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Gaël Froget: Art vandal

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We meet the young Mauritian painter who came to art by “vandalising” magazine pictures, in his studio in Quatre Bornes where his burlesque and tragic creatures come to life, in his head as well as on his walls.

Far from the beaches and the palm trees, Quatre Bornes has put up its modern high rises and shopping centre in the Plaines Wilhems district in the middle of the island. It’s a very modern town that grew up around an old textile market. The nearby Avenue Pasteur is lined with neat little tropical suburban houses. One of them bears the inscription “Bactory”: “When I found this place two years ago, explains Gaël, my friends and I looked for a name. It was going to be a place to hang out with friends as well as being my studio. A sort of club influenced by pop art, so obviously we thought of Andy Warhol’s Factory. Then as we were on the Avenue Pasteur we thought of the famous scientist and his dear bacteria, which are everywhere… (like me on social media, my friends teased). So without wanting to take ourselves too seriously, it became the ‘Bactory’ where, with my musician, writer or artist friends, we sit, we chat and we put the world to rights!”

    In my hand in the series “Mask”, 2015. 

Dressed in shorts and a t-shirt, Gaël leads us into a kaleidoscopic studio where the graffiti on the walls mingles with the artworks piled up everywhere: “My head is bursting with images, I can work on 20 paintings at the same time. They’re so impatient to get out, they can’t wait till the last one dries.” In a dance-like movement which could also be action painting, he flits from one work to the next, juggling with acrylic spray cans, paintbrushes, felt tips and charcoal. Everything here shouts out flashy colours, cheerful on the outside, but which, for Gaël, also contain the darker side of emotion and contemporary tragedy.

 

From fashion to vandalism

Gaël Froget working on the rabbit Bebet Karo, in recycled metal, which he exhibited with the rest of his “Fami Tribe” at the Cité Mécanique, 2017.
 

For this thirty-year-old self-taught artist, everything began in doctors’ waiting rooms where, already a vandal in his teens, he covered magazine photos with streaks of black or coloured felt tip pen. After finishing college, he looked for something to do… and found himself “alone in my student’s room, with no paper, no equipment, and no money, scribbling on the only medium I had, the pages of magazines.”

Then, with a sarcastic and rebellious eye, he began systematically “vandalising” all the faces he found in glossy magazines, pouring on paint like so many angry punches. A sort of “street art” but for his eyes only. Ads too fell victim to his art: he would put his name in the place of the brand, and post the whole lot on Facebook. A crowd of new friends thought it was great. At twenty-one Gaël was hooked: “Maybe I could make a career out of this!”

Wanting to test a rather tepid vocation for fashion, he went to Malaysia to attend classes in Fashion and Retail Design. The university offered him a few odd jobs, including assistant to the energetic director of the Malaysian International Fashion Alliance, who encouraged him to contribute to an exhibition in Kuala Lumpur with the perfect title of “Artificial Beauty”. Gaël swapped his scissors for a paintbrush.
 

André 11 in the series “Love is Real”, 2017

A creole statement

And yet the art world remained totally foreign to him until he returned to Mauritius: “The first real exhibition I attended was my own.” It was in 2013, at the IMAAYA Gallery, where his “Art Vandalism” was such a success that everything was sold by the day of the preview. “Before that I went from door to door, trying to sell my work. It was almost like charity!”

In the following years, his grotesque beauties travelled to the galleries of prestigious luxury hotels in Mauritius as well as Bali and London. The Urban Art Fair exhibited them in Paris next to stars like Banksy. And Emirates Airlines engaged him as portrait artist in Dubai where he deconstructed in glorious Technicolor the Burj Khalifa and other enormous buildings.
 

The cheerful kaleidoscope of the Bactory, where Gaël can work on 20 pieces at a time before putting the world to rights with his mates.
 

But our tender-hearted vandal abandoned his photogenic outbursts to settle down on his island in 2015 with “Love is real”, an exhibition like an intensely personal pictorial diary where he endeavoured to find the vague sources of his African origins, only to end up asserting his identity as just Creole, with the traits and emotions of an exuberant primitivism. In a similar vein he tells us about the exhibition “La Cité Mécanique” (The Mechanical City) in 2017, and the tales and legends, dreamed up with his friend Radjiv Dave, of humans and gods of an imaginary tribe, the “Famis”. Ironic embodiments of the island’s ethnic diversity, which he depicts on pieces of metal salvaged from the island’s industrial past. The most grotesque of his creatures, next to the divinities with very human failings, is “KisMi, femme fatale par excellence” of doubtful cleanliness symbolised by a pair of full lips distributing the kiss of life!

After Warhol, Picasso and Bacon, his influence these days is Soulages, and his black streaks which he borrowed for a series of stencil drawings, “nocturnal faces that I would like to be more realistic, like missing person notices.”

Even when toned down, his vandalism comes through as ever more telling.

 

 

By Jean-Pascal Billaud
Photographs Claude Weber