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Painting Outside the Lines

European Old World Painting Raises the Consciousness
and Well-Being of Our Homes

By Angela Earle


Jean Pierre Chesnel makes paint sound like one of the most exciting things in the world. Often, this aspect of our homes is simply an afterthought, or looked at in terms of a background in which to play off the features and furnishings of our home. There is an accepted way to do it, and most people prefer to stay within certain boundaries of color and depth. Through Jean Pierre’s eyes, it is a backdrop, but it is the backdrop of our life, not just our sofas, and done the right way with heart and consciousness, the paint on our walls can bring out the real nature of our homes, and ourselves.

Having a product that is healthy and environmentally friendly is obvious when you look at a home as your cocoon, as the place you will spend a majority of your life, and a relationship we rarely take into consideration, or allow ourselves to pursue. It does seem kind of strange when you think about it, that people spend millions on their homes, and then cover it in latex and other toxic paints. Casein (milk protein) based paints have been used for eons in Europe, Egypt, and date back to the rise of civilization in Mesopotamia, and form the basis for the recipe for paint that he uses at European Old World Painting in Hailey. In his rooms there are no monotones, no shininess, and no peeling walls. There is texture, depth, feeling, warmth, patterns, and heart. There is more than a layer of color, there is a layer of skin which integrates with, and protects and nurtures all those within.

A Passion for Life
“Whatever I do, it has to enhance people’s lives, to create an environment that evokes memories. It has to be real.” - JPC

Everything that Jean Pierre does, he does with spirit, with intent, and with passion. His story reminds me of that old song by Neil Young – Heart of Gold. Right now, he’s focusing on paints, but in the past he’s done everything from being a horse jockey to landscaping. His heart’s desire when he left France to travel when he was 19 was to learn about art, and to become an artist. His college was the road, and his professors the various masters he would apprentice to over the years in Asia, the Middle East and Africa. Along the way he became exposed to and incorporated the wisdom of yogis, teachers, and mystics, all reflected in his work and life today. He’s been an artist for 35 years and doing residential and commercial painting for 10.

He believes that what we do should be a reflection of what we believe, and if we believe in health and spirit and our world, than our actions must reflect this belief, or else it means nothing. He talks about the relationship with our rooms, and that this relationship needs caring, needs time and effort, and in return enriches our lives, taking us to new levels of heart and home. In his view, a home creates the space in which we live our lives, and that space should support our journey, evoking memories, allowing us to feel our linkage with the past.

Take a Deep Breath
“My conscious drives me, not my ego.”

Homes in the United States haven’t taken a breathe of fresh air since the energy crisis of the 1970’s. It was then that people began to wrap their homes to try and control the heat lost during the winter – to retain that warmth. While doing this, we have strangled our houses, and the air inside becomes full of all of the toxic products we use in, on, and around our houses.

The ingredients inside a can of regular paint are toxic, and based on petrochemical products. They arose in an era in which oil byproducts were finding a use in the 1930’s. It was cheap, it was quick and easy to work with, and it gave a predictable, uniform color, and an array of hues that wasn’t currently available in traditional paints. Traditional small paint companies were put out of business, and the rest is history. Interestingly, the demand for otherworldly colors has since dropped off, the favorites now returning to the earthen tones and amber hues that were available before then. The rise in environmental consciousness is now demanding a return to Old World technology, with the added benefit of a larger color palette.

Breaking with Conformity
“The personality of a house comes from its walls.”

Jean Pierre had a lot to say regarding color. As an artist, he is very aware of the qualities and effects of color. When a wall is one continuous shade, the eye has no place to rest, it wanders around aimlessly searching for something to ground it, to give it perspective and meaning. Imagine walking into a room and seeing nothing. Imagine walking into a room and seeing the wall on the top of this page.

The nature of the paint is also different, and actually is healthier for whatever walls it is put on because it breathes, is porous. Chemical based paints form a seal on the walls, trapping in moisture, and keeping out the air that would serve the walls by allowing air and circulation into the entire household system. He echoed the sentiments of Living Architectures Dale Bates when he said that, whatever he was doing, how could he possibly do something or put something in a house that could bring harm to anyone who would live there?

The process of working with Jean Pierre is also probably a lot different than what you might be used to. As Jean Pierre believes that the house is in relationship with the client, he likes to find out a lot about the clients. He formulates paints based on the wishes and needs of his clients, and even if someone only wants muted shades, he finds a way to work within that structure to find depth and warmth. He also has the ability to create a variety of colors that run the spectrum of possibility. He also does all of the painting himself, applied by brush, one stroke at a time. The process might be somewhat longer, but the result will echo within the walls of a home for years to come.

Jean Pierre has a showroom in Hailey by Sturtevants on Carbonate Street, where one can see some paint possibilities, and also some of his fine art, each one a story of some interesting time and place. He’s doing this work because this is what the world, the Valley, needs right now. 208-720-2806