Three Singular Artists
by Ann Oppenhimer
(to read this article in French, click HERE)
Danielle Jacqui, Raymond Reynaud and Rene Escaffre: What do these three artists have in common? They are part of a French group known as l'Artistes Singuliers, which, in turn, forms part of the larger worldwide art movement known as "Outsider Art."
In 1945, Jean Dubuffet gave the name l'Art Brut to the art of the mentally handicapped, psychiatric patients and other people on the margins of society. Dubuffet was one of the first collectors of this art, and said, "Its best moments are when it forgets its name." However, there are many names for this type of art: folk art, self-taught art, and the more exact English translation for Dubuffet's term -- Outsider Art.
Dubuffet also used the term Neuve Invention (New Invention) to describe the work of certain artists who fell between Art Brut and mainstream contemporary art. John Maizels, editor of Raw Vision magazine, clarifies these terms by saying that today, in France, l'Art Singulier corresponds more closely to the category "New Invention."
Danielle Jacqui has used painting, sculpture and eccentric constructions to transform her home into a total artistic environment. Raymond Reynaud, with a background in fine art, has gone against his traditional training and, after retirement, has had a singular influence on a group of regional women artists. Rene Escaffre, over the course of nearly 20 years, has built a sculpture garden in the center of a rural village, far from outside influences.
Danielle Jacqui, who lives in Pont de l'Etoile-en-Provence, a small village near Marseille, calls herself "The One Who Paints," and, actually, she paints incessantly. Jacqui has covered the facade of her home with paintings, writing and sculpture. This facade has become a tapestry of vibrant colors. Inside her home, everything -- walls, hallways, ceiling, floors, furniture -- is covered with paintings, grotesque sculpture and other unusual forms. No surface has escaped. The visitor almost feels dizzy.
For the past ten years, Danielle Jacqui has covered more and more of the interior of her home until today all the rooms are filled with her art. Her painted dresses, painted chairs, decorated cabinets, enormous sculptures and paintings have even taken over what was once the kitchen. Her kitchen has disappeared.
As a brocanteuse (or second-hand dealer) for many years, Jacqui has assembled a large collection of buttons, glassware, fabrics, books and antiques, which she incorporates into her art. She decorates the dresses she wears not only with painting but also with embroidery. She also makes large dolls covered with hand-embroidered fabrics, feathers and buttons.
Jacqui's total environment is the product of her artistic obsession. Her husband, Claude Leclerc, supports her efforts and says with a laugh, "If I stand in one place too long, she will paint me all over, like a tattoo."
Danielle Jacqui has been and remains active in the feminist movement in the Marseille region. In 1993, she organized the Festival of Art Singulier in Roquevaire. Since then, this group of regional artists has exhibited together annually. Jacqui also publishes a small magazine which functions as an intimate journal of her thoughts and theories in the form of poetry, prose and drawings. Even the packaging of "The Bulletin of the One Who Paints" has been transformed into a type of Mail Art, decorated and embellished with extraordinary stamps and covered with gold, silver and multicolored drawings. This bulletin, a limited and private edition, goes out to only a few select friends and admirers.
Jacqui has shown her works in many exhibitions in France, notably Art Brut and Company: The Hidden Side of Contemporary Art, in Paris in 1995-96. This year, her work will be part of the exhibition Error and Eros at the American Visionary Art Museum in Baltimore. For this exhibit, she has fabricated several wedding dresses, Robes de Mariage, fit for a queen -- a queen of dreams.
Raymond Reynaud, 77, is the grand old man of the Art Singulier movement. From 1935 to 1939, he was a student at the School of Beaux Arts in Salon-de-Provence, where he won first prize in anatomical drawing. After World War II, he lived in Senas, and his work at that time reflected the influence of the School of Paris.
In 1959, Reynaud's health deteriorated as a result of a heart problem. In 1963, he was forced to give up his artistic activity and for five years was unable to work. Then he discovered the works of the Yugoslavian naives and the art of Gaston Chaissac, one of the New Invention painters and a friend of Jean Dubuffet.
The surfaces of Reynaud's paintings have the look of fine spider webs, with many symmetrical and complicated details. Because his hand trembles with age, his drawing carries a trademark trembling line.
In addition to paintings, Reynaud creates sculptures using castoffs and found objects. His human-scaled sculptures resemble elongated monsters.
Today, Reynaud lives with his wife, Arlette, in their home in Senas -- a building also made of found materials, cement and castoffs. When he needs more space, he simply adds another room. Reynaud has installed hundreds of paintings and sculptures in the labyrinthine rooms of his home.
Reynaud's house also contains many works by his students, that he shows to visitors with great pleasure. He also collects African art, and this collection of masks and wood sculptures is exhibited in a gallery-like setting. In fact, the Reynauds' house is really a museum. Jean-Claude Caire, a chronicler of the French Singulier movement, says he thinks Reynaud would like to make his home into a monument dedicated to "L'Art Singulier."
Raymond Reynaud's large polyptych Don Quixote (320 x 630 cm), was exhibited in Paris in Art Brut and Company, and his work will be part of the Error and Eros exhibition opening May 15 in Baltimore. He continues to paint every day and welcomes visitors to his home with his celebrated good humor.
At Roumens in the Haute-Garonne region, the garden of Rene Escaffre resembles a village square where the townspeople gather after the day's work. The milkman, the butcher, the farmer, the postman, the blacksmith, the woman who stuffs the goose (to make foie gras), the shepherd, the woman at the well, and the mason -- all stand beside each other, as if time has stopped. Escaffre worked as a stonemason from age 14 until he retired at age 60. He traded the mason's job for one of a fabricator of fanciful cement sculpture. The armature of each of his sculptures is made of iron, and the cement is molded by hand to form life-size human and animal figures. Delicate colors make the sculptures come alive.
"I began to sculpt at the age of 60; I have been working [on my garden] for almost 20 years," he says. One of his sculptures is a self-portrait: a mason with a trowel in his hand, standing behind a masonry wall. This sculpture, made more than 10 years ago, wears a cement beret and clothing identical to what the artist wears today.
Jean-Christophe Cancel, Escaffre's 10-year-old grandson, is now learning his grandfather's trade and makes small sculptures of animals in Siporex-Beton, a material made with water and powder and not as hard as cement. Rene Escaffre is transmitting his artistic tradition to the new generation, an act considered by some to be a defining principle of folk art.
An elephant, a giraffe, a lion, cows, geese, a turkey, two bulls, a donkey, a horse -- all together these cement figures form a strange combination with a young girl playing with her hoop, a mermaid and a washerwoman. The sculptures are scattered throughout an enchanted garden among the summer flowers and foliage. This quiet garden becomes a little village in itself in the middle of the village of Roumens. It is a tableau from another era, a simpler and sweeter time.
Photography by William and Ann Oppenhimer.
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ANN OPPENHIMER, from Richmond Virginia, is founder and first president of the Folk Art Society of America.
ANN OPPENHIMER is Interim Director of the Folk Art Society of America
As seen in:
[#42] Vol. 11, No. 2, Spring 1998$15.00 ppd