February 19, 2017

Ismaël and Guy Villéger, La maison de la gaieté/The house of gaiety

restaurant la Gaieté in 1960

La maison de la gaieté was a restaurant in the small community of Chérac in the Poitou-Charentes region in the south west of France. It has become known by its voluminous mosaic decorations.

The decorations

Decorating the property was a project undertaken between 1937 and 1952 by its owner Ismaël Villéger and his son Guy, who both currently have passed away and about whom the internet has no further biographical information. 

this picture and the next ones are screenprints from the video
by Marie-Laure Bourbon, published here in agreement with the author

In publications the decorations of the exterior. which are the largest in size, get most attention, but the garden and the interior also have adornments with mosaic.

The pictorial representations were generally applied to small square or rectangular tiles, which subsequently were attached to the wall. Grapes are a recurrent motif, but one also sees depictions of flowers or arrangements of colored pieces of broken crockery with a flowery appearance.

click on pictures to enlarge

This art environment has a specific feature: the blind side wall along the street has been decorated with two trompe-l'oeil windows, as shown in the picture below. 

The property, where in the course of time not only a restaurant was located, but which in some periods housed a bar-dancing or a cabaret/theatre, indoor has -apart from smaller living spaces- a large room which was a dining room. And then, outdoor there is a rather large garden. 

To a greater or lesser extent, all spaces have been decorated with mosaic artwork.

The future of the site is uncertain

The maison de la gaieté was a popular place for entertainment and going out untill the 1970's. Later the attention of the public became lesser. Sources on the internet are not clear about what happened in 1980's and 1990's, but anyhow at a given moment the community became the owner of the empty property and in the early years 2010 there were talks about transforming the site into a museum. The then mayor of the community apparently backed these plans.

However, after local elections a new council and a new mayor took office and in august 2014 the council decided to demolish the Maison de la Gaieté and ask Bâtiments de France (the french national building authority) an advice about this.

This decision generated public discussion and in november 2014 an association of friends was founded, which organized a petition to save and renew the Maison de la Gaieté

Also because of this action the Maison de la Gaieté on august 8, 2015 was added to the Inventaire des Monuments Historiques (Historical Monuments Inventory), since it is "un témoignage d’art brut comme l’est à Nantillé le Jardin de Gabriel Albert en cours de restauration" ("a testimony of art brut as is the garden of Gabriel Albert in Nantillé ¹, which is being restored").

In april 2015 the Association pour le renouveau de la Maison de la Gaieté opened a page on Facebook.

Untill now (february 2017) no further developments have been reported on this FB page.

* Article in regional newspaper Sud Ouest (august 2014)
* Article in weblog le Poignard Subtil (september 2014)
* Denis Montebello, La maison de la Gaieté, Bazas (Eds Le temps qu'il fait), 2017. -88p
* Facebook page of the Association pour le renouveau de la Maison de Gaieté
* Series of pictures in a video (2015) by Marie-Laure Bourbon (6'14", Youtube, downloaded june 2015) 

¹ Gabriel Albert's sculpture garden is located in Nantillé, some 26 kms north of Chérac. Some 17 kms north of Chérac, in Brizambourg, one could see Franck Vriet's art environment (no longer extant)

Ismaël and Guy Villéger
La Maison de la Gaieté
Chérac, Poitou-Charentes region, France
can be seen from the road, the garden is locked

February 02, 2017

Bartolomeo Mereu, Sculpture garden

pictures courtesy of Pavel Konečný

Located in the south of Sardinia, Italy, this art environment only recently became known by a larger public.

Life and works

Born in 1935 in Dorgali, Sardinia, Bartolomeo Merau had some three years of primary education and then left school to help his parents at the farm.

At age 19, in the early 1950's, he left his family to find employment as a worker in coal mines in Belgium and Germany. 

After ten years, in the early 1960's, Mereu returned to his native region, where he bought a bar in the harbour town of Cala Gonone. He rebuilded the bar and re-opened it as a gelateria (an ice cream shop), which he would operate for some 40 years.

In 2005 Mereu became retired. This allowed him to further develop a hobby of wood processing he already had as a youngster.

So he went roaming the adjacent woods to collect stumps of mainly juniper which he transformed into multicolored sculptures.

In the course of the following years he brought about a substantial collection of some 80 wooden sculptures which he displayed in his backyard, along the fence at the entrance or on top of the posts of the entrance gate.

The sculptures vary in size, the smaller ones often depict small animals, such as litlle dogs and birds, the larger ones portray all kinds of personalities, such as people living around and characters from mythology, religious life, history and contemporary politics.

