Friday, August 3, 2012

My pilgrimage to meet Mr.Augustin Lesage

I am obsessed with a turn-of-the-century French painter named Augustine Lesage. His work has inspired my graduate collection and basically I feel right now that everything I will ever do creatively in my life will be affected a little bit by his lingering ghost.

My search for Mr.Lesage

He inspired the curved symmetry of my seams, my generous use of subdued color and my search for humanity in disguise. The prints in my 'Imperfect Mandala' collection are for the most part comprised of whole or parts of his paintings, sometimes paired with elements from Islamic traditional motifs and other imagery. I was inspired by the force of his paintings- they look perfect, almost superhuman when you look at them for the first time, but upon closer inspection one can see tiny, beautiful faults in the mirroring. His works draw me into a world of Egyptian fantasy - some semblance of a spiritual layer on our world that was visible to only him.

I left Tokyo and traveled to Bethune, a small village in the north eastern part of France in August 2011, in an attempt to see some of the works of Augustin Lesage in real life, and perhaps to communicate with him. I was aware that in life he was a spiritualist and if his spirit – now, on the other side – was still active, then my romantic heart led me to believe that  maybe I could ask his permission or his opinion in reference to my work. Or to at least say ‘Bonjour, merci.'
I took the train from Paris early in the morning, thinking I would be going on a day trip. I wandered the empty streets of Bethune alone. It was a cold Sunday and the villagers were mostly absent- although I did see a boy who was no more than six holding a cigarette like a sailor, turning his head and smoking out of the side of his mouth. The sun was out and I realized, looking up at the tall facades around me that Mr.Lesage had been painting these buildings, painting his home in Bethune in the most beautiful way imaginable. After wandering around alone, lost, for hours I finally found a graveyard on the outskirts of the village. Perhaps this was my chance to speak with Mr.Lesage...It started raining as I entered the cemetery.
I wandered in circles for hours, repeatedly visiting the map at the train station. Through the kindness of a stranger, I eventually found a warehouse- The Center for Anthropology of North Pas-De-Calais, situated on an industrial road just on the edge of the city. I had walked by it four times during the day thinking it was a lumber mill. It looked very much like a lumber mill.

Relief. Struggling through friendly smiles, broken English and even worse French I learned that no one has ever been interested in his work before, and that yes, they do have many of his pieces. I was then led through a big, metal door and into a room filled with labeled boxes and works of art all stacked up on shelves and leaning, entombed in wooden crates against the wall.

'This', said the woman, pointing to a large, sealed wooden crate ' is the work of Augustin Lesage'. The box was archived and therefore unable to be opened for me to see the contents. The woman was kind enough to inform me that if I went to the largest city in the region, Lille, that I would be able to see some of his work on display permanently in the Art Brut section of the Contemporary Gallery of Art
(LAM- I was dejected.

I decided not to give up on visiting with his works. That same day, I took the next train to Lille. It is a beautiful,  typically northern French town, all red brick and gold filigree. The train station opens up to a gigantic boulevard that leads, after a short distance walking, to a well-preserved part of the town that reminded me of the settlers village in 'old Montreal'. It was beautiful, romantic, sentimental – but I was alone and had no idea what to do with myself. Quaint, romantic towns can seem uncanny and intimidating when you have no companion but your curiosity.
After spending the night drinking alone in a seedy hotel room while watching the ridiculously tacky and wonderful French film 'Arlette' I was finally ready to take the two metro trains and bus I would need to take to get to the LAM. It is in a beautiful part of the city, surrounded by a massive public park and cottages. Once arrived I tried to open the gate but it was locked. Dejected and lonely, I sat on the bench in front of the gate and cried softly for a while, eventually having to take off my sunglasses to wipe my eyes. In doing so, I noticed how neon green and grass and how electric blue the sky were and decided that I can't sit on a bench and cry in a world with such beautiful color. Moments later, a large family spilled out of two mini-vans and attempted to enter the museum, just as I did. They soon gave up and decided to just go for a stroll in the park – they didn't choose the bench.

I wandered the streets, decided upon familiarizing myself with the daintiness of the decorations on the building facades, and the random roughness of the cobblestone underfoot. Had a beer with a strange woman.

Finally it was time to see his work. I went to the museum the next day and it was open and I ran through the sculpture garden past the Picassos and the Lipschitz to the entrance and was the only customer in the museum. I decided to ponder the Russian Avante Garde and the Cubists on my way out, hurrying  by in such a frenzy that I noticed some of the security guards giving me weird looks, slowly following me to make sure I wasn't dangerous.

Then, finally, I saw it. My eyes filled with tears. The lady with her kids standing next to me whispered to them ' look, this lady is crying for some reason.'
I was finally able to see his signature, his brushstrokes, and the real color of his paintings. I felt relief and astonishment as it was more beautiful in real life than I could have ever imagined. Within this one visit to the LAM I experienced ten or twelve mini visits - my feet kept taking me back to the Art Brut wing, and to the works of Augustin Lesage.



  1. fantastic! thank you for sharing this story and the great pictures. :)

  2. a gem thanx !

    i can never entirely predict how i peel an apple except i use a peeler !