Statement for the Sète Set

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In the winter of 2005 I travelled to Sète, a seaside town on France’s southeastern

Mediterranean coast.  My main motive in going there was sea and sun—an escape from

Irish winter weather.  It did not disappoint.

 

My short stay in Sète was a journey into the unknown—Flamingos and oyster beds, a

horizon that seemed endless.

 

I learned that Sète was also the birthplace of poet Paul Valéry, known as one of the

greatest poets of the 20th century.  And one of Valéry’s most famous poems is “Le

cimitière marin” (“The Graveyard by the Sea”).  I visited this graveyard more than once

and felt taken away to a time or place between this life and the next.

 

This cemetery stands aloft, looking down on the harbor.  Most of the graves are marked

by white marble mausoleums.  I thought of sailors heading out to sea, looking back

toward their loved ones, or to the place where lost shipmates rest.

 

The cemetery and its ghosts burst in on my psyche.  When I returned home, I found that

specific lines of Valéry’s poem leapt out at me, inspiring me to paint—

 

The sun at my back, the earth resting on a cusp, night falling on a dark, seething sea, the

day ends.

 

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