I am like the desert, a blog on Gaël Badaud. Part One.

In this post Paolo, one of our volunteers, explores the life and works of artist Gaël Badaud.

Gaël Badaud, ‘Hermaphrodite’, drawing in wax crayon. Source: the Whitworth.

“Gaël’s art comes from the depth of a strange and bright land.”– Teo Hernandez

A rather small drawing made using wax crayons, portraying a two-headed Hermaphrodite over a bright pink background, hangs in the Exchanges exhibition at the Whitworth Art Gallery. This work by Gaël (Gabriel) Badaud is part of the Musgrave Kinley Outsider Art Collection, gifted to the Whitworth by Monika Kinley in 2010.

Throughout their lifetime, Victor Musgrave and Monika Kinley assembled works by over 129 artists—some of those artists become well-established names in the art world. In contrast, others lived under the radar of mainstream recognition, and little information has been recorded about them. The scarcity of documentation is a call to start to research and bring back to consciousness these overlooked stories. 

Gaël Badaud in December 1982. Photographer: Teo Hernandez.

Gaël Badaud was an artist, actor, cineaste, musician and poet active in Paris in the second half of the 20th century. He did not receive a formal art education, and his creations have been inscribed into the category of ‘raw art’. Badaud was born on the 25th of March 1945 to a Manouche (Sinti) mother and a Breton father. He had a difficult upbringing; he was a child-in-care since the age of 4 and grew up on a farm in the Loire-Atlantique department, on the west coast of France. There he received little schooling, barely grasping reading and writing. His phonetically spelt words later become a distinctive characteristic of his poetry.

In 1966, he moved to Paris, under the watchful eye of Gilles Brazey. Disliking authority, Badaud struggled to keep a stable occupation, and often moved from a job to another.

Pivotal, in his artistic career, was the encounter, in 1977, with his mentor, friend and lover Teo Hernandez. It was at this moment that Badaud, now 32 years old, began an intense period of creative production. Hernandez, a Mexican filmmaker, encouraged him to explore a wide range of media, both solo and in collaboration with other artists operating within the context of the Parisian queer counterculture.

In 1975, two years before meeting Badaud, Hernandez had come back to Paris after a years-long journey across different continents. His travel companion was Michel Nedjar, an artist strongly represented in the Musgrave Kinley Outsider Art Collection. In 1970 the pair were in Morocco and then toured India and Mexico, finding a deep connection with indigenous rituals and magic. Once back in Paris they began to work on a new production (Salomé, 1976), directed by Hernandez and starring Nedjar, a homage to Oscar Wilde’s homonymous play. At the same time, Nedjar began producing his first poupeés, which Jean Dubuffet praised and collected in the following decade and which would be exhibited worldwide.

Photo from the set of Salomé

When the relationship between Hernandez and Badaud flourished, Hernandez asked Gaël to take part in his films. These were independent productions, often lacking a rigid narrative structure, shot in the Super8 format. Their fruitful collaboration began in 1977 with Liberté Provisoire. A mise-en-scene of an ordinary day off in the cosmopolitan neighborhood of Belleville. The film is a light, yet lyrical portrait-in-motion of Badaud himself in his quest for a day of liberty. In the same year, Badaud starred in a contemporary interpretation of the story of Christ (Cristo, 1977) which is part of Hernandez’s trilogy on the Passion of Christ, alongside Cristaux and Lacrima Christi of the following years.

In Gaël, 1978, Hernandez filmed Badaud while at work on some paintings. Badaud is shown completely absorbed, almost in a creative trance, using bare feet and hands in the painting process. The focus on the body is even higher in Corps Aboli, 1978, in which Badaud, completely naked, is sensually filmed by his partner.

Similarly, Table d’ Hiver again sees Badaud at the centre of the film. In this picture, shot indoor across the winter 1978/79, hectic camera movements, extreme close-ups and fast motion create an energic dance of figures, lights and shadows.

In those years Badaud was the 17th subject of Gérard Courant’s mastodontic Cinématon, and also took part in Nedjar’s early movies: Le Gant de L’autre, Désir, Angle and Gestuel.

Alongside performing in his friends’ films, Badaud also directed his first pictures: J’aime, 1977-78, followed by Ephémère, 1979 and Au cœur du cristal, 1980. Gaël’s gaze, according to Hernandez, was “without concern for any school or any conceptualization, cinema abrupt in the sense that it bursts into the field of the film without rhetoric. Cinema far from recipes and which offers a new look, that of innocence.”

A genuine inner-struggle underscores Badaud’s works. His drawings and paintings are characterized by an intuitive understanding of the form and compositional freedom. The moon and a lavishly dressed figure, possibly idealizations of his biological mother, can often be found in his work, alongside multicultural citations. A hermaphrodite divinity, similar the one in the Whitworth’s drawing, is also a recurring subject. Badaud also created assemblages made with everyday objects, often using empty packs of ‘Gitanes’ cigarettes as the primary tool.

Over the years Gaël Badaud befriended the actress Parvaneh Navaï, with whom he shared an interest in their common Romani heritage. It is said that Navaï, with her flamboyant bohemian style, acted as a muse for Gaël himself.

Special thanks to Michel Nedjar, Mauricio Hernandez and Marc for their helpful contributions.

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