Dare I say François Gaudet has been on the staff at the Grand-Pré National Historic Site a long time. His bushy grey beard proves that I guess. He works as an interpreter, but concurrently has documented the beauty of the park. He takes fine scenic photographs.
Last year, the park began to offer some unique workshops, including one on pop art that François facilitated. The theme was a riff on the fictional face of Evangeline. Turns out ‘Évangéline, Acadian Queen’ is a great concept to inspire art.
This year, François has a huge opportunity to show off his own art with a solo exhibition at the Acadia University Art Gallery.
As an Acadian-Métis artist, François has explored his mythic Acadian living room, says curator Laurie Dalton.
Through explorations of the mythmaking of Évangéline, the landscape of Grand-Pré and the horses of Sable Island, François has played with themes like exile, of memory and heritage. The exhibition offers sculptural, photographic and installation-based work.
Often photography is just a place to start, not the finished product. He mixes painting and photography. For François, says Dalton, images are a medium of possibility for further experimentation. Best of all, he plans to continue his experiments in what he calls an on-site base camp.
That means you’ll want to visit the gallery several times to see how he expands, reflects and creates new work. I was most taken with his tree images from the park where he has imagined old man faces engrained in the bark.
Born in what he calls an Acadian ghetto in southwestern Nova Scotia, François says, “Being Acadian-Métis is like feeling caught in an inter-tidal zone, somewhere between established fact, fiction, the visible and the invisible. Often, I feel lost and find myself in others, in this metaphorical in-between.”
For him photography has been the perfect vehicle to navigate this paradigm. His work, he contends, is a form of self-portraiture as he seeks to articulate a homeland for himself.
“Oceans and trees surround me. I wanted my images to look like encounters, a form of hunting with the camera. My subjects may look like forest nymphs, leprechauns, elves caught in a moment. These supernatural and legendary creatures normally out of sight become visible in my mythical Acadia.”
I was interested to read on a University of Moncton website that François inherited his father’s collection of negatives. A photographer with the American Marines during the Second World War, his father returned to Baie Sainte Marie in 1945 carrying “the heavy burden of atrocities to which he was a visual witness. As an antidote, an exorcism and a consolation, he began to capture in photographs the life of his Acadian community in its minutest details.”
No wonder François developed the perspective that, “the historical moment captured by photographic exposure and the present time in which I intervene form two layers that end up fusing into a kind of on-going present… suddenly awakened into a new era.”
François studied at Université Sainte Anne, Simon Fraser University, and at the San Francisco Art Institute. He graduated from the Emily Carr Institute of Art and Design in Vancouver.
He has shown his work in solo and group exhibitions in several provinces in Canada, in San Francisco and twice in France. François displayed his art during the first Acadian World Congress in 1994.
He has received several Nova Scotia Arts Council grants and one from the Canada Council for the Arts in 1999. François was awarded the Prix Grand-Pré by the Department of Culture of Nova Scotia in 1983 and granted the Established Artist Recognition Award in 2016.
An Acadian-Métis using art as a lens to examine identity and place is so valuable and fascinating for those of us who might fit in the ‘settler’ category. We are lucky that François invites others into his mythology.
The exhibition at Acadia’s gallery will continue until Dec. 4. Go see it!
Former Advertiser and Register reporter Wendy Elliott lives in Wolfville.