I arrived at the commune in 1985 after having survived quite a treacherous journey from Amsterdam. I had hitchhiked over 12 hours. The last time I had seen the people who lived on the commune in En Durou I had been in Zambia, nearly 10 years before. I stayed for about three weeks. There was no electricity or running water. My small sleeping space was above a chicken coup. It was certainly an eye opener. The kids were Anarchist Punks who performed in street circuses, acrobats, jugglers, fire twirlers. One day I went with them to attend a gathering of the street performers from all over France, who converged on this field. It was like being in an alternative universe. At least I learnt to juggle. I also learnt how to travel with just myself and faith.
One of the acrobats waited patiently for the bleach to turn his black hair golden white.
A Leap into Space, Oil on Canvas. Saren Dobkins.
A Painting inspired by the circus performers. The theme of tightrope walkers, jugglers and anarchists continued to feature as strong themes in my work from then on. There was a resilient, defiant and independent aspect to their lifestyle, gypsy-like one might say, that attracted me.
Scenes from the day I arrived at the gathering. It was epic. Street performers, hundreds had converged from all over France to celebrate together. The intensity and tempo that pulsed from the scene was extraordinary. The people were warriors of a sort, their physical prowess were remarkable: juggling axes, fire, six to ten objects at a time, walking on tight ropes strung meters from the ground, twirling fire sticks, balancing on top of each other to form human pyramids. I was hopeless at any such things and I wish I had taken more photographs, but I was self conscious. But the experience of glimpsing into this other world, influenced my perceptions forever.
The commune was a collection of stone houses, very basic. They grew their own food but there was rarely enough to eat. It was rough but peaceful. It was here I chanced upon a book by Carlos Castenada, The Teachings of Don Juan. This book turned out to be very helpful in my next journey.
Paris, 3am. Oil on Canvas, Saren Dobkins
When I arrived in Paris late at night, after having hitched several rides from Amsterdam. I saw then that one's life can turn on the chance of a coin, that is how fragile and unpredictable it all can be.