Emblazoned on the Public House of Art website are the words ‘We believe art is for all. Art to disrupt, not bankrupt.’ The economy of the art world is a meritocracy trading in fame. Living artists have to be as adept at business as they are at creativity. As Andy Warhol once wrote ‘Making money is art and working is art and good business is the best art.’ Art can be commercial, but that isn't to say that the most expensive is the best, or that high price should mean high praise. Some of the best art I have ever had the pleasure of viewing was not made to be sold. It was not even made to be seen. It was personal. Driven from the gut; impulsive, emotive, comforting or reactionary.
Many exceptional artists support their vocation by working in fields such as hospitality or retail. Their creative achievements are in no way diminished by their lack of commercial success. This brings me on to the focus of this article, L’palace Ideal (The Ideal Palace), the most tremendous example of Naive Architecture in the world. A colossal artistic achievement produced not by an artist who was critically acclaimed, patronised or lauded by the bourgeois elite. But instead, by an uneducated and impoverished man who lacked any artistic background. L’palace Ideal was built and designed in the late 19th century by Ferdinand Cheval and he spent his working life employed as a postman.
The palace sits in the small French village of Hauterives. Its intricate and exotic appearance is Ankgor Wat meets La Sagrada Familia meets Atlantis. The idea for the palace was conceived one day in 1879 when Cheval tripped over a rock on his mail round. He picked it up and the unusual shape inspired him. From this day on he began picking up pebbles and stones on his 18 mile long postal route. At first he carried these pebbles home in his pocket but as time went on he collected more and more, pushing them home in a wheelbarrow. He would often work at night, with only an oil lamp for illumination. For 33 years he continued with the laborious task, and bit by bit, and stone by stone, he built his palace. People laughed at him but he didn't care, writing ‘I knew that throughout history men who were not understood have been held up to ridicule, even persecuted.’
Cheval completed L’palace Ideal in 1912 at 75 years of age, and by this point the laughter had ceased. A tourists' register was opened and he began selling photographic postcards of his creation. It was visited by the leader of the Surrealists, Andre Breton and by Pablo Picasso who filled a notebook with twelve sketches inspired by the building. Max Ernst even made a collage, Facteur Cheval, which now hangs at the Peggy Guggenheim palazzo in Venice. Cheval has been described as the Hieronymus Bosch of cement and his work has been admired by artists and tourists for generations. However, perhaps his highest honour came many years posthumously from the Ministère des postes et télécommunications which, in 1986, put him on a French postage stamp.
The creation of L’palace Ideal is not only a testament to Cheval’s inconceivable creative talent and craftsmanship. It is also a testament to perseverance and passion. We have the potential to achieve our dreams if we don’t give up, we ignore the naysayers and we just keep grafting. If an elderly man can cart stones daily across rural terrain, working in solitude and darkness, then what is your excuse? The greatest artists or creatives are not always the loudest, although those may be the ones we often hear. In the end, though, it’s the work that speaks for itself. Don't fall for an artist’s advertising, strategy or public relations. Fall for the content. My favourite artist is a postman. Your favourite bartender could be an artist. Fame doesn't mean talent, just like talent doesn’t mean fame. Inscribed in the walls of Ferdinand Cheval’s palace is his message to the world, which reads “I was not a builder, I had never handled a mason’s trowel, I was not a sculptor. The chisel was unknown to me; not to mention architecture, a field of which I remained totally ignorant… Everything you can see, passer-by, is the work of one peasant, who, out of a dream, created the queen of the world…”
Written by London-Based Freelance Writer, Lydia Veljanovska for The Public House of Art.