Gerard Garouste, Le théâtre de Don Quichotte, 2012, Oil on canvas, 78 3/4 x 102 3/8 inches
Gerard Garouste, one of the most famous contemporary French artists you have never heard of, has created an oeuvre of jarring and enigmatic paintings. A prolific artist, he paints each work to encapsulate a complete and independent universe embedded in a polymorphous narrative, a continuum of images that can only exist and be created with paint, through paint, in paint: la peinture par elle-même[i]. In a 1988 interview[ii], Garouste said that he enjoys working on multiple paintings; it is very common for him to have forty paintings in process at once. His approach is anchored in history and philosophy, and his characters are hybrid creatures fused together, cross-referenced from mythology, biblical tales and literary fiction. He sublimates his sources of inspiration into playful visual invention. He takes advantage of everything available around him to build his compositions, such as a mirror that reflects his own image (we see a great number of self-portraits in his oeuvre), and he will paint members of his family or friends as various iconic characters in a set up in his studio, mixing actual observation and imaginary pictorial spaces.
Gerard Garouste, Sorcière au bouc, 2011, Oil on canvas, 77 x 63 inches
Creating is inherent in each one of us, he says, as children we were all born painters, artists, naturally engaging with the world through drawing and painting. The only difference is that some decide to continue to be artists and the others make the conscious decision to stop being the natural painter they were as children. [iii] Garouste is a tightrope walker balancing with his brushes. He brings multiple selves into each painting and, with an eruption of paint, he disturbs his protagonists and dismantles their external representations. In his work, it is common for a character to be seen interacting with animals. For example, in the painting Sorcière au bouc[iv] the figure gazes directly at the viewer/beholder whilst her legs are intertwined and tightly holding a goat. She is holding two apples in a gesture of offering the forbidden fruit to the viewer. As part of a larger body of work inspired by Goethe’s Faust[v], Sorcière au bouc, is a painting of one of the witches (it is in the witch’s kitchen that Faust is tempted). Beauty disguises her devilry; she represents the other half of hell. Symbolically carrying out the spirit of Mephistopheles, she frightens poor souls. Goethe writes culture spreads now, even to the devil.[vi] Considering each subject in the painting, whether a woman, a goat, or an apple, they all seem to reflect the personal identity of the artist and his inner entrenchments. Wittgenstein wrote that we need fictitious concepts in order to provide our real ones.[vii] Garouste exists within all of his characters.
Born in 1946, Garouste lives and works in Normandie. I was living in Paris when I discovered his work, first hearing about him through his social activism via a non-profit organization he created twenty years ago called La Source[viii]. Its main focus is to help under-privileged children overcome different types of trauma and suffering from medical and/or psychological challenges, isolation, family violence, or exclusion. La source gives them a free space where they can feel safe to create. Since it was founded twenty-six years ago, La Source has opened many locations in France and the concept is expanding to other countries in Europe. In his autobiography L’Intranquille: Autoportrait d’un fils, d’un peintre, d’un fou[ix], he confesses how he overcame many personal battles, spending long periods of time in French psychiatric hospitals fighting bouts of depression, schizophrenia and psychotic disorders. Garouste believes that art can save people; his paintings are living embodiments of the artist healing himself in the act of reconstructing the countless facets of the soul.
Marie Peter-Toltz, La Tsarine, 2017, Oil on canvas, 80 x 30 inches
[i] Translation Marie Peter-Toltz: Painting referring itself.
[ii] Translation Marie Peter-Toltz. Gérard GAROUSTE, peintre, répond aux questions de Thierry ARDISSON, Lunettes Noires pour Nuits Blanches. Antenne 2. INA Archives.
[iii] Translation Marie Peter-Toltz. Gérard GAROUSTE, peintre, répond aux questions de Thierry ARDISSON, Lunettes Noires pour Nuits Blanches. Antenne 2. INA Archives.
[iv] Gerard Garouste, Sorcière au bouc, 2011, 76 3/4 x 63 inches, oil on canvas, Courtesy of Galerie Daniel Templon.
[v] Johann Wolfgang Von Goethe, Faust, first publication 1790.
[vi] Johann Wolfgang Von Goethe, Faust, first publication 1790, p 116.
[vii] Ludwig Wittgenstein (1889- 1951), Austian-British philosopher.
[viii] Association La Source: http://www.associationlasource.fr/
[ix] Gerard Garouste, L’intranquille. Autoportrait d’un fils, d’un peintre, d’un fou. Editions L’iconoclaste. 2009.
Marie Peter-Toltz is represented by Slag Gallery in Brooklyn New York, Nanda/Hobbs in Sidney Australia and BMG Art in Adelaide Australia. Peter-Toltz earner her Master of Fine Arts in Painting from the New York Studio School. Her forthcoming solo exhibition Mes Prédatrices opens April 28 at SLAG Gallery in Bushwick.