Image: Laurent La Gamba
Image: Laurent La Gamba
He’s disguised himself as a pool table, camouflaged his torso to resemble an open fridge and blended his family and friends in with backdrops featuring sports cars and even an airplane. Allow us to introduce French “camouflage artist” Laurent La Gamba – a man who uses paint to make people disappear in front of both ordinary and extraordinary objects.
In reality, of course, the models haven’t disappeared at all. Instead, they’ve been convincingly camouflaged thanks to the artist’s expert and intricate painting of the white clothing he has them wear. It’s a technique La Gamba refers to as “procryptic” – a zoological term that applies to animals, particularly insects, using colors or patterns as a method of concealment.
Because La Gamba is inspired by nature, it makes sense that a good deal of his work is staged outdoors. Yet while green fields appear to be a popular backdrop, the artist is clearly a fan of contrast – in terms of both subject matter and color. Any natural verdure is often offset by something strikingly man-made – a bright yellow airplane, for example, or a mauve fridge.
Composition, though, is only half the story. What’s truly impressive, given the level of contrast in La Gamba’s work, is how he disguises his models so convincingly – even when their feet may be grass, their knees hubcaps, their waist a car bonnet, their torso a field, or their shoulders distant trees.
Quite often La Gamba deliberately leaves one part of the body unpainted; interestingly, this is a body part that defines a person probably better than any other, and one that frequently leaves the greatest impression: the face. The effect is, quite predictably, striking – but this may go beyond face value and into the realm of deeper significance.
“There is a lot of meaning behind my work,” La Gamba told us. “I worked a lot on psychoanalysis when I was a student, so I have been influenced by… concepts related to the image of the self in consumer society.” Such an approach may help to explain works such as 2002’s “Car Camouflage” (pictured), which features a barefaced model posing in front of a Renault automobile.
Not all La Gamba’s pieces, though, showcase outdoor locations. “I was the first contemporary artist to do a camouflage installation in a supermarket,” La Gamba says, referring to a 2002 project that featured models blending in perfectly in front of items like stacks of packaged alcoholic beverages and shelves of pet food, their bodies brilliantly disguised to resemble the products behind them.
Occasionally, La Gamba’s models are painted from head to toe. This tends to be the case when the artist himself forms part of his subject – like the time he disguised himself as an American Express card or, even more bizarrely, as a concrete mixer.
Moreover, the weird and wonderful backdrops don’t stop there: the Frenchman has also concealed his body in front of a poster apparently promoting France’s Lourdes Ski Resort, not to mention a National Rifle Association ad seemingly featuring Minnie Mouse.
Remarkably, La Gamba doesn’t rely on any outside help when it comes to creating his often-complex pieces. “I am a painter,” he explains, “so I paint all the installations myself. This is something that is very important to underline, because there are other artists out there being blended into landscapes by a team of five or ten people. All my work is painted by myself.”
Interestingly, La Gamba’s artistic discipline initially drew him to hyperrealism – the art of creating paintings that could pass as high-definition photographs. “The next natural step was to go outside the studio to experiment with trompe-l’œil installations,” he says. “Trompe-l’œil” – translated as “deceives the eye” – is an approach that playfully employs realistic imagery to present the optical illusion of the work being 3D.
La Gamba suggests that he was driven by the challenge of creating “something very impressive and hard to do.” And while this has regularly been achieved outside of the studio, some of his pieces do reference – and even recreate – famous works of fine art.
Take the Frenchman’s procryptic recreations of well-known American modernist paintings, for example. From disguising himself in front of his version of Andy Warhol’s iconic “Marilyn Diptych” to camouflaging his body before a take on a Jackson Pollock drip painting, La Gamba has successfully managed to blend himself with instantly recognizable works of art.
Pieces like these challenge the viewer, perchance making them ask themselves where the art begins and ends. Perhaps it’s the camouflage and its relationship with the piece’s subject, or maybe it’s the photograph of the end result. Or, as La Gamba has it, “It’s a combination of the two.”
Central to La Gamba’s work is the idea of appearing and disappearing. “I wanted to shock people and create images that are visually new and thought-provoking,” the artist says. And while his pieces certainly achieve this desired effect, the space between appearing and disappearing is perhaps best emphasized by the videos that sometimes accompany his work.
For his 2014 series, “Moving Superficiality,” La Gamba blended individuals who are close to him in with outdoor backdrops featuring sports cars – his other loved ones. Accompanying videos show his painted models standing in a Pyrenean field with cars parked directly behind them such that the people are camouflaged; then after a few seconds the vehicles drive off, leaving the models exposed.
According to La Gamba, this latest camouflage series is his most ambitious yet. “The video sequences sometimes take hours to be successful,” he explains, adding, “This is the hardest and most elaborate project I have ever done.” Each model took approximately two hours to paint with acrylics before the cars – a pair of Porsches and three BMWs – were driven into position behind them.
While fields are undoubtedly a favored setting for La Gamba’s work, he sometimes uses more prominent public locations as well. However, as distinct from the vigilantism associated with some street artists, the Frenchman likes to do everything above board.
As La Gamba explains to us, “All projects require a minimum level of authorization and preparation. They are always well prepared. I always work with public places and institutions with their agreement.”
Reflecting on his camouflage art, La Gamba believes the processes he follows aren’t, in fact, about making things invisible. “On the contrary,” he says, “The aim is to make everything visible.”