Portrait de Christian de Calvairac

Christian de Calvairac was born on November 7th 1947 in Castres, Tarn, in the south-west of France.

The diversity of Christian de Calvairac's work and its richness make it unique. During forty years, the artist has followed numerous paths, explored an impressive number of topics, always able to reinvent his painting, to renew it.

The vigour of the expression, the mastery of colour and the handling of all kinds of techniques are common traits to the different periods. He has layered, mixed and worked various matters, oil, pigment, earth, plaster, wood, feathers, asphalt, glue and sand.

Christian de Calvairac is not what you might call an intellectual painter. His painting is emotional. He seldom makes a sketch of his pictures or works from a precise idea: they generally emerge directly from the brushes, spontaneously, like an outbreak. He paints and draws on anything he can get hold of: canvas, paper, board, wood, tablecloth, etc. There are paintings the size of a stamp, others broad and several meters high. Christian de Calvairac's work, which counts several thousands paintings and drawings, is difficult to classify. Three elements regularly appear in the work throughout the years: dream, symbol and eroticism.

The following chronology can only be approximate. It is far from reflecting the entirety and the complexity of de Calvairac's work.

The first paintings

Christian de Calvairac started painting in 1964, at the age of 17. Among his first sources of inspiration, two posters: one with a reproduction of Dalì and one with Picasso, they decorate his room; and meeting Philippe Simon, a painter who makes fantastic landscapes. In 1968, he does military service in Dakar, Senegal as a paratrooper of the French army. And it is in Dakar, in 1969, that he shows his first pictures.


Back in France, de Calvairac paints fantasy landscapes with erotic elements. Using oil on canvas, he works with extreme precision and detail, each of the painting taking several weeks. In 1971, he entrusts Emmanuelle Beaume, a French gallerist established in Westport, New York, with some thirty of his paintings, never to see them again, and the gallerist has vanished. Some years later, she is arrested in a luxury hotel on the Côte d'Azur, she has spent all the money from the sale of the stolen paintings.

In 1973, Christian de Calvairac sets out to discover the Middle East. Travelling light, with only a few belongings, he passes through Turkey, Israel and Iran until reaching Afghanistan. He never stops painting, simply carrying the canvas in a cardboard cylinder. On the way back home, he makes a halt in Lausanne. The friendly ties knotted on this first stay in Switzerland will make him return to this country many times since then.

Back in Paris, Christian de Calvairac tries out several ways in the surrealistic area, writing for instance a script for the cinema ("la septième fenêtre", the seventh window). This period of time is not particularly favourable for his ideas, and these attempts are not a success.


In 1980, Christian de Calvairac comes back to Switzerland. It is a breaking point in his life as an artist. He feels the need to free himself from the extreme detail of his painting during the post-surrealistic period. In Bern, he launches into abstraction, some hundred paintings are the result of this change. About 70 of them are confided to Nancy Catin, a gallerist from Paris established in Miami in Florida, who promises to show them in the United States. She then disappears with the paintings, leaving no forwarding address. There are no photos of these pictures, no lists, and they still are missing.


Making the most of the new freedom given to him by abstract painting, Christian de Calvairac introduces new symbolic elements. These symbols are more than just integrated in the pictures: they appear in layers and seem to float above the pictures, conveying a tri-dimensional depth. Two of the most spectacular works are from this period. One of the symbols, the triangle will even detach itself from the canvas and appear as a pyramid. The largest of these pyramids was shown in Bern in an exhibition at the Hannah Feldmann Gallery.

African influences

In 1982, Christian de Calvairac is back in Paris. This is the beginning of the painter's most colourful period: the African period. Under the inspiration of African art, he starts out on a series of large formats on paper. This development is a gradual one. Little by little, African motives are added to the symbols, then figurative elements and figures.

The witches 1986

In the following months, shamanic elements join the African motives: it is the period of the witches, to be seen in a series of colourful imaginary portraits.

The caves (rock paintings)

The large paintings of this period show warriors guarding imaginary landscapes, develop the theme of the cave, only to fully stretch out on the theme of the cave paintings. In these last works, matter is gathering substance, plaster, dirt and sand are mixed into the oil. These pictures were not very successful and filled up the atelier in Rue Pétion.


Then comes the time of introspection. Christian de Calvairac is nearing his fifties, the strong colours disappear from his paintings, the shapes become simpler. At the beginning of this period the paintings are large and have something oriental. At the same time the painter produces a series of small very frail pictures painted in ochre with minute structures of wood, developing the theme of light and shadow.

In 1999, Christian de Calvairac leaves Paris to settle down in Sénégats, a small hamlet in the Tarn hills. This is a return to the source, away from the agitation of the city. In Sénégats, he paints the most important works of this period of simplicity and economy, which the painter himself calls his "Zen period". It is also here, later on, that he returns to the strong colours, to figurative painting with a series of imaginary portraits and nudes


In 2003 Christian de Calvairac has a show at the French cultural centre in Hanoi. Since September 2004, he lives and works in Ho Chi Minh Ville. In his studio in the Vietnamese city, he has painted "Intervals", a number of large formats in strong colours, filled with a number of different elements that are not touching, the most representative of them certainly being "sans aucun doute!".

Pietro Ribi, September 2005