Admittedly when I first discovered the artwork of Canadian/American artist Gaston Lacombe, it was because a sexy black and white photo of him naked —a self-portrait, had somehow found its way to my Instagram timeline. Don’t judge me. I know, I’m shallow. But, wait! Once this big, bearded “Art Daddy” had my attention, I perused his account further and was immediately amazed by a myriad of his beautiful and whimsical creative works on display.
Gaston resides and creates in the beloved gay haven, Provincetown, Massachusetts (PTown.) He is renowned for the vibrant colors in his paintings, frequently made using special mixed media techniques. The stunning end results look like the work is amplified by electricity.
With such an impressive resume Gaston could choose to live and work anywhere—showings at The Smithsonian Institution in Washington, DC, the Museo de Arte Tigre in Buenos Aires, Argentina, the Latvian National Museum of Decorative Arts, the Provincetown Art Museum, are just some of the establishments, on six continents that have displayed his work. But PTown is where his heart is.
In this interview, Gaston shares how living in PTown inspires his creativity, from its residents and other local artists to the seasonal tourists and, of course, the incredible natural landscapes. It’s a fantastic community that catalyzes queer artists to have prominent representation in the art world, and Gaston Lacombe has emerged as one of its most celebrated creators.
Interview with Gaston Lacombe:
Corey: Gaston, thank you for agreeing to do this interview. I really love your work. First, to give our readers more background, I have a three-part opener question: Where are you from, how did you first become interested in art, and what inspired you to pursue it as a career?
Gaston: I am originally from the province of New Brunswick, in Canada. I was born and raised in a small, French-speaking rural community ruled by agrarian values and the Catholic church. So the art I was exposed to as a child differed from the kind that lives in museums and galleries. Rather, my grandmother’s quilting and my mother’s knitting introduced me to color, shapes, and creation. In some ways, that influence is still perceptible in my work.
Later, being a nerdy library rat, I discovered the art of the old masters by myself, through books, and couldn’t get enough of these pictures and stories. And I was drawing all the time — alone since no courses were offered anywhere and there were no outlets in my community for showing art. Art, for me, was a private pursuit, my own escape, and it became a deep passion.
When it came time to go to university, it never crossed my mind to study art. Art as a profession was never presented to me as an option. I ended up having a career in education and international diplomacy instead. It was only much later, at age 38, that I decided to reset my path. I had arrived at a break in my professional life, and I had the choice to keep forging ahead or give it all up and risk something new, like following my passion for art.
I re-enrolled in university, got a degree in professional photography, and from there, my art practice has just kept expanding. Doing this as a middle-aged person was not easy; I had no safety net at all, but the hard work paid off, and I’m glad to be where I am now.
Corey: You now live and create in what I consider one of my happiest places to visit on earth, Provincetown (PTown), Massachusetts. How does living in that particular part of Cape Cod inspire your art?
Gaston: For me, Provincetown changed everything. This is the place that really made me into the artist I am now. When I first visited here, I was astounded to find a place where art was central to the town’s life and identity. I found a place where artists could thrive, personally and professionally. And everyone was queer. Everyone.
Additionally, I got to know artists running their own art galleries, which scrambled my brain. After years of laboriously dealing with curators, gallerists, and editors, I realized I could run my own show and make it work in Provincetown. So I took that plunge and never looked back. I’ve had my own art gallery since 2018.
It’s completely cliché to say that Provincetown’s gorgeous natural setting is deeply inspiring, but it’s true. A lot of what I see here in nature seeps into my work. However, I find that most of my inspiration comes from all the people I interact with here. There’s a very lively exchange between the hundreds of artists who live in Provincetown, discussing, reviewing, advising, and learning from each other. Countless art lovers, collectors, and buyers come through my gallery, and we discuss history, influences, and techniques. These interactions often lead me to new ideas, projects, and series.
Corey: Last month, you announced on Instagram a fun new collaboration with Plush Knitwear in PTown. Can you share more information about it?
Gaston: That’s one of the advantages of living in an artist community; collaborations often pop up. This winter, the owner of Plush approached me to discuss the creation of a limited-edition cashmere sweater based on one of my paintings. He already works with several other Provincetown artists, and the public loves it. This kind of cooperation between creators is so beneficial, as we all gain from cross-promotion and exposure. The sweater with my design, “Eclipse,” will be available this summer at Plush, in-store and online, in a limited edition of 50. I am quite excited about this, and I can’t wait to put on my own sweater!
Corey: What are some of your favorite tools to create with, and how do you approach each new project?
Gaston: I use many different tools since my work is often mixed-media, so choosing is hard. Depending on the ideas I am brewing, I decide if I want this project to include photography, printing, paints, inks, or other elements. I don’t limit myself in my expression, and I’m always excited to experiment with new media. Often the project starts with a lot of research on materials to see what I can realistically use and combine to best effect. One of the great advantages of working in today’s world is ready access to all this information online. Youtube tutorials have helped me figure out a lot of new techniques.
Corey: You’ve been featured in the Smithsonian Institute in Washington, DC, the Museo de Arte Tigre in Buenos Aires, Argentina, the Latvian National Museum of Decorative Arts, and the Provincetown Art Museum. Can you discuss any upcoming projects or exhibitions you’re particularly excited about?
