First of all, it was in May 1998 that, like thousands of others since, I found myself standing and staring at the artful yet very simple arrangements of Gilbert Garcin. I owed this discovery to that great talent scout Rui Prata, director of the Encontros da Imagem in Braga, who gave Garcin his first exhibition at the festival. The spell was even more powerful when I met Gilbert and his delightful wave Monique, what with their surprising youthfulness, his deadpan humour, a subtle mix of Marseille and London, and unfailing simplicity combined with real false modesty. Yes, I found Mister G. (I use this sobriquet in reference to his peers, Messrs Tati and Hitchcock) just as fascinating as his photographs: this lanky, charismatic gent held his handsome oval head straight above his mack and explained that, quite simply, he had decided he wanted a new life and had to that end attended the photomontage courses in Arles three years earlier. After that, he had come up with this character got up a bit like Tati, whose hat he borrowed for his first pictures. This persona, an ambiguous embodiment of his own self, like a narcissistic projection or ideal – because always willing — model, was set to become the falsely “slapstick” actor in scenes of his own devising.
Apart from that, he looked for a creative method that would enable him to develop his ideas both freely and inexpensively, because, of course, all this started out as a way of maybe having a little fun. Naturally, this investment was to be made principally for the intellectual enjoyment, and the work would be something that would keep him and his wife happily busy meeting people and travelling in the years to come, because of course this new life needed to be a stimulating one.
The pleasure of travel and fun were two good reasons, but all this took an unexpected turn as Mister G. began quite openly to dream of being an artist and pursuing his goal with a curious mix of spontaneity and rationality. And all this at the age of 65! It did indeed seem so simple and human, or even falsely naïve, but the results of only three years of “amusement” were plain to see, and were giving me some serious fun, too!
Later, I discovered that what he told me was true and that he has a beguiling personality, even if this can sometimes be as ambiguous as the persona he has created. For as it happens, Mister G. is no easier to fathom than the enigmatic Mr. Hitchcock, and his work is not as simple as a superficial reading of the photos might suggest. Over the years, too, I got to know a genuine artist, at times close and cooperative, at others distant, at others rambunctious; a man prone to doubt when off stage, in spite of the apparent assurance, which is compounded by his entrenched Marseillais mix of philosophy and stubbornness. The fact was that, in his seventieth year and in his brilliant ascent, Gilbert Garcin was going through all the torments of the young artists while at the same time pursuing his “unsayable dreams of success” with all the tenacity of an ex-businessman and, above all, the iron will of someone who knows that time is not unlimited.
To his pragmatism Mister G. added a rigorous method that, as an obsessive worker, and like any serious artist, he established at the outset. This method is both simple and, indeed, economical: after a spot of rumination on humanist notions or basic universal themes that he might wish to act out, he sets himself the daily task of sketching out emblematically resonant situations and taking the corresponding photographs of himself. He then cuts out his figure, and sometimes that of this wife, and places it (them) in a model built using basic materials (glue, string, scissors, ink, paper, photos, etc.) that will fit on a tabletop He now holds a mini-photography session lit by two approximate gardens spotlights in his grandfather’s tiny shed in La Ciotat. Once he has done all this, the selection process is draconian. Only one image will be chosen, and sometimes none, for as Garcin philosophically acknowledges, sometimes an ideas doesn’t work. Still, at the rate of ten to fifteen photographs a year he has, over the last decade, built up quite an impressive corpus of over three hundred pictures.
The really astonishing thing is that Garcin never fails to hit the emotions with his subtle little scissors-and-glue stagings. The reason is that in these “philosophical titbits” he speaks of truths that concern us all: the transience of life, the flight of time, the tenacity one needs to keep going, the fact that there is no room for false modesty, that one must commit to something. In his images Mister G. shows us that it is preferable to “do one’s best” (1999), even if one struts like a “peacock” (1997) while at the same time “knowing one’s limits” but still aiming for the “bull’s eye” (1998) because in the end all one’s doing is “playing a well-known tune” about Narcissus or Sisyphus and Atlas, who is sometimes happy and sometimes sad but will always carry the weight of the world on his shoulders. And while one must of course take a few “elementary precautions” (2002) in order to protect oneself, and though it is important to keep “one’s independence” (1999), we are always going to be “chasing after time” (1995) because as it passes the “shortest path” (2004) to the “home straight” (2000) will always become clear. And despite or because of “the scrutiny of others,” his “thirst for the absolute” may eventually contribute to “changing the world” and to poetic “space conquest.” Clearly, “the choice of means” (2004) is up to us. He has become as much “the artist” as “his double.” For the “temptation” (2003) to act himself was ultimately too great, even if at heart he is just a paper “tightrope walker” with no certitudes. In any case, the only and the “last miracle” is him and his wife and their 160 years of youthfulness up in “the ivory tower” that they have built in the course of their “union” which began fifty-years ago now. Out of the “fear of ignorance,” Mister G. invites us to consider the “hidden side of things” (2001) and not too trust too much in “the promise of God” or “the uncertainties of reproduction,” for we might otherwise end up “living in the desert” (1997). He tells that “when the wind comes” (2007) it is better “to have loved” and to have preserved a “late harvest” together than to have reached “the point of no return” (2003) and brought down “the wrath of god” (2002) for one’s “driven ambition.” (2003)!
Happy birthday Mister G and Miss M!
from Christine Ollier, artistic director of the Les Filles du Calvaire gallery.
With the precious help of the ever-ready Stéphane Magnan, the oh-so-solid crew at Les Filles (especially the angelically patient Charlotte Boudon), and all those who support the man and his work, including his son Philippe, who seems to have become one of the amazed fans, his loyal publisher Patrick Le Bescont, his first critics: Armelle Canitrot, Yves Gerbal and Magali Jauffret, his photographer friends (even if some of them are a bit jealous!), his fans and his faithful web friends.
Christine Ollier, Paris 1 Mai 2009, for there’s no rest with Mister G, who I am sure is making a new photo this very day.
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