French Painter Annabella Gorlier’s Spanish Lifestyle
French painter, Annabella Gorlier, came to Granada as an Erasmus student and never looked back. A series of unexpected events took her to live with her young family high on a mountainside from where she could fly down to the town whenever she wanted.
Annabella Gorlier never expected to end up living in Spain high on a mountainside with a Spanish compañero who flies and two bi-lingual children. “No,” says Annabella, “but if I had dreamed a life when I was a girl it would have been something similar.”
Annabella knew from early on that she was an artist. “But it was a long time before I dared to call myself that. It just sounded too presumptuous, too important for me. I was always doing something related to art, but didn’t start painting until 12 years ago when I was 22.”
As she speaks she’s putting the finishing touches on a ginger-bread house she has just baked. Her children, Luka, seven, and Enzo, four, are hovering around the table, eager to start devouring the little doors, walls and roof. Luka is the eight-year-old version of the capable, confident young woman, the ideal big sister for Enzo, very much the benjamín, as the Spanish refer to their youngest offspring. Both children go to school a half-hour drive down the mountain.
Typical, Ma Non Troppo
When she arrived in Granada in 1999 Annabella was a typically French girl on a European Erasmus year-abroad scholarship. “Well, not entirely typical,” she confesses. “My mother is Finnish and my father is from India. But I grew up in a village of some 40 families in the mountains above Nice in France. Then I studied at the Lycee and the university in Nice.” Until she went to the Lycee Annabella, her sister and a few children from the village, studied at a little school founded by her father. “We were privileged kids.” she says, “We had the mountains all to ourselves, and we were not in the grip of consumerism nor television. That’s where I learned to love nature and think my own thoughts.
“Every summer I would spend with my grandmother in Finland. We became very close, and still are. She taught me so much. In Finland I absorbed more nature and perhaps a touch of Finnish introspection. The Finns are a special race. They’re hard working, honest and trustworthy and they have one of the finest education systems in the world. Their society is organized for the wellbeing and development of their children. Finland is a country of happy kids. But, unlike the Spanish, they do lack spontaneity. If you want to visit a friend—or even a relative—at home, you may have to make an appointment.
The Change in Spain
“Spain began to change me almost immediately,” says Annabella. “After the first month I was thinking I couldn’t go back to France. It’s not easy to describe what was happening to me, but as soon as I arrived in Granada everything seemed more important and more focused. Everything—landscapes, people, even ideas—had crisp edges around them, like looking at a tree backlit by the morning sun.
“Of course, Granada’s beauty surprised me: the Alhambra palace and gardens, the Albaicín quarter, the surrounding countryside and the Sierra Nevada mountains. It was a magical place where I thought I could live forever.” When her academic year was over Annabella started plotting ways of staying in Granada, but she didn’t have to plot for long. Elizabeth Stévaux, a professor at Granada’s Facultad de Traductores e Intérpretes, where Annabella was studying, needed some home help during her maternity leave. So for the following year Annabella was the au paire looking after the professor’s other two children. One thing led to another and Annabella found herself the sister-in-law of the professor and aunty to her children. “I fell for Elizabeth’s brother-in-law, Juan, at first sight. Then we went skiing together, and then he took me for a flight in a paraglider.That’s how this all started,” says Annabella, sweeping her hand over the heads of her children and around her mountain domain.
The House That Grew Like a Fairy Ring
Juan and Annabella’s artistic house has grown organically over the years along with the needs of their family. “We used to fly from up here,” says Annabella, “and I always loved the place. Then Juan found out that the two apartments tucked into the south side of the hill were for sale. That’s how we started out, with one of them for us and the other for guests, mainly paragliding students. Then Luka came along and we occupied the second apartment. Then we added a proper kitchen, a covered terrace, and a wood-fired central heating system…” The terrace was a valuable addition, according to Annabella. Even at an altitude of 1,400 meters, where they experienced temperatures of 15ºC below zero last winter, they can still eat outside many days from March till October, and even some days in winter.
The Life of the Artist
With so much going on around the house it’s hard to imagine where Annabella finds the time to spend in the little painting studio set on a ridge 50 meters above the house. “I admit it’s not easy to get organized,“ she confesses. “I’m still developing ways to cope. I find it helps to shout a lot. As for my painting style, I couldn’t begin to describe it,” she says. “All I’m sure of is that I strive to make canvases on which every single area offers visual pleasure. Does that mean I’ll always paint the same way. I’m not sure. I’m still evolving.”
Annabella hasn’t exhibited much in galleries yet—as she hasn’t had to—though, in view of Spain’s economic crunch, she says she will be starting soon. In the meantime two opportunities have appeared out of the blue. A Granada manufacturer of luxury beds is opening an outlet in Miami and wants to promote his beds with a travelling exhibit of hand-painted bed heads. Annabella was one of the artists chosen for the project. “It’s a novel way for Granada artists to get exposure in the United States,” says Annabella. “We shall see how it works out. The first shows will be held in galleries and museums around Miami. Then the exhibit will travel around the States. ” She adds, “one of the nicest things about this project has been the opportunity to meet and work together with other artists. It’s a great luxury to have contact with sympathetic colleagues whose work you respect.”
The other new project originated in the town hall of Monachil, the nearest village, a few kilometers down the valley. “The previous municipal government bought some industrial sewing machines to create jobs for women.
“So they need two designers, one for the fabrics and another for the clothes. They want me to do both. I’ve made some sketches that they seem to like. We shall see. I’ll try anything once. Whatever serendipity brings my way, I’ll have a go at it. I guess that’s why I’m here today, feeling like one of the luckiest people in the world.”