Gaston: Nearly all of these shows in important international museums were at a time when I continually pursued art residencies, big international competitions, and exposure at the highest possible levels. However, none of that compares to the satisfaction and success I get from running my own gallery in Provincetown, where I get to personally interact with tens of thousands of visitors every year. So, the upcoming projects I am most excited about right now are the ones in my gallery. I have built a few art series over the last few months. I can’t wait to show my new work this summer.
Another thing that gets me very excited is showing the work of other queer artists in my gallery. I don’t represent other artists, but I work with a few of them each year to provide them with free exhibit space for a week or so and allow them to show their work to a receptive public. I prefer working with emerging artists, especially those who have not yet shown in galleries before.
I take my role as an “art-daddy” (as one of these artists has taken to call me) very seriously. I feel so much pride when they meet their first collector or make their first sale. And I support queer artists specifically since I feel queer art is often marginalized in an art world dominated by straight esthetics, ideals, and standards. This August (2023), Studio Lacombe will be featuring the art of JJ Quinn @jjquinnart (IG) and Ryan Rudewicz @rudepolaroids (IG), and that gets me very excited!
Corey: How do you think your style has evolved, and what influences have contributed to those changes?
Gaston: I am not the kind of artist who will reproduce the same motif for the rest of my life and be known as “the guy who does (blank).” I probably would make much more money if I did that since people like repetition and predictability. But no, my art changes and evolves all the time. It keeps me interested, and it soothes my mind too.
My work started in photography; then, it also included videography. Next, it became mixed media, then printing, and now I primarily create paintings. But I also have a mixed-media series in the works right now. So I keep my clients guessing all the time. One thing that stays constant in my work, though, at least in the last eight years, has been explosive colors, bold shapes, and clean lines.
My influences mostly come from looking at a lot of art, in person or through social media. I love taking short trips to large cities nearby to visit museums and see new exhibits. As I visit, I take notes, snap photos, jot down what I’m thinking about, and let myself be challenged by the ideas and techniques I encounter. I do the same on social media, following many creators and saving many pics for inspiration. From all this stew of information, my new ideas start to sprout, and new art series come to life.
Corey: Can you talk about a particularly significant piece of art you’ve created and what inspired it?
Gaston: I tend to create work in series, so often, what I express is not in one piece but spread across a few dozen artworks. One series that I am pretty proud of is one I created in 2022 called “Sport.” I was an exploration of the often complicated relationship between sports and queerness. I looked at male bodies in sports gear through mixed media pieces, including photography and painting, exploring the balance between fear and attraction.
I think a lot of queer people have gone through this in their life, the homoeroticism of the locker room, the stolen looks, the body contact, the smells, but also the stress of it all and the bullying. My own feelings and experiences inspired this series, but I feel it also strikes a chord in many visitors to my gallery. I find exploring queer stories in my work essential, even if it can shock straight gallery visitors. When I exhibit queer work in my space, I must deal daily with mean-spirited comments and laughter from straight visitors, which leads to many conversations on the reality of being queer in this country.
I want to show work that speaks directly to a queer audience since it’s something we don’t see so often, but I also want it to provoke reflection in my straight audience. Provincetown is the perfect place for that.
Corey: How do you balance the need to make a living as an artist with the desire to create meaningful work? Or is this not a challenge to you?
Gaston: Finding that balance was challenging before I settled in Provincetown, but not anymore. Before Provincetown, it was all about pleasing clients, hunting down contracts, and hoping there would be some time left for personal projects. Being in Provincetown, though, has been a bit like in the movie Field of Dreams: “If you build it, they will come.”
I have found a place where I can pursue my personal projects only, and these projects always find an audience. Of course, no sale is ever guaranteed, and some projects have fallen flatter than others, but I have been staying true to my ideas and my identity all the way through. There are occasional offers to give in to popular demands and bring the cash in by pleasing the public with cheap souvenirs and novelty gifts. However, I have been firm at resisting this temptation and continue to offer a high-quality product in my gallery, which is original, thought-provoking, and unique art.
I’m not saying it’s easy, though; it’s incredibly hard work to run a business
and to keep quality art on the wall at all times. But this model fits my personality, and it works well for me.
Corey: What advice would you give aspiring artists just starting?
Gaston: First, find your community. You will not make it as an artist by toiling away alone and unseen. Surround yourself with other artists and art enthusiasts to learn, grow, evolve, and sell. If you currently live in an area where you need help finding this community, look for it online. Social media can offer great opportunities to connect with like-minded people.
Secondly, know your history. I get so discouraged when I talk to an artist, and I say, for example: “Your work reminds me of (famous artist),” and they don’t know who I am talking about. It is very important to know where you currently and historically fit in the art world. To sell your art, you need to be able to talk about it and do it in an educated and interesting way.
Art buyers want to have these conversations with you, and they want to be wowed by the artist. These are details that make the difference between an amateur and a professional.
Third, just do it. One of my favorite quotes is by Picasso: “Inspirations exist, but it has to find you working.” Don’t just sit there waiting for the muses to whisper in your ear; pick up your brushes and paint, or your pencils, or your chisels, and just do something!
As an artist, your worst enemy is inaction.
Learn More About Gaston’s Work By Visiting His Website Here