NICE, France — Every morning at around 9, a man lays out his black stool, satchel and grocery bag. He props 8-10 canvases of his art against the wall of an old building on Rue de la Prefecture in Vieille Nice. The pieces are a mixture of photography and acrylic pigments layered on top of each other, creating a highly saturated portrayal of different scenes in Nice: the Promenade des Anglais, a socca store nearby and the beach.
Jimi Goldglass, has kept this routine for 11 years, showcasing his art on the street from 9-5 everyday. “There is maybe five days in a year that I am not here,” he says in a thick Austrian accent. “It takes discipline.”
About a 10-minute walk from Goldglass, deeper into the maze of Vieille Nice, Lyl Favresse-Cohen sits in her studio/gallery on Rue du Chateau. She’s painting in a small nook in the gallery, the canvas facing away from the prying eyes of tourists. The white walls of her studio are decorated with her colorful summer-themed paintings.
Both are artists in different circumstances making a living in a city that has been a sanctuary for creatives for decades. Henri Matisse moved to the neighborhood of Cimiez in Nice in 1917. For 37 years the city was his studio and home. Marc Chagall also called the Côte d’Azur his home, drawing inspiration from the Mediterranean Sea. But that doesn’t mean that being an artist in this city by the sea is always fruitful.
Favresse-Cohen, who is originally from Morocco and Paris, shares the same love for Nice’s landscape as the famous artists who preceded her. She sits in a dainty chair in her studio wearing a black tank top and a skirt that looks like a painting in itself. “It’s nice because of the colors, the town, the people,” she says in a soft voice, “but it’s very hard to sell.”
This struggle is evident not only for visual artists but for many in the creative industries. According to a survey conducted by Artists Interaction and Representation and reported by the Guardian, almost a third of visual and applied artists earned less than 5,000 euros a year from their work in 2012.
Olivier Bergesi, assistant curator for the Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art in Nice says the city is just a starting point for many emerging artists. He stands on the second floor of MAMAC in a room that he curated. It’s filled with neon light installations by Keith Sonnier, an American artist. The light reflects on the lens of his thick-rimmed glasses. “Most of the artists live in Nice for awhile, but to make their reputation, it’s easier in Paris or other big cities in Europe, or the United States,” Bergesi says.
Goldglass is not alien to the life of a traveling artist. Even though he sits on his black stool everyday, working peacefully on crossword puzzles, there was a time when he traveled the world. From studying photography and graphic design in Hamburg, Germany, to taking a spiritually awakening trip to India, all of these have helped Goldglass create his unique form of art he calls “Jimi-isms.”
Now, the 63-year-old artist is content with showcasing his art on the streets of Vieille Nice. “I prefer being on the street because that contact is much more intense with people,” Goldglass says. “If it is possible to buy a gallery, I would. But here you pay three or four thousand euros for one.”
Displaying his art on the streets seems to help. Goldglass says he’s accumulated clients from Iceland all the way to Alaska who buy his originals, which can cost up to 5,000 euros. For those who don’t have the cash, he sells prints for 10 euros. He also gets commissioned to do pieces from time to time and he says that helps a lot.
Favresse-Cohen on the other hand owns a gallery, which she sometimes shares with other artists. She says more foreign tourists are interested in buying her work than the French and that the competition between the many other artists in Nice also makes it difficult to sell.
Despite these difficulties, both Goldglass and Favresse-Cohen have no regrets about their career choices. “I don’t have any hours,” Favresse-Cohen says. “I come when I want, and I leave when I want.”
Goldglass agrees, adding that the competition between other artists doesn’t bother him; he makes sure to keep a positive mind-set. “I decide in the morning that the day will be good.”
It’s 3 p.m. and Goldglass sits on his stool finishing up a crossword puzzle. People walk past his makeshift gallery. Some are busy chatting and don’t even realize he’s there, while others glance quickly at his work as they stroll by. You can hear the waves crash against the pebble beach in the distance. The sun is at its strongest, demonstrating the light that draws so many artists to Nice.