Gachet was born in Fez (Morocco) on 18 July 1935. He spent a year
at the Ecole des Beaux Arts in Paris, and two years at the Ecole
des Arts Decoratifs in Strasbourg, before joining the Centre dramatique
de l’Est, again in Strasbourg, for three years as a trainee
stage designer. Along the way, he did countless part-time jobs,
developed a passionate interest in music and song, and wandered
back and forth between Paris and Strasbourg. Appointed to a secondary
teaching post, he taught drawing for five years in Metz and Saverne,
eventually deciding, in 1965, to settle in Strasbourg and concentrate
on his own work. This decision to live in the provinces reflected
his determination to avoid the art coteries of the capital. Like
certain 19th century painters, he wanted to devote his life to art
without yielding to any of the usual moral, emotional, family, social
and economic pressures, and consciously chose to be solely —
and utterly — himself.
Rejecting the conventional drawing techniques, he normally worked
with a ballpoint pen (achieving a softness of line which no ordinary
pen could give him), and occasionally two pencils — one
a soft black, the other white — or the air-brush. He also
produced lithographs and zinc engravings, but his growing interest
in half-tones made drawing his favourite medium. He worked on
coloured papers, usually in monochrome, sometimes in bichrome
— regarding colour as too "discursive" for what
he wanted to say. He very rarely painted, and then used pre-painted
boards, scratching through the layers to produce the desired effects.
On average, every drawing represented a month's work. The first
stage was a series of sketches, using a model, and here the "scene"
which the final drawing would capture already began to emerge.
The more or less erotic atmosphere of these early sessions could
also have a decisive effect on the end-product. Instrinsically,
Gachet did not regard his sketches as having anything to do with
art. They were simply a raw material - a modest stage in the gestation
of the finished drawing. Later, he used the best of these sketches
in making the preparatory drawings proper and in starting to decide
— with the care which his own uncompromising nature demanded
— on the composition, balance and harmony of the final drawing,
and on the occult rhythms of its own secret alchemy.
His compositions, like those of Molinier (with whom nothing but
erotic emphasis would otherwise seem to connect him), always involved
a search for the "golden number" — that almost
magic relationship of form, mass and relief, in which the elements
follow an abstract law and combine to form a harmonious whole.
A lifelong insomniac, Gachet did this painstaking preparatory
work at night or, more accurately, in the early hours of the morning,
when his sensitivity and perceptions were heightened. He often
jotted down his ideas instead of making sketches, and then went
out fishing before settling down to work. This early-morning contact
with nature played a definite part in his work, since it gave
him the tactile and visual impressions which were, in the fullest
sense, the humus of his art. It was only at a later stage that
these impressions found their way onto paper, and the final drawing,
however slow and difficult to do, was merely the technical part
of the whole operation — bodying forth and "dramatising"
on paper a subject which he had already found and visualised.
If nature, as a source of inspiration, and art, as an imaginative
treatment of nature, are to be fully matched, the artist needs
a certain openness of spirit, and must preserve it jealously.
This possibly explains Gachet’s distrust of the Surrealists
(though he felt close enough to them at one stage in his career
to exhibit with the "Alsatian Surrealists" in 1968).
Specifically, he complained that the Surrealists had tried to
"codify their methods and systematise disorder", had
"invented themselves from their own principles", and
had "seen themselves as a school and framed aesthetic and
political obligations for themselves in consequence" —
had, on other words, accepted a straitjacket while claiming to
be free. The severity of this verdict did not stop him from admiring
Ernst, "when he sets out to be genuinely fantastic and not
simply to strike surrealistic attitudes" — although
he rated him far below Fuchs, for whom his respect was unbounded.
Paradoxically (at least on the surface), his favourite painters
were Rembrandt and Goya, whose work has nothing of the symbolism
which marks his own drawings. The painters whom he most disliked
were those who worked their styles like ore-laden seams. He himself,
when ever repetition began to seem a danger, forced himseld to
change tack by adopting a new technique. Nothing annoyed him more
than the popular belief that the artist must suffer to find inspiration.
It was happiness that brought his ovn powers to full fruition.
His best work depended on emotional and moral calm, for which
his need was insatiable. Indeed, his work was never richer than
when he made his home beside a pond and went fishing every day,
or when, in his last five years, a woman brought him the emotional
stability he needed so desperately. The darker moments in his
life, on the other hand, were matched by "gaps" in his
inspiration. Loving the fantastic and tireless in pursuing mysteries,
he also loved laughter and good food - and was loved in turn for
his wit, generosity, friendliness and charm. Always surrounded
by friends, books and animals, he was particularly fond of snakes,
loving them for their beauty, the "marvellous” feel
of their scales and the direct quality of his own response to
them. He went back to teaching in 1980, at the Ecole des Arts
Décoratifs in Strasbourg, and gave generously of his time
to those pupils — two or three a year — in whom he
sensed "real" artists. The others, he said, did not
interest him, and would never be anything more than "picture-makers".
He was passionately interested in ethology, entomology and mineralogy,
and it was his love of nature — including the oddities and
incongruities of nature — which he transposed and magnified
in his own art. Not surprisingly, there is no cruelty in his work
— which is, however, charged with a carnal, animal, natural
sensuality. Nature, after all, is not cruel, but violent. And
it is this violence which finds expression in Gachet’s drawings,
a violence which culminates ineluctably in death — the death
which is the nurturing source of all life.