First published: Spring 2014
In many ways André Robillard seems childlike or naïve, but it would be wrong to assume he lacked intelligence. He is smart and headstrong, ironic and decidedly eccentric, and his conversation reflects this. He will talk about whatever he feels like in that moment; he will answer one question in four, and only if it is not too serious or painful; and, if you are lucky, he might show you his many treasures that are piled up in the three small rooms of his home on the grounds of the Georges Daumezon psychiatric facility in Fleury-les-Aubrais, near Orleans, France.
As befits an artist’s home, Robillard’s walls are covered with huge posters of Art Brut exhibitions held at the Musée de la Collection de l’Art Brut in Lausanne or at the LAM in Lille. These include works by August Walla, Aloïse and Adolf Wölfli, along with productions by patients from La Tinaia, Italy. Overlapping the posters are smaller pages from old calendars that are illustrated with animals, mostly dogs and birds, or pictures of Father Pierre – a priest of whom the French are very fond – and football players.
Robillard is almost 82 years old and has been at the facility for most of his life. When we first met, the loneliness that emanated from him, despite his jovial smile and light conversation, was almost too much to bear.
Robillard speaks about his destiny as though he were the luckiest man on Earth. “C’est incroyable, non?!” he asks rhetorically when speaking about the turn that his life took decades ago, from psychiatric patient to world-famous artist, like Picasso or Auguste Forestier, his favourites.
He did not set out with the idea that he was an artist. Rather, he acquired it because for the past 40 years people have been telling him that he is, and not because his creative impulses have in any way incorporated a self-view of “artist.” He still finds the concept unbelievable and absurd. And the absurdity of it all holds the key to understanding his art, as enigmatic as it is popular.