TOP: Symbolic Composition of the Spiritual World, 1925
BOTTOM: The Mysteries of Ancient Egypt
FRENCH COAL MINER / SPIRITUALIST / SURREALIST
ART BRUT Painter with Multicultural Influences
Augustin Lesage is associated with “outsider art” (L’Art Brut), art created outside of normal cultural definitions.
He was born in northern France, and spent his early life as a laborer in the coal mines. Then one evening in 1911, when he was thirty-five years old, he heard a voice underground that told him “Un jour, tu seras peintre” (One day, you will be a painter). A year later, partly through his involvement in Spiritualist circles, Lesage began communicating via automatic writing with “spirits,” including one he believed to be his sister Mary who had died in childhood.
The voices told him which colors and brushes to buy, and where to order a canvas. For the next two years, Lesage came home from the mines every night and went to work, letting the spirits guide his hand. He began in the upper right corner and gradually filled the entire canvas. ”It was like working without working,” the artist recalled. In 1914 he was deployed for WWI, where he continued to make drawings on postcards.
In the years following the first world war, Lesage was visited by Jean Meyer, director of the Spiritualist journal La Revue Spirite. Meyer became his patron, and in 1923 Lesage was able to quit working in the mines and devote himself to painting.
Lesage’s patterns are unmistakable. After noting the symmetry of the first large canvas, he began organizing his compositions along a central axis, building complex geometric structures in horizontal layers from the center outward. The Wikipédia quotes an article by Christian Delacampagne [translation by Emily Pothast]:
The first large painting of Augustin Lesage is one of the most daring in modern art. Although not, strictly speaking, non-figurative (figures both architectural and anthropomorphic abound), it explores almost all possibilities of abstraction—lyrical as well as geometric—at a time when the latter, among professional artists, was still in its infancy. They are no less ornamental and decorative than the works of Kandinsky …
Augustin Lesage’s “classical period” is the period between 1916 and 1927, when he painted his most representative works. A growing fascination with Egypt, natural forms, and the ornamental traditions of various cultures gave Lesage a new found source of conscious influence.