The artist, poet and novelist Barbara Chase-Riboud, born in Phildelphia, first went abroad in 1957 on a John Hay Whitney Fellowship to the American Academy in Rome. In 1961, she settled in Paris, establishing a studio on rue Dutot near Montparnasse and developing an international reputation as a sculptor. Over the past six decades, Chase-Riboud has traveled extensively, to Egypt, China, Mongolia, and elsewhere, but she has always returned to Paris, the city she calls home. In 2022, she published a memoir, I Always Knew (Princeton University Press), as told through four decades of intimate letters to her mother.
Here, Chase-Riboud shares with Ursula a poem that offers a poignant glimpse into the pursuit of a life of art in the City of Light.
What made me take this path when there are so many others?
Pale gravel on the left from the Orangerie to the Louvre
Though October promises the winter I want, the sun shines
Spotlighting flower beds that ring as false as stagecraft.
Even we ring false, possessed of everything except
Some ragged piece of puzzle we cannot read:
A blank gray space shaped rather like Italy’s boot
Obscures our view.
But would you lie to me?
Suddenly the last doubt vanishes
The last trembling disbelief is gone.
You turn to me and say, “How lucky we are.”
Ah yes, I think, I could be blind, you could be dead,
And Paris could be burning.
Over the course of a seven-decade career, Barbara Chase-Riboud has created a revolutionary body of work known for its inventiveness, technical prowess and fearless engagement with transcultural histories. Born in Philadelphia in 1939, Chase-Riboud lives and works in Paris and Rome. Parallel to her art practice, she is a critically acclaimed poet and writer of historical fiction.