Catalogue Gast Michels (extraits)

Page 1

1 Untitled (detail crop), c. 2010 Acrylic on paper x 21 cm

Gast Michels Estate


6 — 9


Préface  Sam Tanson

10 — 11

Foreword   Préface  Lydie Polfer

12 — 14

Bibliography Bibliographie

15 — 27

Gast Michels 1954 — 2013: A Retrospective Gast Michels 1954 — 2013 : Une rétrospective Lis Hausemer

28 — 33

Gast Michels or The considered power of forms and symbols

Gast Michels ou La force réfléchie des formes et symboles Paul Bertemes

34 — 105

Artworks 1980 — 2011 Œuvres 1980 — 2011 106 — 109

“We built the airplane during the flight” « Nous avons construit l’avion en cours de vol » Katja Taylor 110 — 111 Colophon

Contents Sommaire


The National Museum of History and Art and the Cercle Cité have teamed up to present a retrospective exhibition of the Luxembourgish artist Gast Michels (1954 — 2013), spanning almost 30 years of his work.

Gast Michels was a versatile artist who worked as a painter, sculptor and graphic artist after graduating from the École Supérieure des Arts Saint-Luc in Liège in 1980. Growing up in the Mullerthal region, Michels was strongly influenced by the surrounding woodlands and the natural environment in general. The relationship between man and nature, thus, became a leitmotif in his oeuvre. The exhibition at the MNHA draws on this theme and shows how Michels’ unique picto rial language gradually evolved over the course of his career, from the early 1980s to around 2010, in large-scale paintings, sculptures and a tapestry. The exhibition at the Cercle Cité focuses on the artist’s works on paper, sketch books and painted coasters. Stylised signs and symbols take centre stage here and illustrate Michels’ spontaneous and at times playful approach to art.

Gast Michels’ colourful universe of signs and symbols is a familiar one in Luxem bourg thanks to his many public art projects. These include his mural L’envol de dédale at the École de Commerce et de Gestion (ECG) of 1986, the temporary flags he designed for the station tower on the occasion of the CFL’s 50th anniversary in 1996 or his 258-m2-mural Atmosphère urbaine at the Administration communale de la Ville de Luxembourg (Rocade) of 2006. Gast Michels’ distinctive visual lan guage continues to shape the urban landscape

of the capital and its surroundings to this day.

I would like to express my sincere thanks to everyone who was involved in creating this exhibition and publication and to both teams at the MNHA and the Cercle Cité. A special thanks also goes to the artist’s sons, David and Frank Michels, for founding and running the Gast Michels Estate, which will help keep their father’s legacy alive for future generations. Artists’ estates play an essential role in documenting and preserving our col lective artistic heritage. Crucially, they prompt artists, art historians and art enthusiasts to engage with the artistic legacy of previous gen erations and understand how it helped shape Luxembourg’s art scene as we know it today. With this joint project, the MNHA and the Cercle Cité underline the important part that estates play in passing on our artistic heritage. I hope everyone finds this journey through Gast Michels’ unique world of colour, form and symbols as inspiring as I do.



Gaston François Michels is born on 11 January 1954 in Echternach, Luxembourg. The Mullerthal would become a key source of inspiration for his work.

1960 — 1972

Attends primary school in Consdorf and second ary school at the Lycée Classique d’Echternach.

1974 — 1980

Studies at the École Supérieure des Arts SaintLuc in Liège, Belgium.

Biography Biographie


Moves to Walferdange and marries Marie-José Meyers.

1980 — 1988

Art teacher at the Lycée Technique Nic-Biever in Dudelange and the Lycée Technique des Arts et Métiers in Luxembourg City.



His first son, David Michels, is born.

Wins the “Prix de la Peinture” at the XIe Biennale de la Peinture et de la Sculpture des Jeunes in Esch-sur-Alzette and a six-week artist residency at Cité des Arts in Paris.

Gast Michels in his studio in Walferdange. © Unknown photographer, c. 1991

1983 — 1984

First solo exhibitions at Galerie Tetra in Wavre and Librairie Gutenberg in Brussels, Belgium.




His second son, Frank Michels, is born.

First solo exhibition in Luxembourg at Galerie d’Art Municipale in Esch-sur-Alzette.

Wins the “Prix de Raville“ for the work Arc/Flèche at the annual Salon du CAL. This marks the beginning of the artist’s characteristic use of styl ised symbols such as arrows, arcs and wheels.


Michels gives up teaching and begins to work as an independent painter, sculptor and graphic art ist. He has the first of numerous solo exhibitions at the Galerie de Luxembourg, whose owner Jean Aulner is a close friend of his.


Michels discovers a new creative tool for his work: the computer.

