Artist Mounette Radot: A life extraordinary

POSTED: 06/29/14 5:11 PM

St. Maarten / By Jason Lista – Her favorite story is that of Ulysses, the timeless tale of the epic journey through the ups and downs of life that we all face, full of both hazard and wonder. Mounette Radot is 82, and has lived a life worth telling. She now lives with her sister, quietly painting in a house near the beach in the village of Simpson Bay, the meaningless murmur of the sea always present.

She is perhaps best known on St. Maarten for her works of art, but she is more than an artist. The word is too small to contain her. She has raced cars, flown airplanes, parachuted out of them, sailed across the Pacific Ocean to live on the green margins of civilization, and accompanied her husband into the African wilderness, all at a time when women weren’t supposed to do such things; such activities were the exclusive province of men. “I was very adventurous,” she says confidently. “Because in my mind all things a man can do, I can do.”

As a young woman Radot was stunningly beautiful, modeling professionally, and was the face of L’Oreal for a time; she featured on billboards in Paris and New York. “I am happy to only become a model, and not an actress,” she says. “To be happy, you must be secret.” Otherwise, “you give too much surface for people to attack,” she cautions.

For her the relationship between man and woman cannot be anything but equal, neither trying to impose their will on the other. “There is not another way, it’s a slave. The one who wants to dominate is not the stronger; it’s the opposite,” she says, advice she gives to both women and men.

And yet, even now she still glows with life and an appetite to learn more about the world around her.  “I always learning something,” she says in what could be mistaken for a French accent, but she is not French. She was born in Switzerland of a German father and a Moroccan mother. “I am better now than before,” Radot quickly adds. She jokes that she got her blonde locks from her father and her earth brown eyes from her mother, keen eyes that survey you and peer into you.

She began to paint late in life. She was 40, she said, when she began to take up painting seriously. Her very first paintings were near perfect copies of the great masters, like Rembrandt and Velázquez, which hang on her walls; this from a person who never took a single art class in her life, a testament of her remarkable ability to do anything she puts her mind to. “I never learned to sow, but I made an evening gown for my friend in Africa.”

It begins to softly rain and the pungent, fresh smell that follows rainfall sparks her interest. “You smell that?” Radot asks. “It is ozone. It’s because it comes from very high.” It’s a form of oxygen created when ultraviolet light from the sun strikes the upper levels of the atmosphere, she explains, and is brought down by the rainclouds. Ozone also protects us from the deadly radiation of the sun. “It’s a miracle, the fabrication of the earth,” Radot says, looking at her garden. “But we destroy everything,” she adds wistfully. “I think it’s our nature.”

Drifting back to the topic of art, Radot explains that color for her is easy, and that the great challenge is drawing, especially of getting proportions and the spirit of the subject right. She is an admirer of Roland Richardson’s copper etchings on paper, and she has a few pieces of his work in her home. “For me, he is a genius.”

Like most artists, her work has evolved. She can paint abstract, as well as detailed, near photographic portraits. She once went through a phase where she painted with a knife only, pointing to a painting of her daughter on the streets of Paris. “But it’s not for me.”

Her late style is colorful and tropical. Radot is currently working on a rectangular painting depicting the lushness of the earth as she feels it must have been seen for the first time by human eyes awaking to self consciousness and naming all that they saw around them. She takes disparate images of foliage and scenery she downloads from the internet and reinterprets and repositions them on the canvas to create a balance in picture that is in the background, giving it harmony.

Radot remembers coming to St. Maarten for the first time nearly 50 years ago, after first travelling to St. Barths on the advice of some American friends. She loved the island at first sight. “It was charming,” she recalls. “There was nothing here!” she says of the difficulties she and her late husband faced on the island when trying to buy things for their home. “You couldn’t buy a pan, a gas stove. And we had no water,” she says, because the house was bit up on a hill and back then there was no pressure to bring running water to homes there.

“If you want to become old, you must prepare for that,” she says. “Love is the most important thing in life, if you don’t receive love you die.”

Mounette Radot will be exhibiting her work at the Cultural Center on Back Street this weekend and you can also see some her collection at the Sheer Art Gallery at Sheer restaurant in Philipsburg.

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Comments (1)

 

  1. Okama Ekpe Brook says:

    Mounette is a joy to behold and we are so glad that she has chosen our lovely island as her home. Her passion for preserving nature and connecting it with humanity is exemplenary. Thank you for inspiring us younger people to pursue our passions while remaining true to our calling to nature.

    I hope to come and see your exhibition one of these days!

    Okama