip to Provence last summer, in fact. I spent time in Avignon and some early memories came rushing back.
Emilie: So, had you been to Avignon as a child?
Gaura: Yes, in fact, I grew up in France. We lived in the Loire Valley, but would take trips to various parts of the country. I have a vivid memory of one specific trip - to Avignon. It was a road trip. My dad owned a couple of cars that have a special place in my memory. He had a Mehari and a Renault 30. I remember with the Mehari, we would go into the amazing forest near where we lived to go ‘tree hunting’ - there was a remarkable variety of trees. In my child’s mind I thought it was the most magical place. Anyway, the road trip to Avignon with my father was very special.
Emilie: What made it special?
Gaura: I remember leaving the Loire Valley on winding roads, watching the cyclists swoosh by out the window. It was late summer, when the sunflower fields across France were in bloom. I watched how the heads of the sunflowers would rotate to face the sun at various points in the day. There were many cars on the road, people heading for the sun in the south of France, stopping along the way near the farmland and forests. I remember seeing people bent over, foraging for mushrooms.
Gaura: I remember my dad was playing ‘Born to Run’ on the car radio. He is a big Sprinsteen fan. He was gentle and patient with me, even when I persistently repeated, “Are we there yet…?” His adventurous and open spirit shone through in those movements. We were on the road, heading to unknown places. His smile was broad in the rearview mirror as he looked back at me.
Emilie: Do you remember when you arrived in Provence specifically?
Gaura: Yes, in fact. I remember there being almost a line of demarcation between where we had come and the south. All the clouds parted at a certain point on the highway and suddenly the sun had a different sort of feel. A permanence. We were in the south, we had come to Provence. We remarked on the limestone rocky hills and the color of the earth, the heat that made the horizon almost hazy.
Emilie: Do you remember where you went first?
Gaura: Yes, Avignon. The city walls really impressed me. At that time we had to park outside the massive ramparts that still define Avignon as a city. They seemed massive and towering for a small boy. My dad took my hand and led me through the walls to walk into the center. The city was bustling. The famous summer theater festival of Avignon was in full swing, which is still a celebrated event today (and started in 1947!). There were throngs of people, musicians playing, clowns, jokers, mimes animating the street. I remember being so entranced I lost sight of my dad for a bit, but he was there and caught my hand again to lead me through the winding streets.
Emilie: What do you remember about the food you ate?
Gaura: I have vivid memories of fresh produce from the markets in France generally - even as a small child that marked me. In Avignon, we arrived on a market day and local farmers had spread their fruits and vegetables everywhere. They were calling out “framboises, melons, mirabelles, figues…”. One of the farmers handed my dad a small golden prune (mirabelle). He ripped it in half and gave me a nosh. It tasted like warm honey melting in my mouth.
Emilie: So you came back this past summer. Was it as you remembered?
Gaura: Yes, in fact. It was very special because those early memories, especially the ones with my dad, were there in my mind, but were brought forth in focus as I came back through the stone walls of Avignon. I could picture us walking hand in hand through the streets as I walked hand in hand with my girlfriend. The colors, the smell, the sound of the wind, the intensity of the heat, and of course, the food! We found a little farmer’s market and browsed the produce. I found the same type of prune (famous in the south of France) and bit into it slowly. I closed my eyes and the memory was Proustian.
Emilie: So, you came back to this place and had these memories come up. What inspired you to create a print that was rooted in this city?
Gaura: The Avignon print is a direct mapping of the colors, style and sensibility of the city and region itself. When in Provence, you will find these repeating floral or striped themes on fabric on the tables at a restaurant, on the napkins, the curtains and bed coverings in homes. The hues are lifted from the palette of Provence all around: the sky, the mustard sunflower heads.
Emilie: I know you are also passionate about the block printing process:
Gaura: Yes, we think that these designs, inspired by traditional fabrics of Provence, have an extra layer of beauty through the block printing process. For us, block printing is not just a means to an end - the process itself brings so much complexity and refinement to the finished print. We very deliberately choose to print the fabrics in this way.
Emilie: I know your trip took you all around the region…
Gaura: Yes, we packed a lot in.
Emilie: I will be delighted to hear more and ask you a few questions about the other spots you visited and loved.
Coming up in a forthcoming post…