Yann Le Gal

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French, born in 1973; lives and works in Kyoto (Japan).

Born to a middle class family, he was eight years old when his father suddenly died. His mother raised him and played a formative role in his upbringing. The close bond formed between the two continues to influence his life and art.

During his apprenticeship, he witnessed the transformation of the école des beaux arts of Reims into a design art school, "ESAD", the transformation creating tensions and divisions between the old and new generations of teachers. To preserve independence as he worked towards achieving a level of artistic competence parallel with the great historic artists, Le Gal distanced himself from the noxious atmosphere of the school and the formulaic career promoted in this environment. This experience caused an overall rejection of the art-school curriculum, and his primary influences entail both classic and modern, from Rembrandt, to Rodin, Manet, Giacometti, and Picasso. Rather than the school taught rule, he incorporated elements that fall between classicism and expressionism, light and shadow, much of this acquired through his own research, into a uniquely introspective and fragile artistic language.

He was first recognised artistically in 1999 when he was awarded the Renoir Foundation prize. For one year, he resided and worked in the art residency at Essoyes (France, Aube), this residency being the former studio of the impressionist master. The work he produced at this time acquired a narcissistic theme, which caused him to recognise the existence of a time lag between the artist in their ivory tower and the local population. Essoyes is a small village located in the Champagne vineyards, the population primarily composed of agricultural workers whose awareness of art and the inherent theoretical problem is limited. This experience was a determining factor in the creation of the Kyoto portraits 100 project. Rather than the isolationist approach seen in the Essoyes period, Kyoto portraits 100 has adopted a confrontation approach in the Le Gal met the people living in the vicinity of his residence.

In 2007, Le Gal entered a new stage of development with the opening of his studio, a large store in the Reims suburbs. There, he faced the challenge of creating gigantic compositions. To acquire an understanding of vineyard culture, the symbol of the Champagne area, he pursued the theme of a bacchanal by drawing upon the original Greek myth of Dionysus. His studio transformed into a pagan temple decorated with two gigantic paintings, Oréibasie, a large canvas of 3.6 x 4 metres, which is an allegory of the birth of Dionysus, and The drunkenness of Silenus, a canvas of 3.6 x 8 metres sixty, which represents a gigantic and sculptural orgy.

The size and the style of these paintings clearly refer to Picasso, but Le Gal does more than merely quote the modern master. He revisits themes and iconographic codes of a subject that originate in Antiquity. He was working on a third painting, when the death of his mother put an end to its realisation. Ironically, whereas Box#104 was dedicated to gigantic paintings, the most poignant works of this time are small drawings done at the bedside of his mother in hospital.

The essence of his art is primitive and instinctive: the works are quickly finished to preserve the sense of direct contact with the materials. This contrasts with the necessary process of reflection, which requires time, a slow maturation that allows him to implement his work over a long period.

Each step in Le Gal’s life and work can be understood as a rebirth that has allowed him to be increasingly open to the world, questioning the place he occupies, these experiences something he tries to express in his creations. Kyoto portraits 100 is another turning point that is the fruition of portrait studies completed over many years, opens the next cycle of development. 

After many years devoted to express an art following the tradition of modernity through autobiographical subjects, Le Gal questioned one more time his own practice, which in turn opened new ways of engaging in the dialectic between the myths of art history and contemporary society. In the wake of Gerard Gasiorowski, he wonders what does it mean to be a painter in the twenty-first century, which is concretized into the creation of “Miam-manufacturing” project.