A Tale of Two Cities

Marc Steene

It is interesting to note what communities choose to preserve from their local heritage, which artists, buildings and artworks they deem worthy of handing down to forthcoming generations.

 In the French town of Chartres, the magical Picassiette was preserved by the enlightened city councillors, a building created by Raymond Isidore, a local road sweeper and grave digger. Between 1938 and 1962, Isidore painted and covered in mosaic every surface and object in his house, from the cooking range to the sewing machine. He even turned the family shower into a unique washing experience, replacing the traditional shower head with a tea pot spout. Now, set against the completely unremarkable buildings that surround it, Picassiette glows and shimmers like a temple to some unknown religion.

 It seems the creative drive will find a path no matter how few resources and materials are at hand. Isidore had only pieces of pottery and the walls of his house but with these limited materials he created a unique and unforgettable building.

 Chichester had its own Picassiette once, the Unique House which was located on the site of the old hospital and demolished in the 1980s. Few records exist now apart from an article that appeared in the Chichester Observer when the building was being decorated. A quote from the article gives a sense of how beautiful the building must have been: ‘The fireplace is a strikingly beautiful piece of work of perfectly regular and unusual design, both as regards pattern and colour. The colouring is exquisite’.

The divergent fates of these two buildings tell very different stories about society and what we choose to value and preserve, encouraging us to reflect on what artistic values informed these decisions and what messages they carry about who is, and is not an artist.