This week KAZoART met with sculptor and draughtsman extraordinaire, Gérard Lartigue. This artist, whose style is close to that of Rodin’s, sculpts figures and experiments with clay, plaster, stone, and even paper! Let’s open his studio doors and discover the world of this expressive sculptor!

Gérard Lartigue (C) Anne-Lise Chupin Jegun
Gérard Lartigue (C) Anne-Lise Chupin Jegun

Gérard Lartigue in a few words…

The sculptor and the material: a story that has been endlessly renewed over the centuries. Near Toulouse, Gérard Lartigue creates busts and nudes in his studio that he shares with his partner, author Juliette Marne. First a painter, this artist who became a sculptor gives life to clay, wood and stone and seeks to bring expression to the surface of his work. To do so he looks for the most subtle of characteristics like a small pout of the lips or a sparkle in a gaze.

The human body and all of its perfect imperfections is thus the backbone of his work. In Rodin’s style, he explores the very structure of the body, seeking to observe human nature in all its facets. His work is axed on sensuality and melancholy. It emanates a powerful sensitivity marked by a desire to breathe life into inert matter.

K. Tell us about your background…

For someone who has learned to erase his history, it can be difficult to talk about my journey. Why erase your history, you ask? To achieve a greater sense of freedom. We are surrounded by numbers (age, finances, department of birth, etc.) and by geographical locations. The longer we live, the more the world controls what we do. The less of your story you hold on to, the less you have to meet external expectations.
That said, I can summarise my background as such: I started by studying engineering. As the son of an engineer who wanted to leave me in charge of his company, I quickly realised that I would be taking a different path. I went to art school. Twenty years as a painter led me to travel and exhibit in Mexico, America, and Sweden. And in France I’ve shown in Paris, Grenoble and Lyon.
Then I discovered sculpture and abandoned my brushes. Even in my paintings, I could already see how the material found its place. My canvasses became increasingly encaustic and loaded with oil. With sculpture, I understood that I had to bring matter to life by working around the human body.

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Gérard Lartigue and his model

K. What/Who inspires you?

Among the artists who inspire me, Auguste Rodin would have to be the main one. His search for truth based on the human figure has always pushed me to better understand the depth of matter. In painting, my inspirations are Baselitz, Schiele, Tapiès and Miquel Barceló. Between painting and sculpture there’s Anselm Kiefer. In terms of artistic movements, I’m a fan of German Expressionism. Neoexpressionism still seems to be relevant today. I believe that matter as a means of artistic expression appeals to our less rational instincts.
As for the specific works of art that inspire me, I will never grow tired of Michelangelo’s “Prisoners” where we can already appreciate the struggle between the artist’s material and expression thanks to the areas left unfinished. Or on a very different register, Giocometti’s portraits in painting or Basquait’s paintings.

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K. By which process do you create one of your works?

I first start by drawing. I have to soak up the lines of the model in front of me by drawing it quickly. You must capture any nuances or internal movements. There’s the famous idea of “volumes under the surface” which are the hollows, tensions and emptiness. I then take clay and with quick movements, I try to capture the general shape. I have to memorise every inch of the model. In the days to follow I work alone, seeking coherence in expression, in composition and in the different textures. All of this must be done without losing the richness of the initial gestures.
I then let the piece dry for about ten days before putting it in the furnace. Finally, I apply a patina to bring out its surface beauty, which can often be lost in the somewhat opaque appearance of natural ceramics. Sometimes I use encaustic, which is in line with my main profession: painting. An example of this can be found in the bust of Johnny Hallyday.

Bustes dans l'atelier de Gérard Lartigue
Busts in Gérard Lartigue’s studio/workshop

K. What is your relationship to your materials and which one do you prefer?

For each material, I find a different form of expression: clay is malleable, docile but also capricious. Once the sculptor’s hand has been withdrawn, one must pay attention to its natural movements. Wood is warm, pleasant to touch, easy to cut but one must understand its structure before trying to make it take shape. With bronze, a whole team must work alongside the sculptor. I sculpt the work in clay then I intervene at different stages of the process (retouching of wax, applying the patina, etc.)

And finally, stone is the material with which I most enjoy working. The sedimentation layers that are formed over millions of years are at last broken away. Despite its hardness, stone can be rather malleable. It doesn’t impose any particular structure. Its homogeneous nature gives me great freedom. Moreover, modern tools allow us to better master it. I often think of the quantity of works Michelangelo would have been able to produce if he had the resources we do today.

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Gérard Lartigue at work

K. Why is the human body the principle focus of your work?

The human body is the most direct link with nature. This is the part of the “reality” that we best master. Exploring it is a way to better understand nature. It gives us access to the truth that Rodin also sought. Beauty is an emanation of understanding.

K. How do you find a balance between realism and expression in your works?

That’s a good question because it touches on the focus of my research. “Pure” expression seems fragile, it must be anchored in something that will allow it to take on more strength. We always start from a reality. Even abstract painters start with their material, which is real (a canvas and oil paint for example). This is the matter that breathes life into our existence on Earth. Starting from realism is a metaphor for our materiality. Expressiveness then takes on its full meaning. Take the bust of Michel Houellebecq, for example. The infinitesimal variations within the features give it an expression that can connect with all of humanity because it simultaneously bears a look of decadence, lack of love, individual struggle, and solitude.