On the Trail of Jean Le Gac: The Case of a Painter Who Never Paints

JEAN LE GAC'S “PAINTER” is a scheme, a stratagem, a device employed to develop a discourse on art. Less an identity than an image, he first appears, in 1971, as a Sunday painter, endlessly in search of his proper vocation—a dabbler in his métier. The hero of romantic stories, he climbs cliffs, rides horses, travels to distant lands, and engages in extreme exploits patterned on adventure tales from the ’30s. His demeanor too is formulaic, for he traffics in paint pots and berets and affects 19th-century dialects. Everything about this painter seems to issue from another century, including the sense, known as predestination, that he is fated to become “a very great artist.”1 However, his career—distinguished by ambition, sincerity, and estheticized lore—is marred by one ragged element: the painter never paints.

Le Gac does not paint either, although he describes himself as a painter: “I am

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