The official tourism website for the village of Torreilles features blurbs, links and photos that suggest an artists community by the sea. The tagline loosely translates to English as “Torreilles… an essence of art, attracts a lot of artists and intends to be a source of inspiration.”
However, visitors who come to the sleepy village with the hope of discovering the next Picasso may be disappointed. Torreilles does, in fact, have a beautiful beach and a couple of works of public art, but only two artists actually live in the town – Freddy and Marido Secall, who are featured on the Torrielles and Art page on the city’s website.
About 15 years ago, city officials reached out to the pair of mosaic artists, then based in Saint-Féliu-d’Amont, to help cultivate an artists’ colony in Torreilles. The village hoped that by supporting the Secalls’ mosaic school and studio, they would be able to draw other artists to the community.
Since the Secalls moved to Torreilles they have tried to welcome and invite other artists to the village. At one point, the village even bought buildings and rented them out to artists. Eric and Sabine Pritchard – he sculpts, she paints — gave the town a chance, but ended up leaving to pursue other projects in Perpignan.
Freddy Secall says it’s not easy to create an artists community from scratch.
“It is difficult because of politics and the economy,” he said.
The Secalls created an association, called Pont des Arts, for artists that now includes more than 100 members from all over the département. The artists meet once a quarter and they can display their work on the walls of the Secall gallery.
But these efforts haven’t been enough to lure artists to settle in the town.
“It’s one thing to welcome artists to the village,” Secall said. “But, [the village] needs to pay because artists need to earn money at some point.”
The Secalls welcome students into their home or the homes of locals for one-week workshops where they learn a range of mosaic techniques from design to assembling the final product.
The first workshops began in the mid-1990s when the couple worked with a group of 30 children for one week to create a group fresque, a mural made of mosaic, which they later delivered to a local high school. Since then, the Secalls have been involved with many commemorative fresques, including pieces on the abolition of slavery in Pézilla-la-Rivière and a human rights piece that can be seen on the wall of the convention center in Tautavel. “This is the most creative and interesting part for us,” said Secall.
Freddy Secall studied in Warsaw and in Paris, but it wasn’t until he had the opportunity to work in Barcelona that he developed a passion for Gaudi, who became an inspiration for his art.
Marido Secall, on the other hand, had no formal artistic training, but had always been involved in creative ventures. A former dress designer, she taught herself how to create mosaics. Although the creation of the mosaics is very much a joint effort, Freddy Secall is often more involved with drawing and creating the pieces, while his wife seems to work more on the operational side of piecing together the mosaics.
“We thought this would be a good business because it was a common project we both enjoyed and it was also less competitive than other art forms,” said Secall, who also paints. The couple is interested in exporting their work, which includes mirrors, indoor and outdoor tables and large consoles.
The Secalls truly live, eat and breathe art. Their house is covered in mosaics, from the ornate entrance to the tables, floors and other furnishings in their house to the intricate underwater floor design of their backyard pool.
“I had ideas for every piece,” said Secall. “It was always natural for me to live in the arts.”
It is difficult to say whether Torreilles will succeed in creating the arts community city officials had dreamed of. But the Secalls have found the town to provide an hospitable environment for piecing together an artistic life.