Gérard Garouste’s popularity is only equaled by his singularity. "Never ask directions from someone who knows the way, you risk not getting lost": this quote tells all about the whole process of the artist, who chooses figuration, the study of myths and founding archetypes to better explore human intimacy today. - Rabbi Nachman of Bratsla
The Maeght Foundation dedicates its summer exhibition to Gérard Garouste which will exceptionally run until the 29 November. It pays tribute to this enigmatic painter who has been exhibited in major galleries and national museums in Europe and the United States, Japan and Latin America since the 1980s. "In the spirit of the Foundation, says its president Adrien Maeght, this exhibition has a retrospective dimension all while presenting the current creation and research of Gérard Garouste. The title of the exhibition “On the way" expresses this present of the creation. It will in particular, explore the vitality of the recent work of the painter and sculptor." Gérard Garouste has agreed to open his notebooks for the exhibition which will be shown to the public for the first time. This exhibition invites us to walk along with the artist, to discover or better understand the movement from which his principle is built.
After an exhibition dedicated to Jörg Immendorff, Olivier Kaeppelin, Director of the Maeght Foundation wishes, with Gérard Garouste, to continue questioning the engaged figure of the artist.
"In Gérard Garouste’s work, we often encounter the representation of the painter. He is the one who wanders, worried, asks questions, practices the uncertainty principle which animates the world’s matter, says Olivier Kaeppelin. In truth, we discover that it is not necessarily about the painter himself. The artist lends his face to the protagonists, ordinary or mythical figures sometimes semi-animal, in a strange sign language. He stages his story, his studies and researches, his literary inspirations, his dialogues with certain texts like those of Edmond Jabès but also his dreams or associations of ideas. He addresses the other, us, because it is about us. »
"I produce stories, the painting then makes them travel, it leaves them on retinas other than my own, stirs up other memories, other dead, other questions. Its destiny is to be regarded, to resonate, to be emancipated, to get away from the subject from which it is derived." writes Gérard Garouste in L’Intranquille.
Painter above all, Gérard Garouste is also a sculptor or installation creator, as with La Dive Bacbuc or Ellipse, dear to the great critic Harald Szeemann. As an artist he stages his characters with drawing and with words but also with the theatre, not only as a designer but as a writer and actor. In forty years of painting, we can read his work straight through or in sequences, like so many acts and fields of study.
The Classic and the Indian is perhaps Gérard Garouste’s major theme. The Indian is delusional for no reason, the Classic becomes crazy without intuition. If the artist quickly seeks to master the rules of painting, he responds with total pictorial freedom. Gérard Garouste is himself and his double. In his paintings, we find them together or separately. In this regard, he quotes Cervantes and the words of Sancho Panza regarding Don Quixote: "I must be another him." In 2009, in his book L’Intranquille: Autoportrait d’un fils, d’un peintre, d’un fou, the artist reveals his family conflicts and his own struggle against madness. He explains: "I have forged resistance and shelters. I know how to leave reality when it's too hard, I let myself get caught up in my ideas, my stories. I go into myself and in doing this, I found things, deep within me, that I think are universal".
The pleasure of painting and its result, Gérard Garouste’s art is the expression of a creative tension resulting from his pleasure. In this spirit, he looks for the greatest freedom by distancing himself from contemporary conventions. On his childhood, Gérard Garouste declares the only thing he knew how to do was draw. "When I paint, it's as if my hands decide, I love this moment when it’s just them, the head lets go. I live the painting in the first degree, as a material, a chemistry, an alchemy," he explains. His oil paintings conjure up color and light as much as they master the shadows. The artist does not hesitate to use glazing in a traditional way as very free touches. His painting is disturbing and joyful. It evokes order in connection with chaos, poetry "open" to matter and mystery. Between abstraction and figuration, he chooses with sculpture, alongside his large installations, to work with casting: "Bronze carries the myth of the visual arts within it".
The exhibition proposed by the Maeght Foundation is an opportunity to discover a set of about 80 paintings, sculptures and drawings with new works, specially created in 2015 for this exhibition which includes a newly commissioned sculpture from his gallerist Daniel Templon in the Giacometti courtyard.
Myths, tales and portraits are Gérard Garouste’s preferred subjects for raising the universal questions, like so many possible variations on humanity. He composes with the symbolic weight of the great stories, their power of imagination and interrogation. Within them, he unfolds his own obsessions, going from the universal to the intimate. "What interests me, he says, is to find what we are made of, to try and figure out which symbols the images carry, where their power lies and how I use it. That's why I wanted to study the myths. This is what I also look for through the portraits." Knowledge and self-knowledge combine to "know what there is inside colors, books, others and especially, my head.”
But it is mostly in the form of questions that Gérard Garouste carries out his quest, asking in turn each of the major themes such as the desire of pleasure, the nature of evil, individual achievement, the concept of time, knowledge, the notion of uncertainty, the role that interpretation plays in knowledge.