Manufacturing sculptures Mereu makes use of the shapes which from origin are present in his material and thus for example arms of a person can consist of laterally grown branches in the base material.

Some of the larger sculptures of persons are arranged in a line, as if they form the public of a passing parade. Many of Mereu's creations have a humorous undertone.

Mereu's artwork only recently was made known to a wider public by Pavel Konečný, a collector of outsider art from the Czech Republic who travelled a number of times through Italy, where he also visited sites in Sardinia where he came across Mereu's art environment.


Mereu's sculptures got a first exposition in 2015 in Cala Gonone and thanks to Konečný, photographs of his artwork, together with those of other Italian outsider artists, were presented on an exhibition in the Italian Institute of Cuture in Prague (january/february 2017).

* Article (january 25, 2017) on website Italia Praga One Way about Pavel Konečný's photo exposition Il monde degli outsider (Istituto Italiano di Culture di Praga, jan,febr 2017)
* Article (june 25, 2015) in regional newspaper La Nuova referring to Mereu's participation in an exposition in Cala Gonone
* Series of pictures of Mereu's artwork by Pavel Konečný on Facebook (may 2015)
* Video by Pavel Konečný (published on Facebook, oct 2014)

Bartolomeo Mereu
Sculpture garden
Viale Bue Marino
Cala Gonone, Sardinia, Italy
can partly be seen from the road

January 31, 2017

Tamara Litvin, Decorated house and garden

pictures courtesy of Jelena Bobrusova-Davies from the 
ArtNaive Gallery (Moscow) which exclusively represents the artist

Located in the north-west of Belarus, Liozno is a small town of some 6700 inhabitants close to the country's border with Russia. One can find here a modest art environment, made by a currently elderly lady who during a large part of her life was a self-taught artist.

Life and works

Tamara Litvin was born in 1932 in the Pskov region in the west of Russia, near the border with Latvia. When she still was at a young age her parents moved to Belarus. She would spend her childhood and school years in the town of Verkhnyadzvinsk, the administrative centre of the region with the same name  in the north of the country. 

After her school days she lived for some time in Ukraine, where she met her future husband, Anatoly Fomichev, who like she was from Belarus, but was conscripted in the military in Ukraine . 

The couple returned to Belarus and settled in Verkhnyadzvinsk. In 1956 they got a son and later three daughters were born.

In 1983 the family went to live in Liozno, a community in the Vitebsk region, not far from the border with Russia. Their eldest son died in the early 1980's and one by one the daughters got married and left the parental home. After her husband had become ill and died, Tamara Litvin lived alone.

Throughout all the years as a self-taught artist she was engaged in making paintings, mostly in a naive style, an activity she continued after her husband had passed away.

Moreover, she embellished the interior walls with visual art and murals, decorated the exterior walls of the house with colorful motives and added two-dimensional wooden sculptures to the garden around the house, in this way transforming house and garden into an art environment.

The small wooden sculptures in the garden mainly depict animals, such as a deer, a cock or a fox.

The exterior walls of the house are embellished with paintings of flowers arranged in bouquets and with painted diamond-shaped motives comparable to those one finds on traditional Russian and East-European houses and farms.

The interior walls of the house are almost completely covered with Tamara Litvin's paintings, included some rather large murals.

Although creating art environments in particular appears to be a male activity, fortunately Europe also has examples of female involvement.

Tamara Litvin belongs to a range of women who became known by the creative way they embellished in- and exterior of their house. Although Tamar Litvin's art environment may be modest in size, conceptually it correspondents to the sites created by Polina Rayko (Ukraine), Danielle Jacqui (France), Bonaria Manca (Italy) and Enni Id (Finland).

For a long time her visual art was only known to a small circle of family and friends. She would just give away her paintings. However, in recent years the situation changed.

In 2012 Tamara Litvin, together with artists from Belarus, Russia and Latvia, participated in the exposition of naive art Insita 2012 in Vitebsk, which was organised by local museums in cooperation with the Museum of Naive Art in Moscow (This exposition was also organised in honor of Marc Chagall who 125 years earlier was born in Vitebsk and who spent his early years in Liozno).

In 2016 she had her first solo exposition in the ArtNaive Gallery in Moscow and in the same year the gallery presented three of her paintings at the Outsider Art Fair in Paris.

* Entry about Tamara Litvin on the website of the ArtNaive Gallery in Moscow 
* Article by Julia Poholkina (nov 201) in local newspaper Liozno News

Tamara Litvin
Decorated house and garden
Liozno, Vitebsk region, Belarus

January 23, 2017

Pasquale Paolucci, Museo di Pietra/Stone museum

In the rural area outside of Frosolone, a small community of some 1100 inhabitants in the mid Italian region Molise, a small, now abandoned farm was transformed into a museum, the Museo di Pietra.

