The Wonderful World of Fanch Ledan

by Richard Carroll

Intriguing horizons dappled with an endless palette of blazing color…Fanch Ledan’s joyous, whimsical depictions of life reflect his creative vision, indomitable spirit of adventure and ebullient personality.

The artist and his trusty paintbrush have traveled far off the beaten path to the nooks and corners of the Earth. Along the way, he has uncovered a mélange of cultural heritages, ranging from Paris and the sassy side of France to the Amalfi coast, the British Isles, Australia and California. Through his group of paintings called Windows on the World, viewers can peek out beyond window frames and enter a sublime world. The sharp, bold lines of his interiors leave one curious to know who might live there, while vivid landscapes reflect Impressionistic and Surrealistic influences and splendid graphic design.

Noted for his attention to geography, architecture, placement of subject matter and period detail, Fanch has been a significant presence at the prestigious Park West Gallery, both on land and at sea, for some years. And his artistic reputation expanded even further when in 1990 Blinder Fine Arts published a stunning large-format art book titled The Collected Works of Fanch Ledan.

Within the collection of paintings are his delightful Dream Places, which are alive with color, vitality and hints of Impressionism, and give one a sense of well-being; the acrylic-rendered "Palm Beach Court" is a fine example. "A Garden in Paris" captures a perfect moment, with two children gleefully romping under leafy trees, while a Parisian, legs crossed, is engrossed in the morning newspaper. "Breakfast in Sausalito" sets out a table for two with fresh-cut flowers, morning coffee, a bowl of fruit and tiny glasses of brandy. The balcony setting overlooking a breezy bay filled with sailboats is a dreamy scenario that sets the heart aflutter. In various ways, sometimes striking, sometimes subtle, the Dream Places paintings acknowledge Degas, van Gogh, Chagall, Picasso, Mondrian and others; the nod to old masters is another playful Fanch trademark. He remarks, "Greatness can’t be ignored."

Fanch, whose first name is a Breton nickname for François, was born and raised in Brittany within a loving family. A boyish 51 with a quick smile on his lips, he is married and the father of two young children. In 1975, the artist completed his first editions of lithographs and has since had numerous one-man exhibitions and group shows in galleries around the world. An avid athlete, outdoorsman and adventurer, Fanch divides his creative time between his studio in Paris and a home/studio in Sausalito, California. Speaking and writing flawless English, Fanch shared his life, dreams and expectations with Onboard Media.

CARROLL: When did you realize you had to paint? What was the passion that pushed you into the world of art, and at what age?

FANCH: It all began in 1968, an exciting time of my life when I was studying for my M.B.A. in Paris at the École Supérieure des Sciences Commerciales. I met a couple of artist/painters through my sister, who was studying at the Beaux-Arts school. Their inspiring passion communicated itself straight to my heart. I started some sketches, drawings and paintings, and it quickly became more and more important to me. The time spent painting seemed to fly, and afterward I always felt relaxed and fulfilled. For the longest period, I didn’t even own a clock or a watch; it seemed as if they would interfere with my work. Maybe I was lost in time.

RC: Has art always been in your bones? FL: Indeed, art might have always been in my bones. I finished my studies in Paris and in 1972-73 my M.B.A. at Sacramento State. However, I never worked in that field, not even a day. By 1973, I had completed enough paintings to have my first one-man show at the Pantechnicon Gallery in San Francisco. Mr. Bromfield was very kind to give me that opportunity. He displayed my works nicely in his gallery and found collectors for all of them. This was certainly encouraging and a determinant for my future as an artist.

RC: Were you born to paint and to be an artist? Was it being French?

FL: I just realized I’ve been painting for thirty-two years and I still enjoy it most of the time, so I suppose, yes, I love being an artist. Actually, I’m not typically French, having been born in Brittany. Britons are Celts, close in character to the Irish. I arrived in Paris at age seventeen and then on to California when I was twenty-two. I felt really at ease in San Francisco with a fabulous mix of people from all horizons, plenty of freedom, and diffused expectations and social conventions.

RC: Tell me about your first studio in Paris.

FL: When I was studying in Paris in 1970, my parents bought a tiny apartment, more like an attic under the roofs, in Montparnasse—coincidentally, above a lithographer-engraver workshop. I still use that pied-à-terre when I’m printing lithography in Paris.

RC: What were your goals as a young, inexperienced artist? Did you feel you were up to the task at hand?

FL: I never had a second thought about the immediate consequences of being an artist, and, of course, not being poor, being self-sufficient, helped. I’ve been blessed with a wonderful life, and this has been a major asset to advancing my career. I was very keen on learning how to paint, to print lithography, and to achieve harmonious and balanced composition. Goals and ambitions appeared later; when you turn thirty, you are more conscious of fitting in or having some recognition. In that period, I spent less time traveling and devoted more energy to my career.

RC: What were your first achievements?

FL: Simultaneous good things happened at a one-man show at the Hammer Gallery [in New York City]. Armand Hammer bought two of my original editions of lithography. I’m very grateful for the openness and enthusiasm of the American collectors and dealers at the beginning of my career. Although I was inexperienced and immature, during those first years I never felt anguished or not confident about the future, and certainly those early successful shows in America helped a lot.

RC: Did you frame the check and celebrate all night with friends?

