Augustin Lesage, coal miner, enters a hardware store and asks for some tubes of colour. Mr Porriche, the store manager, seeing the obvious embarrassment of his client, who doesn’t seem to know exactly what he wants, pulls out a quantity of tubes and brushes.
Augustin’s hand, as if jerked by strings, chooses about fifteen tubes and three brushes. Mr Porriche finds his comportment strange but admires his clear, frank gaze. He tries to find out something about this curious artist, by confiding that he, too, is a Sunday painter. He suggests that perhaps they could go painting together… Augustin replies:
“Better wait for a while!”
Then he rushes out the door, clutching his packet.
Augustin is so ignorant about the sense of the message given to him by the spirits that, once at home, he asks himself if, after all, they didn’t just mean that he should paint his kitchen. That he become a sort of house painter.
To economise his beautiful new colours, he starts, however, by fixing a sheet of paper on the wall, distributes the colours on his palette and picks up a brush, the biggest of the three. Then, a miracle takes place. He feels as if he has suddenly taken life and starts moving involuntarily. His subject, which he paints with no model, rapidly takes form…
A few days later, he receives a letter asking him to present himself on the following Sunday morning at the neighbouring train station. He is handed a sort of furled flag about three metres high. He protests that it’s not for him. The employee insists that the name and the address are exactly right, and that it belongs to him.
Augustin Lesage and his friend Ambroise hoist the awkward parcel onto Augustin’s shoulder, then they manoeuvre it through the narrow village streets. Augustin is persuaded that the whole mining colony is going to gossip about it.
He remembers having ordered a small canvas in town, without specifying the dimensions. Who had inspired such an enormous purchase?
Once the canvas is unrolled, it takes up a complete wall. Augustin tells his friend that he is going to cut it into small pieces. Just as he is about to cut it with scissors, his hand starts to tremble intensely. He’s starting to get used to that, so he grabs a pencil and his hand writes:
“Don’t cut the canvas. It will be done. All will be accomplished.”
This is the beginning of the prodigious adventure of Augustin Lesage, the medium painter. An adventure that will last forty years and translate into more than nine hundred absolutely stupefying paintings. Without the miner giving up his profession or abandoning the two rooms of the little lodgements in the austere mining towns of the North of France…
At four o’clock in the afternoon, the day darkens fast in Winter. Lesage rushes home, washes himself at the sink and gets changed. Immediately afterwards, he starts to paint. After twelve hours of harassing, physical slavery, where does he find the resources that his very particular sort of painting demands? He says:
“As soon as I start to paint, my fatigue flies away as if by enchantment! I can paint three hours without stopping…”
On Sunday, instead of going for a walk like before with his friends, he also paints. For what reason, with what aim, when these tubes of paint and the canvas cost so much? He doesn’t know, but he can’t stop himself from moving his brushes. And what does he paint?
He paints admirable and immense compositions made of enormous architectural constructions which seem to have fallen from a faraway star. Symbolic compositions peopled with fabulous animals, swarming with life which infinitely repeats its interlacings. Rhythmed and as if inserted into forms whose harmonious symmetry occupies every parcel of canvas. As if the poor miner fears to dilapidate a bit of space or not push far enough the explorations which the spirits command him.
One day, in 1912, his friend Ambroise says to him:
“Since you are a medium for the tables and for painting, you must be able to heal as well.”
His first patient is a miner who, in lifting a rock, has hurt his back so much that he is invalid. They sit him down, all bent over as he is, in the middle of the Lesage kitchen. Augustin has barely had time to invoke his “guides” as he calls them now, and impose his hands on the painful place, than the patient straightens himself up and starts to dance around the room.
The next day, on arriving home, Lesage finds three patients in front of his door, and the following day, ten. Soon, he has to face processions of fifty people that he has to treat. He no longer takes the time to get changed, and it is with his hands still blackened with coal dust that he makes his impositions.
One evening, he finds in his little dining room, two gentlemen who are wearing waistcoats and beards. They are healers from the Institut spirite de Bethune who issue a pressing invitation to him to come to the town to heal. Augustin sighs, if that’s what the spirits want…
These gentlemen want to give him a real “position”. On condition, of course, that he abandons, at least for a time, his profession of miner. Augustin hesitates. It would mean leaving his life, his brushes, his friends. He asks if he can take Ambroise Lecomte with him. It appears that the spirits would have no objection.
In Bethune, from morning to night, patients file in. Ambroise, who has become an accomplished spiritist “relieves” the patients, by long magnetic passes, Augustin finishes the job by imposing his hands. At the end of the day, the two companions are much more tired than when they were chipping away at the coal…
To be continued.