Jacques-Enguerrand Gourgue is the son of a French psychiatrist and a Haitian woman said to have been a mambo. He does not like to talk about his parents, whose relationship seems to have been problematic, a situation that made his childhood an unhappy one. As he recalls, his creativity surfaced early. Drawing and painting became his favorite subjects in school. He joined the Centre d’Art in 1947. At age seventeen he finished The Magic Table, now in the Museum of Modern Art, New York.
Never formally trained, Gourgue has mastered all the techniques of the academician, without losing his highly personal style. His visual vocabulary was established from the very beginning. The mountains of Haiti, skeletal trees, peasants and their huts, poor people, and all the accoutrements of voodoo are the main elements out of which he composes paintings which often seem surrealistic.
Gourgue’s imagery is not easily interpreted by those not familiar with Haitian life, folklore, and religion. Juxtaposing familiar objects in a personal, always new and surprising way, his works seem to resist rather than to invite analysis. The artist’s intention is to force the viewer to meet him on the level of the subconscious, giving free rein to emotion and fantasy. Gourgue’s work can be sad and shocking, haunting and frightening. It is never happy. ..
Gourgue is a prolific artist. Not all of his work is successful, yet he is certainly one of the foremost Haitian artists today. He lives in Spain with his Spanish wife and their daughter, but he returns to Haiti, the source of his art, every year for several months.