Luck of the draw

A decade on, how life in Gers con­tin­ues to in­spire Bri­tish il­lus­tra­tor Perry Tay­lor’s work

Living France - - Contents - PHO­TOS & IL­LUS­TRA­TIONS: Perry Tay­lor

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

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