1945/1950

Denis UrbainThe little school kid with its gray apron and “overshoes” typical of the wartime and postwar in France, there I was, between Felletin (and faux la montagne limousine, creuse) and Versailles (Chasney, Monfort, L’amaury) (these last two places near Paris).

He began to perform in the spring of 1947, with fabulous dreams, the next trip by boat (the time-term of the cruise took more than a month, from Marseilles to Saigon) by the huge seas and a life change in a super exotic country, already famous in his family for 2 generations ….

The great journey itself, it starts from the railway station in Paris where we arrived with large squares taxis as “limousines” with additional folding chairs or “Strapontin” all black and burgundy. There are still many huge carts with horses in 1947 and is a captivating sight for me. There is a mixture of traffic with these cars, buses, trucks, carts, horse carts and many men with enormous loads. And all this ballet obeys police with whistles, authoritarian, and with a cap like Batman.

Contemporary Artist Denis Urbain

Arriving at the train station to the south (gare de Lyon) this traffic reaches the collapse and carry bags with carry ons 2 meters high, reaching the same place as us on the platform right on the bandwagon of the “mistral” (wagons -lits). This disorder is magical fever, after a night at the mistral with a nice cabin but with noises and lights during hours and hours – awful! – We got 2 or 3 days before ship’s departure. I dont remember very well why? and went to sleep in a hotel 4 / 5 stars very impressive luxurious and huge with grooms in uniform, elevators, rooms like never seen before, huge silent fans and bathrooms alike, a feast and hot. We went to the old port of Marseille and prove a source of seafood and “bouillabaisse” unforgettable by the size and number of ingredients. The smell of the Mediterranean port, of the crowd, everything seemed like a show that never ends.

In the streets and in front of the terraces there were always accordionists playing together with a woman singing. The “horns” were not prohibited and were also free music.

It came at last, the moment of embarking on this transatlantic steam I had never seen even remotely anywhere but in the house books and almanacs. Now the truth is that I left with my mouth open, to see the real size of this floating city bigger than everything I had imagined! / (A “Titanic”)

Because of a special high platform, we didn’t realize the height of the door to the ship itself, located about 20 meters above sea level. We went immediately to take possession of the wonderful booths where we would live more than a month in permanent cruise. There I reached a world more real and captivating than the tales of “Jules-Verne” and his travels.

We started leaving Marseille in the afternoon and picking up speed we passed the impressive white rocks and the “chateau d’iff” that defend the port and the coast with its rocky fjords (calanques), only accessible from the sea. Several hours past to get away from the coast and sail through the Mediterranean to a deep blue. Suddenly we were surrounded by dolphins very fast and enormous, there were hundreds jumping like large projectiles in various ways at the same speed as the boat, the boat raised mountains of white water with the squint and the dolphins appeared to be drunk when crossing and recrossing the mere the front.

The party lasted a good hour and suddenly everything went back to normal. The second night was a surprise, after the wonderful dinner but too long and slow for a child of 7 years, I asked permission to leave to go see the explosions of the volcano Stromboli always in activity after the destroy of Messina and pretty lights on both sides , Messina and regional Calabro. The sound of explosions and glowing red material spewed by the stromboli.

With the giant ship moving silently over the sea in a very black night, increases the effect of this great giant volcano coming directly to the sea with a tiny village in the rocks near the water with tiny lights. The crater will illuminate the sea from a height of 1500 to 2000 meters as a beacon of the gods of the Greco-Roman mythology.

The effect was fascinating to get away in silence with the only manifestation of the great Stromboli, the fire of the planet.

other short days at sea with nothing around and then we reached the entrance of the Suez Canal (Port Said) spent an entire night until noon the next day to recharge the boat with all the fuel needed for more than 20 days sailing thru the Red Sea and India.

A full day was needed to pass thru the canal at a super slow speed, I figured we were 2 times faster than the camel caravans that were following the same direction as the canal. Only sand dunes, sand, we passed through a lagoon in the middle of the canal with many palm trees “Ismaili” and again the canal ‘till we exit it to the Red Sea.

After a day and a night of navigation in the Red Sea with a scorching heat, we were above the biblical passage that allowed Christians to cross the sea divided by a miracle. The sirens and boat horns were sounding loudly and everyone learned of the act “Moses.” One or two more days of sailing with dolphins many times isolated small groups, sometimes large groups of 1 km. square or more, we arrived at Djibouti. Without the air from the sailing ship we really suffered from the heat (in the same port, we were impressed by the surrounding shark fins looking for food, there were no men in the water), the scale was thankfully short and again we were in the boat with its fresh breeze, very welcome in these parts with embroidery rocky deserts and mountains without any dense vegetation, a few palm trees, and nothing else.

In the middle of open water crossing near there were magnificent wooden Arabic sailboats inclined because of its immense sail, and with a lot of people on board. (probably slaves??? …).

