Augustin Lesage 1876-1954
Augustin Lesage was a man who at the age of 35 emerged from the coal mines he had known his whole life to become a painter. He was working in Ferfay, just 10 miles from his native home of Bethune, when he heard a voice and was compelled to listen and to follow for the rest of his life.
He experienced the death of his loved ones at a very young age. His younger sister Marie died when he was just seven years old. In June 1890, at 14 years of age he gained his diploma and started working in the mines – in August of the same year his mother was taken by cancer. These dark events marked his childhood, and, subsequently his work in the years to come.
On a day in1912, he re-entered the mines after serving in the army for some years and his life was forever changed. This also happens to be the same year that Carl Jung experienced his 'leaving of the soul'(1) and began writing his first manuscript relating to his future studies in mandala. Lesage was opened to the spirit world while working in a small opening not more than fifty centimeters wide, alone, in a remote passageway deep in the mine.
This is his account of the event that would forever change him :
“All of a sudden I heard voices speaking to me. I looked all around me on all sides, I still can't go back to the same spot, I was alone. Imagine my surprise! I was frightened, my hair was standing straight up on my head... I heard: Do not be afraid, we are close to you, one day you will become and artist...”
I will not go into detail about my opinions regarding the existence of ghosts and the afterlife, as it will, undoubtedly lead to speaking about my doubt about the existence of God and the afterlife and my personal atheism is not the focus of this little blurb. For the purposes of this little bit of writing, I would like to postulate that the ghost voices of Mr.Lesage were parts of his subconscious leading him to become a painter. Carl Jung , in his book Memories, Dreams, Reflections draws a comparison between the unconscious state of one's mind and the land of the dead. He offers the opinion that if a person has a fantasy of their own soul vanishing, that one becomes lost in the ancestral questions within. Through Jung's communications with the dead – or, rather with himself through drawing the mandala – he was able to learn about himself and trace the flow of his psyche. I like to think that the paintings Lesage created were reflections of his world, his desires and his curiousities. When in his strongest phase as an artist his main themes were Egypt and the mysteries of the various religions of the world.
After this first encounter in the narrow passage, he decides it is best not to follow up on what he heard until ten months later, when he overhears a conversation about a spiritual medium in Paris at the International Metaphysic Institute and decides to take his wife and some friends straight away. Through séance he hears the voice again and this time follows their instructions – he goes to town and buys paint brushes, colors and canvas just as he is told and waits for further instruction. The orders did not come all at once- but in spurts. It took him a year to complete the first painting, finishing one small part at a time, doing just as the voices told him to. After this first one he goes on to produce over 800 paintings during the course of his life. He believed his hand to be lead personally by both his dead sister Marie, and by master painter Leonardo DaVinci himself. In 1923 he quit the mines and concentrated only on spiritualism and painting. He became a faith healer, and a very well known spiritualist.
To me, his paintings are pure beauty in form. They are non-representative for the most part, neither abstract nor figurative. They bring to mind images of Egyptian temples, of French country buildings, of alien spaceships. They are kaleidoscopic geometric images that sometimes look like mythological human faces. I wish I could have seen one of his exhibitions in Cairo or Paris.
Mr.Lesage once said ' Je sais bien que je ne puis rien peindre si je ne me mets pas sous l’influence des Esprits. Quand je travaille, j’ai l’impression d’être dans une autre ambiance que celle ordinaire. Si je suis dans la solitude, j’entre dans une sorte d’extase. On dirait que tout vibre autour de moi. J’entends des cloches, un carillon harmonieux, tantôt loin, tantôt près, cela dure pendant tout le temps que je peins'
which means ( and please pardon my bad translation ):
' I know very well that I cannot paint if I was not under the influence of the spirits. When I am working, I have the impression of being in an extraordinary place. When I am alone, I am in a sort of ecstasy. I seems that everything vibrates around me. I hear clocks, a harmonious churchbell, sometimes far, sometimes close, but there during the whole time I paint'.
I find myself looking to his work all the time. When I want to create, or when I want to lead myself to sleep and to dream.
Thank you, Mr. Lesage!
( The source of all of this information comes from a small reader I received which had been archived in his hometown. It was left over from a 1986 retrospective of his work. You can read about my adventure to meet his ghost here)