Il est vrai que je n'ai jamais travaillé en vue d'obtenir un grand prix à une biennale de Venise quelconque, mais bien plutôt pour mériter 10 ans de prison. (Clovis Trouille)
Camille Clovis Trouille (1889-1975) was born in La Fère, in the Picardie region of France. He studied at the École des Beaux-Arts of Amiens from 1905 to 1910. With a name worthy of a pseudonym (to have "la trouille" means to be afraid in French), Trouille paddled upstream in a river of Christian morality, military patriotism and bourgeois ostentation with lightness, irony and obstinacy. His erotic and gaudy work delivered a slap in the face to both religion and war (Trouille considered war to be an "infamy", one which had permanently traumatised him). He was drafted on 2 August, 1914. The First World War made him an anarchist and his painting followed suit.
One of his first paintings, Remembrance (above), features two dead soldiers, one German the other French. In their hands they hold two white rabbits and two wooden crosses. On the battlefield a white-haired cardinal cloaked in red with a robe and garter belt bestows his blessing upon a military commander. A nude woman, her body contorted, wears a red, white and blue garter and leaves a trail of military medals behind her.
Remembrance was discovered in 1930 by Dali and Aragon at the Salon des peintres et écrivains révolutionnaires. Trouille also was much appreciated by André Breton, who considered him "the grand master of anything goes", and offered to exhibit his works in his gallery. Trouille refused for fear of being permanently under a label, and it was not until 1962 that he had his first solo exhibition. It was followed the next year with a solo show at the Raymond Cordier gallery in Paris, which was forbidden to anyone aged under age 18 and over 70. In La voyeuse, the dark room is forbidden for anyone under fifty:
Was Trouille a surrealist? "Anarchist, surrealist - I don't know. I paint what I love, I paint feminine beauty. For me everything is erotic. It is the most wonderful feeling" explained Trouille. A nonconformist, he peeled away the layers and revealed the defects of the right-wing western society of the time. For example, Bikini (below) depicts a French colony. In the distance in the middle of a field of wheat there is a French soldier leading a group of spahis soldiers.
Clovis Trouille, Bikini, 1930s
On the side of the road a priest with his head in his hands contemplates a skull and crossbones. Barely hidden behind a few stalks of wheat three white women sunbathe in bikinis. The hypocrisy of their mission to "civilize" is thereby unmasked. The Romance of a Spahi (1881) was Pierre Loti's second novel, dealing with a Spahi (French colonial soldiers famous for their romantic uniforms), stationed in sub-Sahara Senegal. The novel was daring for its time as it depicts a love affair between a black woman and white man.
In The Red Poet (below) we see a guillotine before the "prison for nonconformist poets" and a poet with a black cape like the anarchists of the early twentieth century. Hiding behind an urinal, he prepares to attack the executioner. The red poet is André Breton. In the foreground, a phallus-shaped monument is erected in honor of de Sade, topped by a bust of Pope Pius XII.
Clovis Trouille, The Red Poet, 1949
My favorite Trouille painting, The Confession, reminds me at Rivarol's brilliant observation: Il y a des péchés si flatteurs que, si je les confessais, j'en commettrais un autre d'orgueil (There are sins so flattering that, if I confessed them, I would commit another one of pride):
Clovis Trouille, The Confession, n.d.
Towards the end of his life, Clovis Trouille experienced a certain success with his painting Oh! Calcutta! Calcutta! (below) which gave its title to the famous comedy musical that had sex as the main topic. Created in Broadway in 1969 by Kenneth Tynan, it starred Samuel Beckett as one of its librettists and John Lennon among its musicians. In Oh! Calcutta! Calcutta! (The French phrase "oh quel cul t'as" translates roughly as "oh what a lovely backside you have"), "the ass forms a perfect circle designed to suggest the conquest of the moon", Trouille explained.
Some of Trouille's pieces are reminiscent of English Pop Art. In Souvenir without Suite (below) a female face straight out of a 1950s ad campaign stares out at the spectators revealing three very yellow bananas. In the background three nuns with covered faces piously read the bible.
In The Kiss of the Confessor a couple languishingly embraces inside the cathedral of Amiens. She with lipstick red as blood, mascara and a beauty mark at the corner of her mouth. He with shoulder length hair, red lips, a look of love in his eyes as he leans over her, his hand on her breast. Their bodies intertwine below the stained-glass gazes of kings. A nun and a priest stand out against a somber background.
Trouille always wanted to stay independent. He never wanted to depend on galleries. Almost all of his life, he worked as a restorer and decorator of department store mannequins in Paris. He only painted in his spare time. His work consists of only a hundred paintings which he reworked, sometimes for years. Trouille would probably be surprised to see that his paintings are currently trading between 250.000 and 300.000 Euros.
Fascinated or amused by his own mortality Trouille painted a triptych of paintings entitled: My Funeral, (above), My Burial, (1945) and My Grave (below). My Funeral displays a magnificent carriage passing through the streets of Paris followed by a parade of bishops, soldiers and dogs.
In My Grave ghostly women lurk around the cemetery wearing bats as loin cloths, on the gravestone we can read "Here lies the artist who lost his life while earning it". At the top of the vault the face of Jesus Christ appears. Clovis Trouille laughed to the very end. He died on 24 September 1975 in Paris. You can see more of Trouille's work here.