Other days of sailing, and with my new friends from the boat, I knew we’d have bad weather when reaching the Indian Ocean. We past thru the “gardafui” cape where we left a deep blue sea as the Mediterranean to a blue-green with waves growing bigger and bigger until they seemed like hills larger than 2 to 300 meters. high with large spaces between them. The liner was following its root but the structures of the ship were screaming in pain and 60% of the passengers were sea seek, we young people were excited about this new adventure full of excitement and entertainment with the giant waves penetrating the front of the ship to the upper deck, only the gateway command in the upper were left above the water. All access to all the outdoor decks was forbidden. That lasted for 2 to 3 days and nights, if I recall well, the battle subsided, but the mountains of water continued with huge gaps of more than 1 km. between two waves and ups and downs such that when we were down between two waves, it felt like a circus surrounded by huge walls of water higher than our boat. We could see the horizon when we were on top of a ridge of these mountains of water before “surfing” down again these giant waves.

Every morning before everyone else, I went to see the flying fish sometimes huge that had hit the boat at night attracted by the lights of the cruise, Crew people were cleaning early this “carnage” so it looked as if nothing had happened ….

And again the very long routine because there was no change for 15 long days of sailing from Djibouti. Suddenly I was one of the first that saw a “tern” or frigate and 3 or 4 hours later appeared in the distance the land of Ceylon to the south of India now called “Sri Lanka.” At night we were moored in the port of Colombo, there was a strong heat and humidity but much more bearable than in the Red Sea, from arrival at the port, I was fascinated by men with huge turbans on the head that made it seem to any ” coolie “as a king of European exotic fairy tales. Some wore the turban on the head to load giant bundles. A show of luxury all bathed in a curry smell and other scents mainly curry though. That lasted 72 hours and was the longest and more interesting scale prior to the arrival to Saigon via Singapore.

Again we went to open seas without land on the horizon but only a few short days to “Singapore”, to get quickly to the destroy of “Malacca” well traveled by sailboats large and small, painted like carnival with figures of dragons of all kinds, in these fleets there are still many pirates of the sea making their on law in such immense areas of large and small islands of southeast Asia. We with the great ocean liner and the front of the boat full of soldiers and war materials for Vietnam (1947) felt safe and protected, I was fascinated by the intense maritime traffic trying to guess who the bad and the good was from of all of those boats . Less intensely, night navigation was small, and the mysterious environment was enhance by pale mysterious lights that you could barely see away, the suspense was permanent.

In this stretch of magnificent islands of Borneo and Java after the destroy of Malacca, the ship went on for two or three days.

Then the weather changed the ship’s route, also the color of water changed from deep blue to dark green, gradually clearing into a mustard-colored orange more and more into a deep rust red, we were arriving to the delta of the Mekong (the great red river well known), we started seeing a very low cost with a single mountain guarding the mouth of the Mekong (Cape Saint Jacques). We stopped in front of this place; several boats came with military guys with guns on the bridge. They settled in the front and back of the boat with their heavy machinery, also rose 2 to 3 civilian sailors and then we knew they were the pilots of the port of Saigon who knew the river navigation and were in charge of piloting the boat in the Mekong. I never really knew if the blades touched the river bed but moved huge quantities of red mud as thick as chocolate. The really high liner was sailing in the middle of a giant river width of half a mile sometimes and a low but vast mangrove vegetation forming the Mekong Delta. We entered the river early in the morning, there was a strong reverse flow, the boats engines were vibrating at full speed to crawl up the river. In the opposite direction passed huge wooden boats with “palapas” and large families moving in mysterious tasks in the middle of animals behaving as if they were on land.

Sometimes these huge barges were tied together, two or three at a time in the broad sense and four or five on the larger sense forming moving islands, very impressive. We saw and reached several barges that sailed against the tide like us but in this case they were driven by huge tugs, two or three in parallel and were about half the speed of our liner. At the end of the day we arrived at the Saigon port. The platforms were transparent well-groomed and there were elegant buildings of the company “messageries-maritimes.”

The heat was unbearable humid, with a human tide, we set all the landing formalities quickly and my father ordered our baggage to trusted employees of his bank and we jumped in a huge car with air conditioning, to our new home, “la Banque de l’Indochine “in Saigon.

For 7 years I lived in Saigon / Dalat / Haiphong (near Hanoi) with 2 6-month returns to France.

I will be engraved and printed in full color a complex visual plot and a brain construction with many contrasts that differ both in Europe and Asia, like geographical landscapes, wildlife, as well as with humans.

1954/1957

The return to Europe was with a restriction at all: freedom, living space, schools, mindset, mobility, the overall environment classified and managed.

The end of exoticism at 13/14 years, a harsh reality.

