Gaston Lavoie is a self-taught sculptor who loves to explore materials. Whether it is plexiglass, stone, or metal, he is inspired by everything he touches. Gaston is the art of pleasure or the pleasure of art.
There are people who sulk their pleasure, others who cultivate it. Gaston Lavoie is one of the latter. He doesn’t just cultivate it, he sculpts it. Trained as a carpenter, he is used to working with materials and seeing the results. As he says himself, he created sculptural works sporadically for the past forty years. Then, slyly, the need to do more, coupled with his insatiable curiosity for material, form and colour, grew more prominent in his life. He has done at least 90 sculptures since 2001. To better understand this passion, I interviewed him via zoom.
I would like you to clarify your thoughts about pleasure.
I’ll start with an Italian word: “pienezza”, it means fullness. It’s so much in the moment when I create. I’ll give you an example: I see a stone, I tell myself this stone, it calls me, I take it, I carry it, it’s of a different size, I take it, I look at it, I bring it. I put on music, I put on my ear shells, I protect myself, because it is stone. You are in harmony, you are satisfied with your technique, you are happy to see what appears in front of you. That is one of the pleasures of sculpting. Sometimes it’s one of the pieces that you forget, I’ve done so many. This week I went to Montreal, I was looking around and I found a piece that I had forgotten about. It was a pleasure to see it again. That was what I wanted to say, not only in the sculpture, but also in the drawing. That’s one aspect of the pleasure. The pleasure is also in meeting people. We talk about what I’ve done, what’s out there, different things. I have a lot of fun. We talk more about creativity. It’s creation on the short term and on the long-term also in the exchange.
I know that you explore almost all materials, which ones are the most inspiring?
In fact, there is none more that is more inspiring, I have noticed that after a few years. I work in sequence. I start by working with, let’s say a combination of glass and wood and I’ll do about two to five pieces. I explore that matter thoroughly and once I’ve finished those pieces, I move on to other things. I often give it up for three to six months, a year, two years and then I go back to that technique, to that way of working. There are no materials as such that are more inspiring than others. I start a lot with wood and stone and then it became multifaceted. I’ve worked with metal, wood, firewood, and other materials. The material I don’t like to work with, well, it’s plastic. I’ve tried it before, although there’s no problem with the strength of it, but I don’t like it.
Is there one that you can’t get used to and you’re still working on? Or have you given up?
The resistance is in the material, but it is certain that the stone is hard to work, you can call it resistance, but I am reckless, I do not give up. It’s a learning process. When I was starting out, I didn’t carve with power tools, it was with the chisel and I broke a lot of noses. When you talk about the face (in sculpture) it’s the nose that appears, it goes on, it goes on and then you break the nose. I learned by doing. I think the resistance comes from the fact that your technique is not perfect. You may be inspired, you may be artistic, but it’s like any other trade, profession or art. You must have a ten-thousand-hour standard. Until you have done your 10,000 hours of practice, you don’t have your technique. Once you have 10,000 hours, you really start to proceed. Like the ones (the pictures) I sent you, I did things that I couldn’t have done at first. There’s plywood, there are very thin circles that I did freehand with an exacto. My circle is really precise, I couldn’t have done this six years ago. The resistance comes from the fact that it’s not worked enough, I think. Materials like metal, it comes from not having the right equipment. I would have liked to mold a piece, but it takes a lot of equipment and it takes very precise techniques. And if I ever want to make a bronze, I would work with a company that does that.
As you say so well, you are self-taught. So do you sometimes think that you are missing something? Do you do any research?
I don’t really have a process, I started very young actually. We were very poor and we didn’t have any toys. I made a plane as I say in my story on the website. I never asked myself any questions, I don’t belong to a specific artistic school. What I do in general, like Chaman, the big man in plywood, well it’s after having created it that I go and see if someone works like me! I had seen at the Georges Pompidou museum someone who worked with plywood. They were huge pieces, but entirely made by computer and cut with super powerful machines. It was beautiful, but I never thought about it again. What I had been seeing are bowls made of plywood. On very rare occasions, I went to see how something is made as I am also a carpenter. Only, I know enough about cutting and assembling techniques and the only person who gives me advice on this is my son Alexis. “If you do it like this in large dimensions, it will be incredibly beautiful. Or he advises me to try something else artistically, but not in terms of technique. We’re not quite in the same field. He may say, “This is not the best you’ve done. Louise (my partner) also gives her opinion. Often it confirms what I already think. When I do something, some steps can take 2–3 days. And if I’m not really satisfied, Louise will come in and add her very helpful input.
For the past two years, we have been living with certain constraints, did sculpting allow or help you to create a semblance of normalcy?
Yes, it has been very helpful. In fact, like everyone else, I have experienced anxiety, fear for your loved ones. At one point, I was in a vacuum, I wasn’t creating. This happens to me often anyway, a kind of latency during which I do nothing. And when I started doing it again in two sequences like this one right now, it does me a lot of good, it allows me to put things in perspective and to think in a calmer way. It’s a kind of cure in my case.
How does your creative process work? Do you start with an idea? From a sketch? Etc.
It’s really diverse, what inspires me is the material, it has always been that. Even before I started doing it regularly, wood and stone had always called for me. The material is very important, it is one of the things that inspire me. The people who inspire me? There is my wife who allowed me to create when she was pregnant, her face at least, the vision I had at that time. My daughter, when she had a miscarriage, it inspired me to create a work called “The Broken Girl” and it’s made with fabric that I glued in fresh paint. There is Louise B (a friend), it is her personality that inspired me a piece that is on my website called “La belle dame”. Inspiration in people is generally positive. When you made an order for a sculpture, I didn’t know you, so I asked questions. I see you as a couple and that inspires me one model who sees, one who doesn’t. One has no mouth, the other no eyes, it becomes an inspiration.
My inspiration really comes from the raw material, the shape of the stone, the angles. I will see a face and this face tells me: “I see a body and this body is either stone or wood.” I see it dancing or making a sign or being stable. I never start from a sketch, it’s really exceptional for me to draw one.
Your son is a recognized painter in the art world (Alexis Lavoie), do you have any exchanges on art? About your work? If yes, what do you get out of it?
The relationship we have … he’ll make a comment to me, I’ll ask him what painting he sold, but we don’t talk much about art as such.
You’ve done group shows and solo shows. What comments do you remember and what do you take out of these exhibitions?
A very positive aspect because I get feedback on what I do. I like the social aspect of the exhibit, meeting people, the opening. What I like most is the feedback. It can be my brother, whom I haven’t seen in a while, who says to me: “You’re far from the ducks, it’s positive, you’re making progress.” Or Johanne who said to me: “Why are you doing so much butt and breasts? To which I reply, “It’s lines, it’s beautiful and I like to do lines”. I have yet to hear things like “How beautiful it is, but it doesn’t fit with my sofa”. The comments and feedback have always been positive actually. Of the shows I’ve done, well… I’ve always sold more than I thought I would. That’s a positive aspect. What I don’t like so much about the shows, and I have to say it, is the marketing, but that’s part of the game. I have a lot of trouble with that, but overall it’s positive. During the pandemic, I had an offer that I’m trying to put back on the table: to present my last pieces in a cultural center in Montreal. Which for me would be completely new and which I declined at that time.
If you have anything to add…
We’ve covered it all. Creating keeps my senses alive, I am very happy to have this chance, to have a passion. Retirement has been all the more enjoyable and it has been easier to cope with the pandemic.
Maybe we’ll cross paths when his next exhibition takes place.