Way back in 1998, I believe it was then, I was visiting extended family in Vermont. I had left my sales career and was just into year two of my Art life. Friends, family and former colleagues had not quite written me off, yet, but most definitely watched me with concern or looking for a good laugh. A concerned Uncle who I’m sure was hoping that a visit to the local eccentric Artiste would be just what I needed to hear how hard the life was, to snap me back to reality, give up painting and go back to sales. He introduced me to Jerome Couelle.
Jerome was born in Aix en Provence, south of France. He lived most of his adult life in Toronto. Worked for The Hudson’s Bay Company and after a time later in life began to paint. By the time I met Jerome he was in his seventies, and was a full time painter. He spent his summers painting in a small barnyard red cabin about a mile from my old family cabin. The turning of the leaves and a change of season had him driving back to another winter in Toronto. When my Uncle and I pulled up to his cabin out popped this little man in a straw hat, a straw hat from a Van Gogh painting. he had smiling, mischievous eyes, I liked him already. introductions were made and Jerome was told how I had left my world of security and was painting. As per the possible pre scripted dialogue Jerome began to tell me how hard the life was and that very few Artists ever become successful, etc, etc…As he was explaining my upcoming doom I was quickly looking around the cabin, the scotch bottles above the cabinets, the dark aged pine panelling, the French Country Harvest table with a bowl of fruit in the center, the canoe leaning on it’s side on the front lawn, then we entered a sunroom off the kitchen, his studio. The first time I really felt a Soul’s sacred space. I had been in many successful men’s offices before and there was always the trappings of ego, but, rarely the energy of the Sacred. While Jerome was still talking about my difficult journey ahead. My eyes moved around the room to the small day bed under the window, to the multiple easels, the endless brushes, varnish, linseed oil, thinners, jars and countless tubes of paint, and the paintings, glorious crazy, whimsical paintings of humour and darkness wrapped into one. This guy was a wonderful glorious nut and I was in Love.
Once he had stopped talking he asked to see my work. I timidly pulled out a binder with slides samples of my first 18 months of work, I had done close to 400 paintings during that time. I’d like to remember exactly what he said to me on viewing my images, I know he liked the colors, I’m not sure what he said or thought, but, I saw his eyes and heard his voice of encouragement and kindness in his look as he handed me back my book, the voice I heard was in the Ethereal was “Poor Bastard, I know how you feel”. He knew, in that look as I type this now, he knew what this madness is about and he saw a younger version of himself. My first visit to Jerome was a vision of my future.
I wrote to Jerome a couple of times that winter and shared my progress. He was always kind and encouraging. I visited him again the next summer and our talks became more personal, a friendship was sprouting and I was honored. The next ten years I wrote to him and called him at least 6 times every year. The hard times and struggles he talked about were all true, it didn’t matter. I always felt buoyed and ready to keep going with every card or letter he wrote and after every phone call’s too brief end. In the summer of 2009 I visited him physically for the last time. He was the same except aging. He started to talk and joke about death then. “When I can no longer paint my plan, you see, is to load my Canoe with Fireworks and dynamite, paddle out to the middle of the Lake and Blast off” He always ended sentences with “you see”…
Jerome once told me that when he was a kid in the large stone family home in The South Of France his father had commissioned some workers to do a small remodel on their home. At the beginning of the project the tradesmen noticed something odd about the inner dimensions of the house, it didn’t match the outer. His Father agreed with this oddity and the workers were ordered to smash through the living room wall, all brick and stone. They found another furnished room and in the corner of that room was a fully clothed skeleton of a giant. Jerome proudly told my daughter, my wife, my daughter’s friend Ali and me the story of a Couelle Family mystery. This love of and the acceptance of the bizarre and the hidden was at the heart of his Artwork.
The last time I spoke to Jerome was a couple of months ago and I knew from one soul to another as I hung up the phone that he was done with this world. “I want to explore other planets, you see, I’m tired of this one”. Well my friend passed on August 4th, 2015. I only found out the other day and since then he is with me and pestering me to paint. I’ve done three pieces now with his voice in my head telling me what to do…I hope he sticks around for a while. I don’t pretend to ever have been a best friend to this Great Artist. But, I’m comfortable in knowing that on a Soul level we were like minds. I am grateful for all his encouragement of my work in the physical world and I’m honored that he’s visiting me now for a while before he heads off to visit other planets…This is what he did, this is what his legacy is…www.jeromecouelleartist.com