Interview: Claudia Toutain-Dorbec – 1

Episode 1: My life and passion

Claudia at her favorite brasserie in Bordeaux. Credit Pierre Toutain-Dorbec

Claudia, how would you describe yourself in three adjectives?

Curious, hard-working, helpful

How would you describe the passion that has pushed you to make art for most of your life?

My curiosity about so many things (nature, people, other cultures and the world) drives me to ‘see’, and in that ‘seeing’ I find beauty everywhere, even in the most unusual objects considered by others as trash or ugly. A piece of asphalt from Route 66, rocks found along the old Sante Fe railroad line, sun-baked sticks from a New Mexico arroyo, windswept coyote bones discovered in backcountry or the trimmings from the gardener’s baskets in Giverny. From these I find ‘le sens du beau’, a sense of beauty, a little bit of grace that may escape others. When I am ‘creating’ I feel driven yet content, there is no question, it is automatic; I just do it.

How do you split your time between New Mexico and France, and why do you do it?

One of the best kept French secrets: August in Paris. I like summer in France and winter in New Mexico. We have a 300-year-old farmhouse in Burgundy just below Vézelay – a very special spot on the planet. I love being there when I can be. Whatever our current project is determines where we will be found. In 2009, I was consumed with my Southwest (US) botanical project; the book of which will be out shortly. Last year we spent most of the year in France for the Monet project, which will produce two books: A Season at Monet’s Garden (just published), I Come Again to See Giverny (to be published soon). This year, we were in France in the spring to work on a book about a French painter, but for the rest of the year I will be in New Mexico to complete my next two books.

Claudia biking on the bank of the Seine River, Paris. Credit Pierre Toutain-Dorbec

How do you feel about sharing intense emotional experiences with your audience, including the paintings of your brother?

Sharing our experiences is part of our life; we cannot acquire experience without sharing our own. What happened with my brother was a very difficult and painful process for me and for him, he almost died twice, and the painting helped me through it. Expressing my worry and pain was a healing process. By creating and sharing, I hope that somewhere, somehow it will be useful to someone. There is much to be said about homelessness: the sick and homeless, and the sick and drug-addicted homeless in America. The average person never hears about it or sees it. I also made a short film about him, which can be found on my website.

Claudia Toutain-Dorbec(Death of a Lily White Broken Heart)

Clarity In the Fog w_ Peonies
Examples from Claudia’s 2010 series ‘Face The Habit’, which documents her experience with her sick, homeless and addicted brother. Credit Claudia Toutain-Dorbec.

What else inspires you?

Art and literature that are created by other people.


We’d like to thank Claudia for taking time to do this interview with My French Life™.  

Read more about Claudia Toutain Dorbec…
Part one – this interview
Part two 
Part three

Editor Note:
If you would like to join our My French Life team (follow us here) of Contributing authors, photographers, interviewers and very talented people who live all around the world, then send us a message

About the Contributor

Judy MacMahon

Experience FRANCE beyond the CLICHÉ with MyFrenchLife is for Curious Savvy Francophiles wherever you are. Meet Francophiles in France, online, and/or wherever you live. You’re very welcome to join us - Judy MacMahon -

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  1. Judy MacMahon Sep 19, 2011 at 11:51 AM - Reply

    Claudia, I just can’t wait to publish Episode 2 and 3 so as to share your story with our members. Thank you for being soooo generous with your answers and feelings in our interview with you!
    Je vous remercie

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