Arthur Villeneuve

We find almost nothing about the life of Arthur Villeneuve, his life before painting, before he began by painting all the walls of his house, as if his painting also concealed his history. He worked from the age of fourteen in the pulp mill which now houses the museum devoted to his work, with its house dismantled and reassembled, there where the necessities of life delayed his start in painting. He devoted himself to it overnight, apparently, after hearing a sermon on the Gospel where Christ asks him: “What have you done with your talent?” He must have already been retired because it is said he spent up to one hundred hours a week painting his house. From floor to ceiling was not enough for him; he painted the outside walls, ignoring angry neighbours who thought he was crazy. Perhaps he remembered the Hebrews in the time of the Pharaoh, painting their doors so God would recognize them and spare them, the night when his murderous violence rained down on the babies of the Egyptians. Perhaps he wanted God to know what he’d done with his talent. It was not that of a naïve painter. Even in the villages and the fields, conventional in appearance, responding to the criteria of naïve painting, a strangeness hides and reveals itself. Rocks, the earth, and grass feature entangled heads and bodies where the animal and the human mingle. But it is mostly in the treatment of figures that a primitive force is revealed. They are all hairy, as if always on the verge of a shamanic transformation, like Doctor Jekyll morphing into Mr. Hyde. With their clothing, they appear to be disguised as humans. Their strangeness is again reinforced by the fact that they are almost all painted in profile with a very large eye facing the viewer. This eye does not seem to be part of the face on which it is painted; the eye of the painter challenges our own gaze, the staring of the madman in his obsession, the eye of God who sees in you what the painting reveals.

Patrick Cady