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Gérard Lartigue

A Sculptor of the Sensitive

This week, KAZoART met with sculptor and draftsman, Gérard Lartigue, and invites you to push the doors of his workshop. With a style akin to that of Rodin, Lartigue breathes life into dormant bronze, clay, and marble. His forms are thus endowed with emotion, movement and singular characteristics.

We also spent time with the author Juliette Marne, Gérard Lartigue’s companion and muse. We’re here to recount our day with this charming couple!

K. Hello Gérard, what a pleasure it is to visit your studio! Could you start things off by telling us about yourself and your artistic journey?

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.

K. Beside you we have Juliette Marne, an author, who is also your muse and companion. How do your respective creations influence each other?

We work together. When Juliette writes short stories, we discuss subjects. It helps me in my sculptures. We spend 24 hours a day together! The very idea of creating takes up all our time.

Juliette: Gérard draws from the opaque side of reality. Things that ordinary people don’t see. He gives form to them through sculpture, and I, through language, try to bring them to light. We dabble in all kinds of mediation: sound, poetry, music, and it all feeds into my own writing. It’s very difficult to distinguish between what comes from one and what comes from the other. We feel that our artistic creations become a force around us and we end up not knowing which ones belong to who. 

K. It would seem that Rodin is your greatest inspiration, or, the artist whose work you most admire. What is it about him that inspires you so much? Do you have other artists or works that also serve as inspiration ?

Auguste Rodin does indeed occupy an important place in my work. 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, Giacometti’s portraits in painting or Basquiat’s paintings.

K. How is a sculpture by Gérard Lartigue created?

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.

K. In addition to clay, do you have any other preferred materials?

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.

K. The human body, especially the female body, is predominant in your work. Why is this?

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.

Gérard Lartigue’s Gallery

Vénus sur un genou

Terracotta sculpture (10 x 15 cm)

Entre le ciel et la terre

Terracotta sculpture (11 x 43 cm)

Au balcon

Terracotta sculpture (23 x 26 cm)

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