First published: Winter 2015
Gérard Lattier’s (b. 1937) paintings are often referred to as naive. They possess some features of folk art, with the apparent influence of archaic medieval miniatures and ex-voto, but the stories told and painted by Lattier are far from naive. They tell us about human values: good and evil, disasters and catastrophes, injustice and forgiveness. Based on human tragedies and the search for happiness, there are three key periods in his life that can be examined.
Comment couilloner les gorilles!, Gerard Lattier, 1977, 52.7 x 26 ins. / 134 x 66 cm, photo P. Mory, private collection
The first started with a series of tragic events that determined his destiny, and to some extent formed his outlook on reality. As a child, Lattier fought a dangerous case of encephalitis, winning a rare victory against the disease. His father worked at the local train station and during World War II, died on 27 April, 1944, in the US-led Allied bombing of pont de Diable in Nîmes. Left without a father and husband, Gérard and his mother were not only psychologically traumatised but also had to endure the stigma that accompanied their statuses of orphan and widow. Much later, in his painting Lenga muda (Mute language), Lattier declared his reluctance to be silenced about the humiliation his mother suffered when the society that had killed his father controlled her lifestyle through social workers. Intertwining the story of Jean Jaurès, the socialist leader and director of L’Humanité magazine who was assassinated for his political convictions, and Lattier’s mother’s enforced silence as a widow, the artist confronted the moral injustices of society.
When the Algerian war broke out, Lattier was committed to a mental asylum for his political views and refusing to enlist. He was there for seven months, and this was where he first began painting. His first work, Le Christ aux outrages (The Outraged Christ), shows Christ surrounded by his executioners, staring into nothingness with resignation. This was followed by engravings, and drawings in which the artist portrayed the sufferings of his youth. Having been at the bottom of the social ladder and declared officially insane, he did not self-censor.