The Notebook That Had a Narrow Escape

A limited-edition book of drawings and words by the artist Gérald Foltête, titled ‘Images et Mirages’, is set to be launched in Paris on April 20th after thankfully avoiding an altogether different fate

A book of drawings and words by the French artist Gérald Foltête while on vacation in December that could easily have ended up tossed in the garbage on his way home is thankfully set to enjoy a very different fate. 

Titled ‘Images et Mirages’, and with a foreword by the curator and art critic Grégoire Prangé, the limited-edition book will be launched at ‘La Belle Henriette’, a literary café in Paris, on April 20th, only weeks after the work was done, in line with the artist’s wishes.

“Spontaneity and rawness lie at the heart of this project and I wanted to continue that approach in the publishing and launch phases, so moving ahead quickly somehow seemed important,” he explained. 

Tracking back to the book’s beginnings, Foltête confessed that in similar style to many artists, he is as likely to be found working as relaxing when on holiday, improvising with a stone or a piece of wood, if need be.

“During this particular trip, I was lucky enough to have some Indian ink and a few colours with me,” he explained. “Then, when my wife saw me doodling, unbeknown to me, she went out and bought a notebook of blank paper, which is how the project began.” 

The result is an intriguing collection of drawings, spanning boulders, sometimes weighing us down – or perhaps openings, inviting us in, and 3D cubes, parcel like, in the artist’s hallmark microcosm style, encouraging audiences to investigate and explore further. Meandering lines and outlines, meanwhile, taking us on infinite journeys, both physically and through the mind. And then, as we move through the pages, splashes of colour suddenly provide a startling contrast to the monochrome, while handwritten narratives - largely crossed through and hidden, leaving just a few carefully chosen words for readers to mull over - complement the drawings. 

Foltête fully expected to bin the notebook before leaving, but a combination of instinct and a favourable response to the work from his wife stopped him from doing so. Once home, he decided to share the drawings with a close circle of friends – not an easy decision, he admitted with a smile – and, on the back of their positive reactions and encouragement, decided to publish the drawings together in a book format.

Foltête was keen to publish, maintaining both the project’s momentum and the spirit in which the drawings had been created. “It felt important to keep the spontaneity and homogeny, so I decided to auto-publish,” he said. “The editing was minimal – just the cover and legal stuff. Other than that, it was simply a matter of adding a footnote and one last drawing to give the book its final dot where it felt like something was missing.”

Foltête also decided to glue a small original drawing on the first page, thereby making each of the 500 copies unique and, as the artist said with a smile, “a piece of art that stands on its own which people can enjoy or hate”. 

‘Images et Mirages’ was a different, deeply personal project for Foltête on many levels, in part because of the decision to include words with the drawings. “I’m very shy when it comes to writing my own words. Sharing them is an even bigger challenge than drawing,” he confessed. “Even if an audience isn’t close by, I tend to start anticipating their observations with my writing, unlike the other part of my work. But there was none of that in this project. I felt completely uninhibited.” 

Words have certainly been an integral part of Foltête’s work over the years, especially those of great literary writers which have been a key source of inspiration, especially when exploring a deep-rooted issue, and more.

“For example, when I was thinking about the death penalty in relation to my work, I knew that no one could improve on the way Victor Hugo explored this theme in ‘The Last Day of a Condemned Man’, so I made this my starting point for research and from there, I found myself compelled to transcribe the words,” he explained. “I was interested to see how the work would look on a single page and especially love the graphical aspect. I also felt that I was getting closer to the writer in a way I wouldn’t have been able to do if only reading the words.” 

Foltête realised that the process was also supporting his own creativity. “I was thinking in different way while working and building ideas that I wouldn’t have had otherwise and using them in my art,” he explained.

The outcome was satisfying on several levels, perhaps most importantly because it encompassed the three principles that he strives to combine in some form in his work, which are poetry, a concept and an ethical or political slant. 

Foltête cited the British street artist and political activist Banksy as a source of inspiration and creative whose work brilliantly brings these elements together.

He recalled, with a smile, how, as a teenager, he struggled to find his own platform to fight injustices. “I wanted to be Che Guevara really,” he said with a smile. “Eventually I realised I could make my voice heard on issues like war or tax evasion through art. Today, if I produce a piece of art that’s beautiful but has no concept, I would throw it away or go over it.”  

‘Images et Mirages’ will be launched on April 20th in Paris at ‘La Belle Henriette’.

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