Jean Le Gac

Galerie Templon

In his latest works, Jean Le Gac indirectly follows a tale of a painter’s adventures who is none other than himself—all the action is more or less faithful to Le Gac’s “real” biography. His works, since his mail-art and the Cahiers (Notebooks, 1989), can be considered self-portraits. The formal novelty in his two latest series—“Les Grandes Vacances ou le Prisonnier” (The great vacations or the prisoner, 1991–92) and “By Jove,” 1991–92—is considerable. Whereas in previous works, painting itself was implicit—referred to but absent—here we find massive areas of color on the canvas, associated on the one hand with drawings and pastels that recount adventures, and on the other with photos of parts of books fetishized by the artist. The materiality of painting is reflected in the way it sometimes covers the drawings, as in a fresco that has been half-effaced by time, magnifying it by its colors—blue, yellow, white, or brown—and lending it an element of abstraction that relieves it of the iconic status prevalent in earlier works, in which the images themselves predominated.

Is Le Gac approaching real painting in painting these abstract fragments? These works give us a three-fold pleasure: that of looking at a sensitive and sensual medium (painting and color); that of being present at the narration of the various adventures of our hero which are drawn like the illustrations in the books of his childhood (popular novels from the ’30s or classics like Treasure Island, 1883), and third, that of the reference to literature through photographs of books that evoke our own readings: Arthur Rimbaud, Comte de Lautréamont, Jorge Luis Borges, James Joyce, Henry James, Raymond Roussel, etc. These books already figured in the artist’s library in La bibliothèque, une introduction aux oeuvres d’un artiste dans mon genre (The library, an introduction to the works of my kind of artist, 1979), and in numerous other works. They exert upon him a fascination akin to the magic of correspondences and of psychological relations, much probed by James whose work figures in Les Grandes Vacances ou le Prisonnier III, 1991.

A prisoner of literature? The title of a mystery novel from the famous Le Masque collection insistently appears and reappears in all these works: Le Peintre a disparu (The painter has disappeared) by Frank King, and in the series “By Jove” it is accompanied by a novel from the same collection, Le Peintre Fantôme (The phantom painter) by Jean Le Gac. This last book is a collection of articles written on Le Gac, which he published himself in 1992. Thus, the apparent contradiction between the real appearance of painting and the fictive disappearance of the painter plunges us once again into the labyrinth created by the mise en ablate of the text and the image, a concept that has characterized the artist’s entire work and has made a name for him. “I had seen a bicycle wheel hanging from the highest branch of a plantain tree and I could have become a plastician,” he says in La Vocation—avec Aphrodite (The vocation—with Aphrodite, 1990)—an ironic wink at Marcel Duchamp?—“but no, it’s the painter, that anodyne thing inserted between art and reality, that must captivate me more than everything else.” An enchantment that also engages those interested in these works, in the form of enigmas that ceaselessly address the nature of art.

Anne Dagbert

Translated from the French by Diana C. Stoll.