1996 Michels’ wife, Marie-José Michels-Meyers (1946 — 1996), dies. Michels designs temporary flags for the station tower on the occasion of the CFL’s 50th anniversary.


Creates his first series of metal sculptures, Steel drawings, after almost 8 years of dedicating himself exclusively to painting.



Retrospective exhibition at Théâtre Galerie d’Esch: 1980 — 2000 vingt ans d’aventure picturale.

2002 — 2011

Regular solo exhibitions at Espace Mett Goedert in Consdorf.

Gaston François Michels est né le 11 janvier 1954 à Echternach, Luxembourg. Le Mullerthal deviendra une source d’inspiration essentielle dans son travail.

1960 — 1972

Ecole primaire à Consdorf, ensuite Lycée Classique d’Echternach pour l’enseignement secondaire.

1974 — 1980


Creates a 258-m2-mural, Atmosphère urbaine, for the Administration communale de la Ville de Luxembourg (Rocade 3).

Études à l’École Supérieure des Arts Saint-Luc à Liège, Belgique.




Moves to Vaison-la-Romaine in Provence, France with his partner Yvette Tosseng.

Begins blood cancer treatment in Marseille, France.

Dies on 5 February 2013 in Marseille, France.


Michels s’installe à Walferdange et épouse Marie-José Meyers.

1980 — 1988

Professeur d’éducation artistique au Lycée technique Nic-Biever à Dudelange et au Lycée Technique des Arts et Métiers à Luxembourg-Ville.



Naissance de son premier fils, David Michels.

Lauréat du Prix de la Peinture à la XIe Biennale de la Peinture et de la Sculpture des Jeunes à Esch-sur-Alzette et résidence d’artiste de six semaines à la Cité des Arts de Paris.

4 Audry, R.: Chronique des créateurs: Gast Michels  Entre la chute et l’élévation, Tageblatt, August 1985, n. pag.

5 Michels, G., in: Welter, R.: Interview avec Gast Michels / Gespräch mit Gast Michels, Revue culturelle “Estuaires”, n° 6, 1988, p. 41 : “[…], j’ai parcouru pendant mon enfance les grottes, les gorges, les gigantesques falaises aux formes bizarres et oniriques dans mes forêts de la région de Consdorf. Face au ’riche silence blanc’ d’une toile ce décor fantastique et baroque en été, sobre et mystérieux en hiver, se condense en signes pour prendre forme et signification.”

6 Kolberg, G.: Über die Natur der Werke von Gast Michels, in: Gast Michels, Galerie de Luxembourg, 1991, Luxembourg, p. 79.

7 Schneider, J.P.: Gast Michels, homme des forêts, Luxemburger Wort, October 1989, n. pag.

8 Michels, G., in: Welter, R.: Interview avec Gast Michels / Gespräch mit Gast Michels, Revue culturelle “Estuaires”, n° 6, 1988, p. 42.

9 In the interview with René Welter in 1988, the artist points out that his initial inspiration for the use of the cross came from a cross engraving in a rock in Loschbur (near Consdorf), which dates back to at least 1800 BC.

After graduating from the École Supérieure des Arts Saint-Luc in Liège in 1980, Michels moved to Walferdange, where he set up his studio in a former mill and started working as an art teacher in a secondary school in Dudelange. Some of the earliest works in the exhibition date from this period (no. 7, 18) and demonstrate how Michels adopted an expressionistic graphic style and a vibrant colour palette early on. While figurative elements are prevalent in these early works, they already allude to some of Michels’ typical motifs and stylistic features, e.g. the use of symbols (in this case, the cross) or the layering of monochromatic planes of colour. They also feature the artist’s bold, expressive brushstrokes, which almost make you feel the movement of his hand across the canvas. In works such as Fortress (1984) (no. 20) or his depiction of the Schiessentümpel (1985) (no. 22), fragmented surfaces of colour blend into one another, creating shapes and forms inspired by real life. In 1985, Rich Audry referred to Michels’ style as “l’art le de la figuration brute” 4, the art of raw figuration, which he describes as an expressionistic and honest way of painting, one that seeks to be as close to reality as possible and avoids any deceptive alterations to real life. Indeed, Michels’ style is very straightforward and direct, merging the portrayal of reality and the artist’s own view of the world into power ful paintings.

The forest man

Michels grew up amidst the mystical forest landscapes and rock formations of the Mullerthal. As a young boy he loved to explore the woodlands of Consdorf and was mesmerised by the surreal shapes of the caves and gorges he found there.5 The artist’s ties to the Muller thal prompted him to develop a deep fascina tion with nature, which served as a key source of inspiration throughout his artistic career. Michels’ art is informed by a keen interest in the historical and natural qualities of these landscapes and often reveals a “tendency to venture back to the roots of […] the ’Ursprünglichkeit’ (’nativeness’)”6. His works portray nature as a mystical remnant from a bygone era when man’s relationship to nature was very different from what it is today. Within the Luxembourgish art scene, Michels thus quickly came to be known as “l’homme des forêts”7, the forest man.