The figure and the subject are the conscious choices taken since the1970s: compared to the common beliefs of this epoch, this contrast questions the contemporary world, questions the transmission. Gérard Garouste considers the subject as the only way to escape the shackles that make up culture. Like others before him that have unmade form - especially since Duchamp - his approach is to break the mold that shapes the look, questioning the most entrenched images. In painting, formally limited by canvas, chassis and pictorial surface, Gérard Garouste gives himself the freedom to create a multitude of sensations and situations thanks to the techniques he uses. He found his subjects very early in his taste for literature as well as in the study of the old masters. He uses it by letting himself be guided, by appropriating them, not academically, but by intimacy, imagination and the free association of images or ideas. Between chance and intention, he explains: "What pushes me to continue painting, is the moment when the material is organized, between intention and chance, to highlight a subject that creates a closed space that I don’t want to leave."
"My paintings do not say anything, they are an invitation to re-read" claims the artist who says “painting enchanted my fingers, books have cleaned my head. It started with The Divine Comedy by Dante. What followed is a series of books and words. They made me paint." Cervantes and Don Quixote, Rabelais and Gargantua, Goethe and Faust but also major texts like those of the Talmud have taken over. Faced with these literary masterpieces, Gérard Garouste, who claims that painting has nothing to do with representation, says that he hasn’t looked for prowess or seduction, but aesthetic mistakes, irony and disturbance.
The artist commits his responsibility to reversal, the reversal of iconographic codes, because according to him "looking is learning, learning to read what is not written."
The painter "dismantles" all religious and family manipulation. In his work, he seeks to express what has no words, what is not said. For Gérard Garouste, psychoanalytic adventure and Bible study have the same goal, to strip away conditioning, alienation and conventions of inheritance.
In addressing sacred texts, his objective is as intimate as it is spiritual and political. He advocates an ethical function of art, a social reason to exist that exceeds aesthetic criteria. As an artist, he demands values and taking moral stands.
"If I paint armed with texts that have irrigated the centuries, constructed the thought of our ancestors and conditioned ours without our knowledge, if I paint with oils (...), it is to look within us, to reveal our culture, our dominant thoughts, our unconscious. I want to be a worm in the fruit. »
A return to his roots. In recent years, the painting of Gérard Garouste, nourished by his Talmudic studies, also calls more directly on his dreams. The visions of the painter make his autobiography resonate, where his research subjects and contemporary images come together. Thus we see intersecting references to Tintin, the Fables of La Fontaine, Don Quixote, Faust: Mephistopheles, Marguerite, witches as familiar characters, references to the Talmud, the history of art, including Matthias Grünewald, Jean-François Millet, El Greco, romantic landscapes, but also a fantastic bestiary - the scapegoat, the big eared donkey of the one who wants to understand the bee that represents communication and pollinates. The fig as a symbol of abundance as well as heresy, the small aromatic plant with blue flowers that is hyssop as a symbol of study and purification.
Knowledge will have a double reading, one by understanding and the other by the eye, guided by the unconscious, liberating the thought of grammar.
His paintings build themselves around enigmas. "I like enigmas, says Gérard Garouste. Looking for codes is the story of my life." His painting says therefore that it is necessary to learn how to read again, with the help of sight. He confides that the secret reigns within his family. He is passionate about deciphering certain biblical texts because he says "the Hebrew of biblical texts is a theoretically untranslatable language, in the usual sense of the term, and also has no dictionary". He loves red herrings, secret paths. In this sense, he has a taste for extravagance. He claims that his paintings could spill over with intentions, allusions, and yet continue to go beyond meaning or to play with him. "I like the idea that we represent one thing and we talk about another," he commented. The artist does not ask the viewer to see all the meaning he has invested. Some, indeed, are unknown to him. Rather, he proposes question and doubt. He believes in the virtues of multiple paths of disorientation and interpretation.
Anamorphic. The artist often lends the traits of his relatives to his protagonists but also his own in constant metamorphosis. In the many self-portraits of the artist, his body and identity are unstable. He could be human and animal at the same time. The difference between the sexes goes back and forth. Long hands are made of fingers, tapered like wings. Feet are turned and forced to retreat by advancing. Long necks are stretched to the sky. Limbs are disarticulated and stretched like letters. Bodies, as with Picabia, are covered with dozens of eyes.
The exhibition layout proposed by Olivier Kaeppelin reads like a provocative journey of interpretations and free associations. The exhibition presents figures that become more familiar through the discoveries, or, instead, become more foreign. Scenes from literary or mythological inspiration interact with family portraits and friends, like a game of funhouse mirrors. The relationships between the works follow the thread of restless thought that the creator offers us. With our lives and all our senses, it’s a matter of being more present in reality through this "uncertainty principle", creator of this reality, in art as in quantum theory, as alluded to in Gérard Garouste’s painting Le Chat de Schrodinger.
Unpublished Notebooks. Gérard Garouste’s research materializes in these unpublished notebooks which express a phase of transformation where his visual memory crosses his imagination. "In my notebooks, he says, nothing is in color, but I see them." Gérard Garouste presents them for the first time at the Maeght Foundation. For the visitors, discovering them will be like going behind the scenes of the painteralchemist who explains: "I like that there is as much time as possible between a sketch and a painting, at least three months. Then, after the study, I cross the garden, I become an artisan”.
Gérard Garouste "On the way". The exhibition catalog is a joint publication between Flammarion and the Maeght Foundation. It contains a preface by Adrien Maeght, texts by Marc-Alain Ouaknin, Olivier Kaeppelin and Hortense Lyon including an interview with Gérard Garouste. The book will include previously unpublished reproductions of Gérard Garouste’s notebooks.