I am constantly amazed by the artistic talent in Cortambert, both now and in former times. At the moment there is a lot of local interest in Johé Gormand, a painter and sculptor who lived in Toury, a hamlet of Cortambert, until she died in 1963. During her life her talent was not recognised and after her death when the house was cleared her art would have been destroyed had it not been for a collector who managed to save it. Her work is now on display at the Musée des Ursulines in Mâcon and will be the subject of guided tours and discussions until the end of January.
Johé Gormand lived in extreme poverty. Her father and brother had died early leaving Johé and her mother with little income. She used whatever materials were available such as old vine wire and cement tinted pink for her sculptures. Her paintings were on old hessian bags, wallpaper samples or bits of cloth sewn together and put on stretchers. She painted in Indian ink or watercolours. Her productive years spanned from1940 until her death in 1963.
Her art is described as “Art Brut” or “outsider art”. This is work which lies outside the boundaries of official culture. The term was first coined in the 1920s when psychiatrists became interested in the prolific creativity of mental patients in asylums, but now it applies to the work of anyone who is self-taught and is not influenced by art schools, galleries or mainstream art. There is a museum of Art Brut in Lausanne, Switzerland, with pieces collected by Jean Dubuffet in the 1940s. “These people have produced, from the depths of their own personalities and for themselves and no one else, works of outstanding originality in concept, subject and techniques. They are works which owe nothing to tradition or fashion”.
Johé Gormand was severely traumatised by the war. This seemed to leave a void in her which she tried to fill with her art. Her most famous work, “Ronde de la Paix” is a series of watercolours featuring popular dances which symbolized peace and her hope for the brotherhood of all nations.
She also wrote two journals, the day book and the night book. The day book contained notes on her day to day activities and her hopes. “Je sens vivre en moi un grand espoir… comme si j’attendais quelque chose d’heureux” However the night book gave an insight into her dreams and visions which were quite often horrifying. She was a tortured soul. Was her art was born of depression and psychosis?
Johe Gormand was isolated and hid her work from her mother with whom she lived in Toury. But to help her stay in contact with reality she wrote and illustrated topics from the journals she subscribed to, showing her very eclectic tastes… La Chine Populaire, La Chine, Les Etudes soviétiques, Les lettres françaises, Horizons, La Culture et la Vie…
Like so many artists Johé was not appreciated in her lifetime. I wonder what she would think of the exhibition in Mâcon nearly half a century later. Would she agree with the art experts? Was she aware of Art Brut and did she think of her work as such?
Nowadays we still have a sculptor resident in Cortambert. A mostly happy one. He uses flotsam and jetsam for his works, which is rather unusual seeing we are about as far as you can get from the sea. He exhibits at the local wine events and at craft markets. You would know if you saw his house as he has a bicycle on the roof…