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Pol Lemétais, from alternative art to outsider art

Pol Lemétais is a gallery owner and a passionate promoter of Outsider Art (Art brut in French). He initially followed an alternative route, and is now a recognised player on the international Outsider Art market. His commitment to outsider art was strengthened in a small village in Aveyron, Saint-Sever-du-Moustier, far from the institutions.

His experience and expertise now leads him to international fairs for contemporary art and Outsider Art, such as Outsider Art Fair, Art Brut RDV and Outsider Paris. In September 2023, he has inaugurated his gallery in Toulouse, the capital of the Occitan region.

Alternative routes to arts

Pol is the Brittany form of Paul, used in the name of the Finistère town of St Pol-de-Léon.

As a child, Pol Lemetais received an alternative education outside the institutional framework at the Waldrof schools, which strongly encouraged the practice of the arts (music, theatre, painting, sculpture, etc.). The arts and crafts were given the same importance as academic subjects. During his childhood and adolescence, Pol’s schedule was very full.

He thus acquired the openness and freedom of mind that were essential to developing his confidence and positive certainty that he could go for what attracted him.

In the early 90s in Malakoff, with a team of about ten people, he invested in a 2,000 m2 industrial wasteland. He cleaned it up, fitted it out and painted it, turning it into a living workplace with artists’ studios. In this artistic squat, painters, sculptors, dance companies and theatre companies perform. At the time, he was also making music and films.

Commitment to arts

For Pol Lemetais’s generation, compulsory military service was a turning point in life. Pol Lemetais obtained conscientious objector status and did civic service for 20 months, twice the length of military service at the time. He chose to join the cultural and popular education association “Les Nouveaux Troubadours”, founded in 1987 in Saint-Sever-du-Moustier.

From participative workcamps to the organisation of exhibitions, his on-the-job training was consolidated. His friend Jean-Michel Chesné, a painter, suggested he should organise an exhibition devoted to the Outsiders art that the artist collected.

At the end of the 90s, the first “Un monde de bruts”, a temporary summer exhibition, was a revelation for Pol: this art from outside the institutional circuits matched the image of the associative cultural centre in a rural environment for which he worked. At the end of his civic service, he became an employee of the association.

Little by little, the association built up its collection and became the Musée des Arts Buissonniers, now a permanent exhibition space and a reference point for Outsider Art identified by the institutions.

25 years' experience in the world of outsiderart

His experience on the ground, up close with outsider innovations, has forged his expert eye. From event to event in France and abroad, he organises, distributes, curates and attends art fairs.

Long unrecognised, even rejected by cultural institutions, Outsider Art (creations with no cultural reference and no desire to please) reveals its artistic force and creative power without mediation.

Outsider art has now found its way into the Centre Pompidou, and the ‘market’ is taking an increasing interest in it, although the price range remains well below that of contemporary art.

With his 25 years of experience in the world of Outsider Art in France, the United States, Switzerland and Germany, Pol Lemetais has become a key promoter of Outsider Art. In 2014, he set up his nomadic gallery, dividing his time between it and the Musée des Arts Buissonniers. And in September 2023, he founded his permanent art gallery in Toulouse.

What makes a good Outsider Artist? A good outsider artwork?

For Pol Lemetais, the most important thing is to create spontaneously and sincerely in order to express something. Spontaneity, emotional shock and the evidence of a flash of insight are the best criteria for appreciating a work of outsider art.

Outsiders, whether they are excluded for reasons of disability or socially on the margins, create a powerful, sensitive universe. Thanks to the hard work of enthusiasts, this artistic movement has made its own mark.

Should Outsider Art be shown in dedicated places or blended into the global art market? The future will tell. Time and history are the only judges of the artistic value of artworks.

Passion, promotion and conservation are Pol Lemetais’s Ariadne’s thread: Artistes Actuels wishes his new gallery every success!