Murals and frescos by SHAR SOSH
PARIS’S BURIED TREASURE
For decades, tourists have congregated in the Parisian neighborhood known as Montmartre--a noisy, colorful tangle of meandering roads, worn-out strip clubs, early religious sites, and sublime vistas. Sacre Coeur, the domed marble church atop its winding cobblestone streets, is beloved for its fabulous view, which, at a height of more than four hundred feet, is the city’s best, especially at night.
During the day, the streets are crowded with butchers, bakers, and fishmongers from Rue Lepic’s street market, and painters hawking portraits around the Place du Tertre, a 14th-century square overflowing with street artists. When darkness falls, the air is filled with the typical sounds of old Paris--accordion players in front of outdoor cafes sparkling with the tiny colored lights overhead. The shabby neighborhoods below belie their history as the birthplace of modern art.
Still, clues are everywhere: The Moulin de la Galette, the last old windmill in the city and former dancehall, recognizable from Pierre Renoir’s pictures; the pale stone houses that seem painted by former inhabitants Maurice Utrillo and Raoul Dufy; Toulouse-Lautrec’s studio, steps away from the red-neon lights of the Moulin Rouge nightclub he depicted, where ostrich-plumed can-can dancers still perform nightly; Number 54 Rue Lepic, the apartment of Vincent Van Gogh and his brother, Theo; and the abandoned piano factory at 13 place Emile-Goudeau, where Picasso, working alongside Braque, Gris, and Modigliani, painted his celebrated introduction to Cubism, Demoiselles d’Avignon.
Not only are there artistic treasures at Montmartre’s highest points, but also below ground. One of the area’s lesser-known attractions--the Abbesses metro station, named after the nuns who ran an abbey there during the Middle Ages--is the deepest in Paris, three hundred feet under, built within the area’s old gypsum mines (a soft stone, gypsum is burned to make plaster of Paris). In the 1840s, on the verge of collapse, the mines were closed, although twenty-seven houses and several Parisians had already disappeared.
With its elegant-green, twisted wrought-iron arches and its stylish, amber lights, this turn-of-the-century station is a masterpiece. One of the most picturesque in Paris, it exemplifies the early Art Nouveau designs of Hector Guimard, and is in fact one of the architect’s only two still in existence with the original glass roof intact (the other sits at Porte Dauphine, near the luxurious Avenue Foch, with its view of the Arc de Triomphe). An interesting detail to look for: the small, sculpted ship shield. Parisians originally criticized the choice of German green and requested their own national colors, blue, white, and red; instead of conforming, Guimard added the shield, the symbol of Paris.
The historic station has survived some modifications, including relocation: its entrance originally stood in front of Paris's city hall, Hotel de Ville, but several years ago, when then-Mayor of Paris Jacques Chirac had the plaza redesigned, he had it moved to Montmartre. Other important changes have occurred underground. This past winter, a group of local and international artists was hired by the city to renovate this famous metro station. For more than a month, this crew restored, replastered, and repainted the walls, including those of two long, winding, spiral staircases (more than three hundred fifty steps) covered with colorful, original murals depicting the local flavor, using top-quality paints and brushes donated by the manufacturers.
“I’ve always had an attraction to France, even from a very early age,” comments Shar Sosh, a vivacious American from South Bend, Indiana, who flew into Paris to take part. "I just feel completely at home here. This the city of art--art is everywhere, and appreciation of art is everywhere, even on the street or outside a bank building or within a cemetery. Culture is part of everyone’s consciousness.”
The energy was apparent in the station: commuters rushing by suddenly stopped to compliment her, snapping pictures, asking questions, gesturing, trying to communicate, whether in French, German, Italian, or Japanese. Sosh, who for the past ten years has shown her work in group and solo exhibitions throughout the United States and Europe, does not speak French fluently, yet she not only managed to communicate perfectly with all the members of her group but made herself understood in every language. Thanking everyone, answering their questions, exchanging phone numbers, she often put her brush in a visitor’s hands, took their picture, and then ran downstairs to grab her camcorder and ask for comments.
While many of the murals within the staircase depict nighttime cafes, the city's picturesque apartment buildings, or nearby gardens, Sosh's section, painted in cherry reds, lemon yellows, pistachio greens, and plum purples, creates a dreamlike world urging growth and change. Situated between a sky-blue vortex of floating houses, trees, and skulls, and a school of fish lined up in a yellow sea, she says her mural “is meant to tell us that we can make anything we want out of life.” Pointing out on the left a woman standing on solid pillars of vivid, Matisse like color, Sosh reveals that the woman fantasizes about life, while behind her the sea sparkles beneath the glistening sun. As the image curls around the wall, a transformation occurs; like Daphne, the nymph from the Greek myth transformed into a tree, her dream is fulfilled, and she becomes a mermaid perched above the sea.
The woman could represent Sosh herself, who has been splitting her time between South Bend, Indiana and Paris, France, for nearly a decade, and knows well that life offers us the opportunity to fulfill our dreams. “The life of an artist gives you the impulse to give back. That’s why I believe in giving a lot to charity. For me, passion and compassion are perfect harmony,” she explains. And it is with both passion and compassion that Sosh continues to travel, observe, record, grow, and give back to the world.
Sosh began her studies in commercial art and moved on to the Art Institute of Chicago. She has participated in solo and group exhibitions in the United States, France, Norway, and Tunisia, including annual shows in Paris since 1989 at the Salon Collectif Des Artistes; Gallery LaSalle in South Bend, Indiana; the South Bend Regional Museum of Art; Galerie Fabienne Guex in Paris; Atlas Galleries in Chicago, Illinois; the Forum des Halles in Paris; and the Les Carroz in Mont-Blanc. Her work has also been featured on the cover of Paris-Montmartre magazine several times. Her paintings are in many private and corporate collections, including those of NBC Studios and Radio City Music Hall, both in New York City; Kingswood International in Hong Kong; and P.A.M. in Sandnes, Norway. Her work is available for corporate and private sales, gallery and museum shows, and leasing.
Artist Shar Sosh, a South Bend native who has art studios in Paris and Florida, completes a mural at the entrance to the Pediatric Hematology/Oncology Program at Memorial Hospital. The program provides chemotherapy threatments for children with cancer. Sosh's painting depicts a colorful beach.
Shar Sosh Studios
Phone (305) 778-0932