Is also in these years, the rapid transformation to a young adult emancipated with its procession of revelations and discoveries: sentimentaly, new orientation, social realism … Denis Rejoice in his first exhibition in Versailles, his first television interview in the one and only channel for the whole France (1957) and the press with articles in the “Figaro” and other newspapers.

Important moments Influenced in his firm and final decision to engage in the “fine arts”

Plastic Artist

1957/1960

He gets conscious , with the will and dedication to work properly as never before and be prepared to face the crowded competition for admission in three colleges of the University of Paris, which are:

  • Ecole nationale supérieure des Beaux-Arts
  • Ecole nationale supérieure d’Arts Decoratifs
  • Ecole nationale supérieure des Métiers d’art.

Gains admission to the three schools (from the 2000 candidates only 200 were admitted in each).

For cyclical reasons, choose the ENSAD, but wanted to be able to choose the “beaux-arts.”

In e.n.s.a.d. of Paris, he will work with Maurice, Andre, Charpentier, Gromaire, charlemagne, berrault, petit-etc. … under the directions of Leon moussignac, former director of l’IDHEC (Institut des Hautes Etudes Cinématographique)

1959/1960

To fill the long summer vacation from college that lasts from June to October, he creates a silk painting workshop at Saint Tropez, “Le radeau”, finding a formula that was both exotic and lucrative with new summer adventures. Activity that helps to pay college expenses and independent Parisian life all year round.

Here in Saint Tropez, the starts a friendship with Lady Olivier antiquarian, Edith Balmain (peau-d’ane), Nadia Demianoff antiquarian, etc ….

He exhibits Paintings at the “Galerie de la ponch” each summer.

It is in Saint Tropez where he starts an impromptu conversation on the terrace of “Senequier” with Pablo Picasso and his wife Jacqueline, concluding with the cooperation of Denis as a benevolent assistant of the master Pablo Picasso every October from 1960-61-62, in a ceramic workshop in Vallauris where Picasso came to enjoy this plastic technique.

It was decisive for Denis and his future, both human and plastic legacy, these precious moments spent with the Master Pablo Picasso.

1960/1968

This is not a very productive period in paintings because of the fact of painting silk in large numbers taking 100% of their working time but gave him satisfaction in the handling of colors and security to dominate them more and more.

Concerned during and after the war of Algeria with its train of vital complications in France. (1962)

Continued on ENSAD, with the specialization in the workshop of “Henri Matisse” with many achievements ‘till 65/66 and follows his summers in Saint Tropez with lots of successes encountered with silk painting.

1968

May 68 arrives with his silk work and mercantilism. (Always with little production of oil / canvas), takes advantage of the total immobilization of Paris in may 68 until July 68 to produce the book-poster “affiches-mai-68” with “Claude Tchou” editor, street “rue du mail” in Paris this book-poster was a success and was sold on all the beaches on holiday in July 1968, until it was removed from street vendors by order of General de Gaulle …

Denis organizes a group of work and concretes with the creation of the association “element-126” gathering artists from all disciplines, lawyers, scientists, doctors, etc.. ….

Producing many new ideas on various subjects, being in left in the air as mayo/68 (nothing was reached with these movements). They were fabulous moments of collective idealism….!

A positive crystallization of May 68 was for Denis the creation of the group “Structure” in October 1969 with fellows from ENSAD, and the tenacity of Denis they won many projects solidifying works. This group continues to work in Paris. (Among other projects, they construected the new “drugstore-opera”) in 1969.

1973

Denis became independent with the founding of “groupe-urbain, sa” and prepares his return to the tropics that gets realized in June 1976.

1976-1977-1978

He Arrives in San Salvador, El Salvador, where he states his desire to change his main activity to painting which is interrupted by getting the charge as superintendent of the construction of a known hotel on Lake Atitlan, Guatemala.

This period will be conducive to meet the “Maya” in Guatemala with many drawings and paintings, after his return to San Salvador in late 1978, which marked a change in his decision to locate in Mexico-city January 1st 1980 to 1985, while he travels a lot to France and USA. Following a period of 6 months living in Arizona for exhibitions of his paintings. He experience the earthquake in Mexico-city.

1986

In September 1986 he settles in Cancun / Puerto Morelos building up until September 88 the Acamaya Reef Hotel, which was completely destroyed on the beach by Hurricane “Gilbert” in September the 14th 1988, then in 1993 was rebuilt with “palapas”, after a stay of 2 years in France as a refugee.

1993-2003

Since then she has lived in Puerto Morelos / Cancun on the beach with his family in a small hotel with low environmental impact “green project” where he has his workshop and a small gallery.

He follows all the local activities on art and he is trying to promote local artistic importance and culture, convinced that Cancun has a privileged position as a north-south geo-cultural site.

You just have to have or create the necessary instruments to promote the consecration.

**This Biography was last updated on November 2nd 2011. Taken directly from Denis Urbain´s Biography. Some translations could not be accurate**