Life and works

Born in Frosolone, Pasquale Paolucci (1892-1981) from an early age worked as a shepherd. Serving in the military for eight years he was involved in the first World War (1914-1918).

After the war he migrated to Argentine, where he stayed for another eight years. He returned to his native region in the late 1920's/early 1930's where he had inherited a plot of land in the outskirts of Frosolone.

On this plot he single-handedly built a farmhouse with adjacent barns. As a farmer Paolucci dedicated himself mainly to raising and keeping sheep.

But then, in 1935 Paolucci also began collecting stones he found in the vicinity of the farm and which in a certain way caught his attention, especially those which resembled animals and human figures.

among  the stones Paolucci collected are these, 
forming a seating in front of the farm

Petrification is a natural or induced process by virtue of which organic matter can aquire the texture of stone and from there arose ancient myths Paolucci undoubtedly knew about, that assumed that stone figures could grow under the ground, staying there untill excavated by farmers working on their land.

Collecting and exposing these stones became an activity he would sustain for over 40 years, from 1935 untill 1978.

Paolucci displayed the collected stones around the house and on its walls, occasionally setting them on a self-constructed pedestal of stacked stones.

In this way in the course of the years a signicant collection of over a hundred stones was created, resembling mainly animals and human figures, but also other items such as what Paolucci considered a plane, a gun, a tower or a barn.

The collection became known as the Museo di Pietra.

In 1979, a couple of years before Paolucci died, the site was visited by Elisabetta Silvestrini, then director of the Museum of Arts and Popular Traditions in Rome.

She reported about the site in an article published in 1991 (see documentation). She reviews the site from the perspective of the in Italy well known phenomenon of giardini eccentrici i architettura fantastici (eccentric gardens and phantastic architecture), which she describes as spazi circostanti alla casa occupati di elementi vegetali e da oggetti costrutti dal l’ huomo, natural e cultura insieme, disposti in percorsi guidati (areas surrounding a house filled with vegetal elements and objects constructed by man, natural and cultural together, suitable for a guided walk around).

At the time of Elisabetta Silvestrini' s research and her article the concept of art environments was still unknown in Italy. Later this changed when in 2010 Gabriele Mina published his weblog Costruttori di Babele and began a succesful nation wide project aimed at identifying architetture fantastiche and universe irregulari in Italy.

The Museo di Pietra was added to the inventarisation and although it doesn't quite fit in the art environments frame, it certainly is a universe irregulari.

Paolucci died in 1981.

His house remained uninhabited and in the course of the years the Museum became neglected and many items got lost.

Pasquale Paolucci
Museo di Pietra
Frosolone (Sant'Edigio), Molise region, Italy
site is abandoned. itinerary on website Cammara nella storia

January 08, 2017

Anatoly Lobanov, Украшенный Дом и сад/Decorated house and garden

Above art environment, a decorated house and garden, is located in the small community of Leskhovo, some 43 km west of Moscow in Russia.

Life and works

The site was created by Anatoly Mikhailovich Lobanov, about whom little biographical information is available.

He probably was born in the 1940's or 1950's and he had a job as mechanic at a plastic factory, maybe the one in Golygino, north of Moscow.

decorated entrance

In the production of plastic items residual material is left and Lobanov got the idea to use this colorful scrap to embellish his house. He thus began in the early 1970's, a project he continued in the following decades.

Currently the house, the outbuildings, the garden and the fence are almost completely decorated with symmetrically arranged geometrical cut colorful pieces of plastic, such as circles, polygons, stars.....  

Although in the field of european art environments some sites partially include plastic items, to my knowledge there are no sites which are exclusively decorated with this material. This makes Lobanov's creation rather unique. 

Trees in the garden are adorned with circular ornaments and decorated birdhouses. Comparable arrangements are on top of poles.

Although most decorative items have a geometric pattern, some of the decorations show depictions of animals, such as a rooster on a roof, two storks on their nest or an eagle (?) as in below picture.

A pinnacle on one of the rooftops has two symmetricaly placed side views of black horse heads around stylized flowers.

Less stylized is a stork in free flight, delivering a newborn (the stork attached to a line running from a roof to a tree).

this picture is a screenprint from Bezgodov's video 
see documentation

This art environment, which occasionaly is visited by tourists on guided tours, can be seen from the road.

