Philippe Augé (b. 1935)
“Philippe Augé is one of the most accomplished painters of our time and a colorist of rare quality.”
With this unusually high praise from the modern master, George Braque, the young French artist Philippe Augé embarked on a painting career which, since the 1950’s has catapulted him into a meaningful position in the contemporary art arena. Braque’s assessment represents the quintessence of all the qualities associated with Augé’s work today.
Recognized primarily for his delicately balanced figures and lush still lifes, his paintings vibrate with a gamut of rich color which recalls instantly the panoply of renaissance painting. At first glance, the subjects have a quiet quality – pulpy fruits, beautiful women clad in robes of luxurious fabrics, sensuous flowers, pastoral landscapes from region never seen by man – but a more serious study reveals something else; a surrealistic note, subtly introduced by means of a minuscule figure looming in the background, a small animal half hidden by flowers, a simple gesture of one of his women.
In 1951, while still in his teens, Augé left his native Paris and for five years traveled throughout Italy and Greece. The museum treasures of the 15th and 16th centuries had a profound and lasting influence on him; indeed his earliest still lifes painted on wood panels were influenced by the Renaissance masters. Hieronymous Bosch, El Greco, da Vinci, Mantega and Monet each had influence on his maturing talent. But Augé developed his own technique and approach to painting, an approach that sees painting as both an art and a craft.
During his stay in Rome he worked as assistant to Guillo Coltellaci, the noted scenic designer. A painting career of his own however, was his main interest, and in a short time he was part of Rome’s art establishment. Returning to Paris, he enrolled briefly at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts and there came to the attention of Georges Braque, who both encouraged and counseled him. His first important exhibition took place in London in 1959. Exhibitions followed in Houston, Dallas, Beverly Hills, Philadelphia, Chicago, Rome, Florence, and Paris. Thereafter he spent short periods in Rome, Paris, New York, Athens, Dakar and Kenya.
His life became tumultuous, laced with periods of intense work. Diaphanous silhouettes roving through surrealist landscapes counterbalanced violently by heavy fruits whose pulpy flesh evoked a lost paradise peopled his universe at that time. This was a renaissance man, a modern Medici who could not appease his internal struggles. His early years were crowded with a variety of occupations: aviator, photographer, fabric designer (for Schiaparelli and Jacques Fath), scenic and costume designer and, for a time, auto racer.
Eventually, through the ordeal of intense introspection he was liberated from self-contradictions, an appeasement which refined his art.
Since that time one-man shows have been held in New York, Palm Beach and Chicago and his work has been included in numerous important shows at the Museum of Modern Art in Paris. Today, Augé reminds us of Scott Fitzgerald. Engulfed in a smiling nostalgia his brilliant life is no longer a contradiction in the depths of his work; his disenchanted eye looks out on the world with amused indulgence. At the same time his art beckons us into a world of fantasy, a newfound paradise, which brutally conveys the magnetic intellectualism of a liberated artist at work.