Starting in the late 1980s, Michels began to incorporate symbols, often reminiscent of prehistoric cave paintings, into his art. The symbols he used carry certain meanings and often have a specific function within the overall composition of the artwork. Hence, the axe and the shield, the arch and the arrow serve as symbols of battle and protection, the tree as a symbol of life and the deer and the hunter as a representation of the good and the bad, the rational and the irrational.8 The cross, another recurring symbol in Michels’ art, is a representation of life, a symbol of vitality.9 As art historian Gerhard Kolberg rightly points

22 Untitled, c. 1985 Acrylic on paper 50 x 65 cm Gast Michels Estate
32 Créatures, 1994 Aubusson tapestry 250 x 400 cm Banque et Caisse d’Epargne de l’Etat
43 Pièce de réchange II, 1994 Acrylic and oilstick on paper 65 x 50 cm Gast Michels Estate
59 44 Chapeau mongolien, 1994 Acrylic on paper 50 x 63 cm Gast Michels Estate

57 Roue et flèche, 2009

Bronze x 6 x 4 cm

Gast Michels Estate

Y au losange, 2009

Bronze x 12 x 6 cm

Gast Michels Estate

87 73 Untitled, c. 2002 Digital print on glossy paper 40 x 50 cm Gast Michels Estate
86 Untitled, c. 2009 Acrylic on loose canvas 75 x 55 cm Gast Michels Estate

This book was published on the occasion of the exhibition Gast Michels (1954 — 2013): Movement in colour, form and symbols

7 October 2022   26 March 2023 at the MNHA

7 October 2022   22 January 2023 at the Cercle Cité

Ce livre a été publié à l’occasion de l’exposition Gast Michels (1954   2013) : Movement in colour, form and symbols

7 octobre 2022   26 mars 2023 au MNHA

7 octobre 2022   22 janvier 2023 au Cercle Cité

Acknowledgments / Remerciements

The National Museum of History and Art and the Cercle Cité would like to express their gra titude to everyone who made this project possible through their generous loans and support:

Gast Michels Estate Banque et Caisse d’Epargne de l’Etat Les 2 Musées de la Ville de Luxembourg and all private collectors.

A special thanks goes to Frank and David Michels for their collaboration and dedica tion throughout this entire project.

Le Musée national d’histoire et d’art et le Cercle Cité remercient vivement toutes les per sonnes qui par leur concours et leurs prêts ont permis de réaliser la présente exposition :

Gast Michels Estate Banque et Caisse d’Epargne de l’Etat Les 2 Musées de la Ville de Luxembourg et tous les prêteurs privés.

Nous tenons à remercier tout particuliè rement Frank et David Michels pour leur collaboration et leur engagement tout au long de ce projet.

Photo credits / Crédits photographiques

pp. 2–3 | p. 9–10 | p. 15 | p. 18 | p. 20 | p. 22 | p. 25 | p. 27 | p. 29 | pp. 31–36 | pp. 38–47 | pp. 50–106 | p. 109

Gast Michels Estate, Frank Michels

p. 23 | p. 27 | p. 37 | pp. 48–49 | p. 109 MNHA, Tom Lucas p. 9

Jochen Herling

All copyright owners have been carefully researched to the best of our knowledge. If you believe that any existing copyright has not been taken into account, please feel free to contact the MNHA. All justified requests will be considered in accordance with the terms and conditions in place.

MNHA Marché-aux-Poissons L–2345 Luxembourg

Cercle Cité Place d’Armes L–2012 Luxembourg

Les détenteurs des copyrights ont été recherchés avec grand soin de notre part. N’hésitez pas à contacter le MNHA en cas d’un droit d’image non considéré. Toute demande dûment justifiée sera prise en compte selon les modalités en vigueur.

The Luxembourgish artist Gast Michels (1954 — 2013) was a remarkably keen observer of his environment. He meticulously analysed and decoded his surroundings, translating them into his own formal universe. Michels’ oeuvre has a unique formal language and features recurring symbols like wheels or arrows and a luminous colour palette, often dominated by the complementary colours blue and yellow. While the early work of the Echternach-born artist predominantly deals with seemingly mythical depictions of human figures in woodland settings, his later works have a more graphic pictorial language featuring highly stylised objects and signs. As a painter, sculptor and graphic artist, Michels worked in various mediums but always remained true to his expressive, symbolic and at times humorous and ironic visual language.

2022 ISBN 978–2–87985–773–2