By Al Gord
Gé Labarca’s path is quite atypical for a painter. He enjoyed a highly successful career in the restaurant business in Montreal, Canada before embarking on the adventure of painting. A self-taught portraitist, his natural talent is evident through the paintings he creates. Although he has only been painting for two years, he has already made a name for himself through his beautiful works. Through his art, Gé strives to capture the soul and essence of the characters he chooses to bring to life on canvas. The attention to detail and perfection evident in his work contrasts beautifully with the light and carefree style he employs. The subtlety of the background complements the subject matter perfectly.
Gé, you were previously a very successful restauranteur. Do you see your time in the restaurant industry, influencing you as an artist in any way?
I think that in my case it is the opposite. It is the fact that I have always considered myself an artist that I have had some success in the restaurant industry. Restaurants were another way for me to express my creativity – I was the owner, but first and foremost the designer and director of operations, which put me in charge of all the details so that the final product would be amazing. You must consider many details in a restaurant for the customer to be satisfied, even more so in the hyper-competitive field of Montreal, which earned me the recognition of many clients and food critics.
What was the motivation for you to leave the restaurant industry, something which you were very successful at, to take on a new challenge, that of an artist?
When I immigrated to Montreal by myself at the age of 21, I started working in the restaurant industry as a dishwasher. While integrating myself into my new country and paying my university courses to learn French, I worked hard and moved from one position to another in the industry until I ended up running my own Gastronomic restaurants: Pinxto, Zumaia, Bar&Bœuf, and Mezcla. Understandably, with such a busy schedule for 25 years of my life, I did not have much time to paint.
Leaving the restaurant industry was not an easy thing for me to do, because as a designer I had found a way to express my creativity, so I felt very good about it. However, in my heart, I felt a strong desire to pursue painting as a profession. Unfortunately, all the responsibilities of a director did not leave me enough time to start painting, so I had to choose. Thus, I made another big decision, one as important as immigrating, and I said to myself, there is only one life to live.
I have never considered doing both jobs at the same time – I am an all or nothing kind of person. If I want to do things professionally, it is essential to focus 100% on what I undertake. In the course of my life, I have always taken on great challenges, and becoming a full-time artist would be the greatest to date, so I threw myself in with all my passion.
Prior to your venture as a portrait artist did you paint for fun or was this a completely new experience for you?
Of course, I can say that since my early childhood, I have always painted portraits of people important to me, stunning my relatives with the resemblance between subject and painting. In school and in adulthood, I continued to paint in my free time and draw my favourite artists. I decorated my house with my paintings. During the last year that I had owned Mezcla, I hung up a painting that I made specifically for the dinning room. This painting attracted a lot of attention, leading to many clients offering to acquire it. Surprising for them was the fact that it was the owner who had created it. This experience gave me the hope that maybe one day I could make a career as a painter and live off the sales of my paintings.
My focus as an artist is also portraiture, albeit a very different style. What is it about portrait work that you feel so connected to the subject matter?
For me, painting a portrait of someone is to give my own vision of what he or she means to me. The time I spend applying every single detail creates a bond between that person and me. For example, when I am painting a portrait of a singer, I listen to his or her music, which takes that connection to another level.
Your work is very personal and human emotions are key in creating portraits. How do you feel when you are putting your energy into capturing the feelings of your subjects, for others to see?
The greatest achievement when I paint a portrait is to convey a feeling that goes beyond the source. The eyes, the hands and the movements are always very expressive in my portraits. I dive into the eyes of my subjects for hours and hours. Hands and feet have their own very specific language – they tell me stories with only their motion and position, and I try to interpret this language through my brush strokes.
I understand that you are experimenting with some new media. Can you share with us the media with which you are working and the techniques you use to create your beautiful work?
I work mostly with acrylic paint. When starting with an immaculate white canvas, I use moulding paste as a tool to give a rustic base and relief to the surface of my painting. If you look closely at my paintings, you will see hundreds of independent brushstrokes, which gives an abstract look from up close. However, if you move away from the canvas, the whole forms a more homogeneous surface that lets you see the colour tones that form the whole image of my character.
As I have never had any proper artistic education, I have done my own research about new techniques or media that I will use. On a single painting, for example, I would use gold leaf, spray paint, stained glass paint, India ink, oil paint, stencils – whatever I can find to reach my final goal.
Is there a specific piece in your catalogue of which you are most proud? If so, which piece is it and what is it about that particular piece that gives you that feeling of pride?
CHAPLIN, a large four by six foot mixed media work I created in 2018. This was my very first painting that I did professionally, the one where I decided that my style would be mixed media. Charlie Chaplin is a genius, well ahead of his time. He is a constant source of inspiration for me. I applied many fantastical details to this painting, almost subconsciously, as the character speaks to me in this mystical way. It is part of my private collection – it reminds me that any goal is achievable and that it is never late to realize our dreams.
That is an amazing belief to have. Your paintings have such incredible detail. What artists or art movements have influenced your work and in what way?
Everything Gustav Klimt, but especially his “gold” period works. Corno, for the explosion of colour, expression, passion, energy, and movement in her art. Frida Kahlo for her capacity to convey her life through surrealist self-portraits. Philippe Pasqua for his larger-than-life and expressive portraits that still maintain realism and anatomical proportions. Finally, Alfons Mucha for his use of floral ornament, the worldly elegance of his characters, the feminine faces draped in flowing hair, all against his colourful and geometric backdrops.
You draw on such a wide range of artistic influences. Where do you see your work going in the future or at the very least, where do you hope your art takes you on the next stage of your journey? What do you see as the role of artists in the world today?
I hope that my art continues to grow with the current momentum. I would like to maintain the lifestyle that I have created for myself, settled in the countryside surrounded by nature and silence, to continue painting, to learn new techniques, and to transmit my feelings through my works.
Art is transmitted at an incredible speed these days thanks to social networks – it has been democratized and can be seen and appreciated by more people than ever. It is no longer an exclusionary industry; it is accessible to everyone. We artists must share more of our unique visions in a time that desperately needs it. We all have a child artist inside who wants to express himself; our role is to let him out.
Gé it has been a pleasure connecting with you and learning about you and your art. I do have one last question for you. As an artist new to the art scene is there any message or advice, you want to give to those starting out?
The best advice I can give is to listen to yourself, never let yourself be influenced by someone else’s words, never ask someone if what you are doing is good or not. Art is our most personal expression – the more spontaneous we are the better our results. You must love your own work, and the result should be the truest vision you could achieve using the tools and materials at your disposal. Go ahead and show your work with the innocence of a child sharing his drawings without the fear of being judged.
That is such a powerful message Gé. Thank you for taking the time to share with us your experiences. I know that you will find continued success in the industry.
Gé is still experimenting with various media, a journey which he is excited to undertake. His love of painting, his joie de vivre, is evident in each of his portraits. His large scale, powerful portraits, can be found on his website, as well as his Instagram and Facebook pages.