Luck of the draw
A decade on, how life in Gers continues to inspire British illustrator Perry Taylor’s work
Gascony is the fabled land of d’Artagnan and the musketeers, armagnac and foie gras, and more than a decade ago captured the hearts of British illustrator Perry Taylor and his Dutch wife Caroline.
The last time we caught up with Perry Taylor – or l’Anglo-Gascon as he is affectionately known by the locals – he was transforming his dilapidated, 250-yearold farmhouse in the tranquil village of Puydarrieux into a rural abode.
Today, he is putting the finishing touches to his rural retreat and has just come to the end of a mammoth project to renovate the barn attached to his home. “It’s quite a big barn; 21 metres long and seven metres deep, and used to hold cattle mangers and pigsties,” Perry says. “We’ve been very busy digging out the concrete floor and had 45 truck loads of it taken away. It’s been a real labour of love but it’s been worth it,” he adds.
What Perry and his wife Caroline have now is a beautiful, modern space. They have transformed the humble farmhouse into a studio for photo shoots and a gallery to showcase Perry’s work and that of other local artists. “It’s the perfect place to have a gallery. And with the underfloor heating which we had fitted we can insulate it in the winter and host people here even at the coldest time of year,” Perry says. But the barn’s transformation doesn’t stop there. “Next year we will be putting in special lighting so as to be able to hold rotating exhibitions,” Perry adds.
ART IMITATES LIFE
After 13 years living in rural south-west France, Perry has had plenty of time to experience life in the countryside, and it greatly influences his artwork. “I’ve always been a nature boy and I just love it here. I like to watch the farmers going about their daily lives… milking cows, shearing sheep and planting up the fields. And I’m also fascinated by what the other villagers get up to. It might only be something trivial, but it quite often captures my imagination and ends up in my paintings,” he admits. But what really inspires him here are the animals, in particular his chickens, who have appeared in many of his prints. “Since we moved here we’ve always kept chickens and they’re just so comical,” he says. “We’ve got six chickens now and there’s definitely a pecking order,” he laughs. “If I can name just three then there’s Cilla, who is small and fierce; Macy, who is a pretty grey colour and fairly near the bottom of the pecking order; and Rusty, the cockerel who takes the highest perch in the coop.”
Perry’s art business has gone from strength to strength in the last few years, and he now does a roaring trade both online and in person. His first book Les Petites Gasconneries, featuring some of his most popular chicken drawings, was a sell-out and he’s notching up further success with his most recent release, Les Bons Moments, which features even more humorous drawings of life in rural France. And it doesn’t stop here, as Perry is already working on another book of sketches: “I’m preparing a third book which will be a compilation of sketches that I’ve done recently, and it should be out next May,” he tells me.
But it is at fairs that he sees his hard work really pay off. Perry spent three weeks this summer at Marciac’s jazz festival, introducing more French people to his humorous take on life in Gascony. “Marciac is a great place to get yourself known,” Perry says. “So many people come to this jazz festival. Last year Jamie Cullum was there and the whole crowd went mad. I try to get a place in the main square so as to attract as many passers-by as possible really,” he adds. And Perry knows exactly what sells at the fair: “It’s the prints on the region – they’re very popular. And so are my greeting cards,” he confirms.
Much has happened in the last year and a half when it comes to
European politics, with the election of Emmanuel Macron, whom Perry considers a “breath of fresh air” and “intelligent”, and the dreaded B word; Brexit. “I am disappointed with the outcome of the referendum,” Perry says. “I think the British public were misinformed by politicians and no one really understood what the consequences would be,” he adds.
But it’s not just Perry who was shocked by the Brexit result; it’s been the subject on everyone’s lips in his adopted village of Puydarrieux. “I remember on the morning of 24 June last year two villagers came up to me and said ‘ Le Brexit,’ ” Perry says. “‘Not in my name’ I told them. I couldn’t vote,” he adds.
VISION OF THE FUTURE
So, after all this time in France (Perry moved there in 2004 from the Netherlands), has Brexit pushed him towards taking French citizenship? “I’ve thought about it carefully, and yes, I’d like to take French citizenship,” he admits. “My wife Caroline is from the Netherlands and says she will be happy to keep her Dutch nationality for the time being as there is no sign of them leaving the EU, but I’m ready to take French nationality. Besides, I have a business here now and have that to think about,” he adds.
Perry and Caroline are living in one of the most tranquil corners of l’Hexagone and are enjoying life in the slow lane after years in the fast-paced world of advertising. But would they ever consider moving elsewhere? “My wife says the only way anyone will get us to leave here is in a box,” Perry says candidly. “We love everything about this place. My wife and I enjoy going on walks and bike rides – and the spectacular Pyrénées are never far away. And we’re very aware of where food comes from here. Whatever stall you go to at a local market there is always information displayed on exactly which farm a particular product has come from. And you know it’s going to be good stuff,” he adds.
And when it comes to making friends with the locals, the couple have definitely made an impression. Testament to this was Perry’s 50th birthday when half the village came to his house. “The mayor sang mountain songs and a few villagers sang harmony to me. It was just so moving, and a sign that we’d been fully accepted,” he says.
On their quality of life in deep rural France, Perry’s concluding remark says it all: “We might have less in our pockets living here, but we’ve got more than enough in our hearts.”
Perry and Caroline Taylor
Above: Say ‘ fromage’: Perry’s most recent book takes a humorous look at life in rural France Below: Perry’s chickens regularly pop up in his illustrations
inSt-Émilion artwork Selling
Caroline in the Pyrénées
Above: Perry and Caroline have transformed the old farmhouse into an artist studio and gallery