FL: What I remember more precisely than the very first sale, which happened in Paris in 1965, is the success of the first one-man show in San Francisco. Even though my paintings were selling then for very reasonable prices, I indeed received my first check, which was like a symbol of freedom enabling me to paint as I pleased. I celebrated all night with friends and students from Sacramento State. I took off for four months, traveling by bus, truck, airplane and boat from California to Bolivia. It was a major stimulus to continue as an artist, even though somehow I never contemplated anything else but painting.

RC: Was their one person or friend who stood behind you and said, "You can do it, just paint and things will fall into place?"

FL: No one interfered with my choice of life and career. My family and friends were always supportive and reassuring. I was rather confident, the consequence of youth, and not shy about showing my art to galleries, dealers and publishers. My attitude was to make things happen, work hard and play hard as well.

RC: Were you only painting Paris then?

FL: Paris is an endless major source of inspiration, but I was also painting scenes from Brittany and other French regions.

RC: Your work is brimming with vitality and hope. Did you decide early on in your work to accent joy and happiness, radiant light, a sense of human endeavor?

FL: I like to bring joy and happiness through my artwork, and I deliberately choose to paint subjects representing the best of natural wonders, the architectural achievements of humankind and the marvelous integration of human beings with their surroundings. The qualities you find, and thanks for the kind thoughts, are not conscious decisions, they are simply my vision of life.

RC: Is there a general recurring theme running through your work?

FL: When we printed the book on my artwork, the writer Peter Alson and I devoted a few chapters to classifying my paintings in categories such as "Welcome to the Beach," "Bienvenue à Paris," "Art et Architecture," "Windows on the World," "Games People Play," "Almanac de Voyages" and others. Lately, I have put more emphasis on interior scenes, interiorscapes as you may call them.

RC: Why are you intrigued with windows?

FL: Windows create a complicity between the viewer and the scenery. You can imagine yourself being there in that room observing or contemplating the world.

RC: What gave you the idea to pay homage to other artists, and who are three or four of your all-time favorites?

FL: One idea led to another. The interior spaces needed some special artwork on the walls, and some priceless masterpieces appeared as an homage and a tribute. But the immensity of choices, styles, mediums and techniques makes it a difficult choice to narrow down to a few artists. However, to name a few: Cezanne, van Gogh, Gauguin, Brueghel, Matisse, Picasso and Seurat.

RC: Tell me about your love affair with color.

FL: Color is the quintessence of painting, and to be able to capture a moment, a scene, with light, shadows, movements on canvas is achieved by using colors harmoniously. No theory or methods can give you the ability to juxtapose colors, mostly experience and time and some mistakes along the way. In my palette, some recurrent colors are always there, but I try to experience new moods and effects with each new painting.

RC: Do you have a love affair with Art Deco?

FL: I’m very eclectic in my taste, and if you list the names of artists sometimes reproduced in my interiors you will notice Abstracts, Cubists, Impressionists, Fauvists and Contemporaries.

RC: How long does it take you to complete a painting?

FL: I would like to quote my friend Itzchak Tarkay [the Hungarian-born artist who is also represented by Park West Gallery], who usually answers with his age; therefore, for me, fifty-one years plus some days.

RC: Do you have a favorite place in the world for inspiration, a hideaway where you can escape?

FL: I wish I could paint the entire universe…the interior world and the exterior world. I feel good in my studio in Cannes. It’s like a nurturing cocoon. I sit there listening to jazz, classical and salsa music, and allowing inspiration to help me start on the white canvas. To counterbalance the fact that I have to spend many hours painting detailed subjects and because my studio is right below my house, I escape by traveling to all those places that I represent. This is another great side to my job and life.

RC: Do you still windsurf?

FL: Absolutely. The wind in San Francisco is more steady than here, and it’s always a pleasure to glide on that magnificent bay. In Cannes, the wind, mistral or eastern, can be very powerful, thirty to forty-five knots, and I love it. Skiing in the Alps is also a major pastime; I began skiing at age six. I took my family to the Maldive Islands, an incredible set of islands below Sri Lanka offering the top diving in the world. The kids snorkeled above coral reefs and tropical fish, and my wife and I went scuba diving among sharks, stingrays and turtles. There are so many places in the world to experience and so little time.

RC: Tell me more about your family. Is your wife, Mekameh, one of your best critics?

FL: Mekameh has a very keen, critical eye and gives me sound advice. She is an interior architect-designer and studied in an art school in California. I also have two children, Sacha, ten, and Stéphane, eight. They are fantastic, loving kids, and we spend a lot of time together.

RC: What are your current passions?

FL: Indeed, I wish to have another book published for my art completed in the last ten years. Park West could be the publisher. We have done some incredible serigraphs these last years, and quality is an absolute priority for both of us. I’m working on my favorite subject, which is the painting I’m working on at the moment. The last one I completed is always the most exciting. I remain eclectic and open to all tendencies in the art field. Hopefully, I still have some fuel and desire to paint better rather than more. Quality and time limit my production of paintings.

RC: A question that’s been hanging around for years but reveals so much about a person: If you could invite only five people to dinner, living or dead, who would your five choices be? It would be a catered dinner, and you have five chairs to fill for a magical night.

FL: Your last question is the most delicate to answer, but maybe I would dare to cook for them. I think I would invite five people that in real life I never had the chance to meet. They would be Einstein, Mozart, Picasso, Monroe—Marilyn, not the President—and Rabelais. My living choices will have to wait.

Sidebar: Art Auctions Park West Gallery has the largest touring collection of Fanch Ledan artworks, many of which are exclusive to the gallery and are only available at auction.