Michel Gautier


Having written some prefaces and a book on Jean Arp (Buccholz Gallery, New York 1949 – Maeght, Paris 1950; Musée de Poche, Paris 1959, Grove Press, New York 1960) and having translated (Musée de Poche, 1959) “Three American Sculptors” (Herbert Ferber, David Hare, Ibram Lassaw), I was already quite familiar with the expressionist and lyrical material of contemporary sculpture when Michel Gautier came into the world in Cotonou, Benin in a French family. As it happens, it was during those years that the Professor Robert Minder was comparing Arp’s sculpting and poetic methods to those of Heidegger. About two years ago, when I discovered the sculptures of Michel Gautier, thanks to Claude Hamelin, a poet and scientist from Québec—who was first a painter, although more precisely a muralist and graphic designer—I was struck by the comparison with the dialectical epistemology of Gaston Bachelard in his six great books on the imaginary and symbolism of the basic elements which had fascinated his students at Sorbonne: “Psychoanalysis of Fire”, “Water and Dreams”, “Air and Dreams”, “Earth and the Reveries of Will and Restfulness”, “Poetics of Space”, and “Poetics of Dreaming.” With his tribute to Camille Claudel and his bust of Leconte de Lisle, Gautier can be ranked among the explorers of myths.

Naturally superimposed on all of this was my knowledge of Asia through my reporting and readings of the works of my friend and specialist of Chinese and Japanese philosophy, the late Louis Frédéric; a speciality where the basic elements are represented by a fundamental duality of alternating and complementary universal forces, the Ying Yang. With the Ying one associates the qualitative ideas of the feminine, night, cold, rest, earth and winter’s solstice. With the Yang one attaches the principles of masculinity, warmth, light, movement, sky, and summer’s solstice. Their interaction constitutes a vital dynamic: they are the abstraction of agrarian rites, where solar and lunar myths of high antiquity personify health, harmony, and the attempt to envision the future. They are at the origin of the first pictorial graphic expressions of the hexagrams and triangles of the famous treaty of numerology, the Yi Jing, and they have found their highest metaphoric and metaphysic expression in the Dao of Jing of Laozi. From Dao to Bachelard we always find together the four fundamental elements of nature and the five senses by which man situates himself amongst these elements. Since Barthes, one could say, semiology has condensed them all, opening up a world of plastic or literary creations.

All of this got its meaning in the First Arts of Asia and Africa. And it is the memories of African immersion which on the Asian volcanic island of Reunion almost brought the graphic designer and painter Michel Gautier to set aside his paint brushes island in order to devote himself to sculptures during his 13 years there. On the island he cut marble from Carrare, stone from Burgundy and Hell-Bourg, he worked a variety of exotic woods, from camphor to teak, used aluminium, gave patina to plaster for casting bronze, used mixing techniques to combine wood, metal, painted on stone; always expressing the movement of life and ideas through the expressionist or abstract representations of the male and female body, or even imaginary beings. Since his first show of paintings in Paris in 1982, he has, in a way, through the big salons and galleries of Europe and America, imposed his metaphysical eulogy of living matter and the things surrounding it, giving occasionally for base or pedestal to his murals or rounded compositions a reminiscence of ontological magma, or of the original biological energy where the memory of the winds filled with the dust of the big bang has passed through; memory which lives in La Soufrière.


It is an impressive work which has already conquered collectors and museums, and which has a place in several architectures. The sensual movement of the bodies has an expressivity which evokes what Edouard Glissant would call a certain “créolité” (from the Caribbean or Indian Ocean islands), a term that still allows a symbiotic comparison of his work to the eroticism of Indian murals and to the spiritual forces of the grand art of West Africa, such as the Yoruba art from Ife or bronze casts from Ita Yemoo. Just like Boltanski would revisit Matisse, Michel Gautier throws new light on the patrimony of Afro-Asian sculpture and adds his own poetic designs, behind which one finds an entire post-modern interpretation of the heritage of the classic cuts of round marble, with always, more or less, despite an ordinary pedestal, a real support for their surroundings, of “things” that can go from wood to an apparently hollowed out rock, or a mirror or terra cotta excrescence. It is the functional energy of matter which gives a spiritual and metaphysical drive to these attempts to show the human between its inner moods and flights, between Hades and the sky of Icare, between rest and shadow and promethean sunshine. It is not surprising that besides the admiration of a critics in Paris, Milan and Québec, the work of Michel Gautier has above all received the admiration and commentary from poets in Reunion Island, France, Italy, and today in Québec.

And it precisely on “today” that I want to insist. I saw a turn towards a new phase in the last bronze casts he made in Paris in 2004, where the bases, the surroundings, were of glass. Glass, the art of fire, like ceramic, being the first plastic material in history. Gautier has, until now, situated himself in a period of the history of art which has revised into a new dynamic figuration that which been taken for granted since Brancusi, Gonzalez, Laurens, Andréou, namely concepts of volume, space, void and spiritual or bestiary expressivity. I sense that in the context of Québec he is going to take on a revision of the way of looking at sculptural art since Roussil and at the interpretations of the native American totems as well as the Inuit’s amphibolite and steatite round carvings, or even the Algonquin string games and the volumes and planes of the great artic spaces—which impassioned for a time our late friend Riopelle, where boreal auroras would suddenly appear, flying as such over his solitary retreat close to the lakes and hills of the Laurentides. After the great retrospective of his creation of Venus and Icare from Reunion Island, I expect a majestic and sensational entrance in the new art of Québec for the Michel Gautier of tomorrow, maybe even with fresco-like murals which will reflect the long march of the 21st century in Canada’s immensity, from the cold tundras of the Great Whale River and the Baffin Land to the golden waters of the Fraser between the sequoia trees and the temple of totem poles in Vancouver’s Stanley Park. Look carefully at the retrospective of Gautier’s Reunion Island work, because the new Gautier in Québec is already apparent, with an established work that marks our time, a mark which will continue to develop.

J. C.

To see Michel Gautier's Artist's Statement and his biographical information click here