Augustin Lesage (1876-1954) was a French coal miner who became a self-taught spiritualist artist. He was possibly also schizophrenic.
He began painting in 1912 at age thirty-five a year after hearing a voice while working in a coal mine in northern France. The disembodied voice told him “Un jour, tu seras peintre” (“One day, you will be a painter.”)
Already a spiritualist, while Lesage was experimenting with communicating with spirits during seances and through automatic writing, spirits reassured him that the voice he heard had been real. The voice returned and soon instructed him not only to become an artist but what specific art supplies to buy, where to find them, and what to paint. He believed that his works were dictated by spirits, specifically Leonardo da Vinci, Marius of Tyana, Apollonius of Tyana, or Marie, his little sister who died at the age of three.
A Symbolic Composition of the Spiritual World,1923
A Symbolic Composition of the Spiritual World, 1925
Before I start to paint I never have any idea as to what I want to portray. I never have an overview of the entire work at any point of the execution. My guides tell me : ‘Do not try to understand what you’re doing.’ I surrender to their impulse.
After World War I he found a patron in Jean Meyer, the director of the Spiritualist journal La Revue Spirite and was able to quit working in the coal mine. He spent all of his time painting until his eyesight failed shortly before his death.
Many of his works, as well as others from the “Art Brut” (rough art) movement, are at the Lille Métropole Museum of Modern, Contemporary and Outsider Art in Villeneuve d’Ascq, France.
Untitled, oil on canvas
Christian Delacampagne wrote (translated by blogger Emily Ann Pothast):
The first large painting of Augustin Lesage is one of the most daring in modern art. Although not, strictly speaking, non-figurative (figures both architectural and anthropomorphic abound), it explores almost all possibilities of abstraction — lyrical as well as geometric — at a time when the latter, among professional artists, was still in its infancy. They are no less ornamental and decorative than the works of Kandinsky, Lesage’s spiritual contemporary. Indeed, is the distance so great between the the Theosophy dear to the Russian artist and the Spiritualism embraced by the French? The former hearkens to Rudolf Steiner, the latter to Léon Denis.
Augustin Lesage, un messager de Dieu pas comme les autres (Augustin Lesage, a messenger of God like no other):