* Article and series of pictures (2016) on Sergey Bezgodov's website bezphoto.net

¹ A quite interesting website about beautiful Russian architecture, streetart, storefront decorations and so on.

Anatoly Lobanov
Decorated house and garden
Leshkovo, Istra district, Russian Federation
can be seen from the street

December 13, 2016

Egor Federovich Utrobin, сад скульптур/sculpture garden

Located in a small Russian community, the house pictured above was built by it's occupant. The site has become known in Russia for the wooden sculptures displayed in the garden near the house.

Life and works

Born april 1st 1952 in the small comunity of Parmalayvo in the Kochyovsky district (Perm region, Russia), Egor Federovich Utrobin at an early age already showed an artistic talent. When he was still in elementary school he already made his first wooden sculpture.

He went to high school but, although talented, subsequently he wouldn't go to an art school. Maybe he was a bit shy and too modest about his artistic aptitude.

Anyhow, Utrobin got a job on a farm. Later he was conscripted in the army and when returned to his natal villlage he resumed his activities in farmwork.

He married, built the family home, got children, and then in the late 1980's when he was in his mid-thirties, he regained his original creative spirit and began making sculptures he displayed near his house.

Utrobin uses large tree stumps which are  left in the woods, regarded as unusable by loggers. Like so many sculptors who work with stumps, he already sees in the raw tree the character to depict.

Currently (2016) there are almost fifty sculptures in the garden. One can see demons, dragons, knights and legendary russian folk heroes like Kudym-Osh, but als depictions of ordinary people.

Occasionally villagers think they recognize themselves and Utrobin admits this sometimes is rightly.

Gradually the display of wooden sculptures became known in Russia and gradually also the number of visitors increased. In agreement with the local authorities, in 1993 Utrobin decided to denote the site as a museum. However, formally the site isn't part of the Perm region's cultural infrastructure.

Last but not least: Utrobin's house itself, with it's specific structure and the four minaret-like towers, may also be seen as a successful example of singular architecture.

* Entry (september 2014) by Lora Kroft on Maxpark, illustrated
* Article on Nash Ural website, illustrated
* Article on Kamwa website, illustrated
* Article (july 2012) on Optusk21 website, illustrated
* Article (january 2011) by Alexander Belenkiy on Livejournal, illustrated
* Video by Rifey TV (Youtube, 2'38", uploaded july 2013)

Egor Federovich Utrobin
Museum/Sculpture garden
Parmalayvo, Kochyovsky district, Perm region, Russian Federation
can be visited as a museum
small entrance fee for maintenance of the sculptures

December 11, 2016

Eugène Bornet, Trois-mâts sur la terre ferme/Three-masted ship on dry land

In the field of french art environments, Eugène Bornet's three-masted ship is a classic. Begun in the early 1980's, the construction in the front garden of his house in Tréglamur, Britanny, currently is over thirty years old and it still attracts interested visitors.

Life and works 

Born in 1933, Eugéne Bornet worked as a mason and a stonecutter. In the late 1970's when he was in his mid forties, he got a disease that paralyzed his arms. Recovered after prolonged treatment his doctor advised him to take a manual activity.

So Bornet got the idea to build a ship in the garden of his house, an idea that was partly inspired by the place of origin of his wife (✝ dec 2009), Audierne, a port town in the extreme west of Britanny.

He began to pick up pebbles in the fields around his community and when he had a good stock he began constructing the three-masted ship that made him known as an outsider artist.

An early review of his creation, writtten in 2002 by Paskal Larsen, was published in 2006 by the internet magazine Foutraque. Years later (june 2014) Sophie Lepetit published a series of pictures on her weblog and in the same year an artice about the site appeared on the weblog Animula Vagula.

a seagull

In addition to the three-masted ship, Bornet also created smaller items, in general using pebbles and cement. Above pictured seagull is an example of such a small scale creation.

shrine for the Holy Vierge

Other creations include a lighthouse, a small replica of his living house functioning as letter box, a shrine with the Holy Vierge, as pictured above.

view from the street

On above general view of the site one can see that the low wall surrounding the garden is decorated with a number of cement dices.

Actual situation

Bornet, who currently (2016) is in his early eighties, is no longer active in making new creations.

Documentation/more pictures
* Article (2006) by Paskal Larsen in webmagazine Foutraque
* Article (jan 2011) in regional newspaper Ouest France
* Various pictures (2014) on Sophie Lepetit's weblog
* Article (2014) on weblog Animula Vagula

Eugène Bornet
14 rue de la Mairie
22540 Tréglamus, Côtes d' Armor, Britanny, France