Meet the artist who uses 'British' humour to win over French
Artist Perry Taylor’s gentle ‘British’ humour has the French laughing at themselves. Connexion talks to him about his new book, and why inspiration can be so easy to find...
Perry Taylor, who draws for Connexion, has just published his fourth book, Planète Gascogne. His humorous and affectionate drawings of life in Gascony – and his “very British humour” has captured the hearts of the local population: the local tourist office, supermarkets and wine producers have asked him to draw for them. He holds exhibitions across the region which are very popular.
So, how did it all begin?
I was in the advertising business for around 25 years in London and Holland and I was pretty much burnt out. When my wife Caroline and I moved to Puydarrieux, Hautes-Pyrénées, in 2004 it was just good therapy for me to go out with my pen and sketch pad. I have always drawn. When I was eight or 10, I had lessons with an art teacher and later went to art college.
I think selling my work in France really started when we were invited to our neighbours who have black Gascon pigs and chickens and a vineyard and we went to help pick the grapes. There were four generations working together. There was lots of chat and at the end there was this beautiful spread under the trees with food from their farm – it was just one of those idyllic French images. As a way to thank them I gave them a drawing. I sketched all the things I could remember. The grandchildren on the quad, the two old brothers having a pee at the end of a row of vines and laughing, and Mamie falling asleep under the tree with a hat on.
They loved it and asked for a couple of prints for the rest of the family. It gave me the idea to carry on and start selling. I began at the local market in 2012. People would come up and say, ‘Hey, that’s me, that’s my grandfather, that’s my brother’. They recognised themselves in my drawings of local life. People kept coming back and asked if I did cards and so I started investigating and eventually turned it into a business. It just evolved.
You are affectionately called ‘the Anglo-Gascon’ by the locals and your drawings are often based around Gascony. How would you define this region?
It is an old medieval region. Geographically it is centred in the Gers and spreads out into Les Landes, the Lot-et-Garonne, the Hautes Pyrénées, and the Pyrénées Atlantique. It has its own spirit and identity. I often hear the older generation speaking in the old regional language.
There is a certain pride in not being rushed. We have the Gascon quart d’heure when it is accepted that people will arrive late to an event. Six people will be waiting in a queue in a shop and the customer carries on chatting to the shopkeeper, but no-one complains. It has almost been untouched by time and modernity.
It is one of the least populated areas in France with beautiful rolling hills. It reminds me of an old-fashioned quilt when you lift it up and fling it down and it settles and you get a patchwork of fields and hills and rolling dips. It is like the Cotswolds I knew as a kid in the 1960s and 1970s and here it is still like that now, and it has not been spoilt by second home owners roaring around in their 4x4s.
What has been the inspiration for your new book?
It is based on my observations of people who live here. I love hearing their stories. I will talk to the local butcher, or the guys from the working club and they all have a tale to tell. They know me now and they will say: “I had a very ‘Perry’ moment the other day”, and tell their tale and sometimes I will think the anecdote is okay and other times I will think ‘that is a gem’.
I am a director of the local rugby club and while the boys are training I sit with the old guys who are retired farmers and plumbers and builders. We have an aperitif, we eat and then it is time for an eau de vie and I hear all the gossip. I am learning all the time. They talk about killing the pigs and that you should only do so at a certain period of the moon and that this is because there are no flies at certain times so best to have your pig hanging at that period. Or they tell me when the mushrooms are up in the woods.
Why do you think your drawings are so popular with the French?
They are an appreciation of their way of life, and a little tongue in cheek. Perhaps because the region is new to me I show it to them in a way they can’t see anymore. They no longer see how beautiful it is. Once a man came up and said I was mocking the Gascons when he saw my Foie Gras Blues drawing which shows a man in a beret playing a saxophone, which is in fact a goose. But other people said ‘no, look carefully’, and he did, and he later came back and apologised. He was a rugby man and he said, ‘Now I understand. This is actually great. I can see myself in it and I can laugh at this’.
I have had people in tears. One of my drawings is of a woman with the gavage funnel hidden behind her back in a barn with a duck looking down from the beam above. A woman in her fifties burst into tears when she saw it, went off to fetch her mother and told me it exactly captured the spirit of her grandmother. And that was really gratifying.
You have a British sense of humour, with a lot of word play. Do the French like that too?
They say it is “so British” but they like it because it is subtle and it gives a warm smile. Some people have compared my work to the French artist, Sempé, who is in his eighties now. I’ve got several of his books. There is a warmth to his work showing the little idiosyncrasies of day to day life.
Do you draw all the time?
I’d love to, but life gets in the way. There is grass to be mown and the chores of the day. I also take part in a fair amount of fairs, book signings and exhibitions. I have other contracts for other people and it goes on forever. I am having to say No to things. I do not want to become a slave to my success. It’s the last thing you want here to be working day and night and not enjoying what you are doing. I don’t think you can ever spend too much time drawing. At the end of the day I’ll go outside and instead of spending time on my phone as lots of people do I will sit with my sketchbook and start doodling.
From the way you talk about Gascony and your life here, it sounds as if you have found the get-away-from-it-all French dream?
I am loving it. We have found another way of life, away from the 9-5 routine. I am maybe not as rich in my pocket as before, but I am richer in my heart and that is what counts. There is a wonderful warmth. I find I appreciate things more here. When I go out in the morning for a cup of coffee, I see birds and animals, left and right, and the Monday morning rush hour is three chickens and a couple of tractors. I am very lucky to be doing what I am doing and I’m happy I’ve been able to give lots of people big smiles on their faces.
Planète Gascogne, €29, can be ordered at any French bookshop or at perrytaylor.fr.
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