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 Volume 13, Issue 48  |  June 15, 2021


Retrospective at Forest & Ocean Gallery celebrates artist Sacha Tebó 

By DIANNE RUSSELL

Sacha Tebó – also known as Sacha Thébaud – a Caribbean-American encaustic painter, sculptor, architect-engineer, urban planner, furniture designer, environmentalist, and beekeeper – was a man before his time or perhaps a man for all-time. 

Master artist Tebó’s retrospective is being held through the end of July at Forest & Ocean Gallery. This in-memoriam exhibit is presented by his daughter, Laguna Beach resident Fabiola Thébaud Kinder, who he often visited throughout the years. Tebó had always been drawn to the sea and enjoyed watching the surfers and pelicans diving along the coast of Laguna and Dana Point, as an inspiration to his art. His last show on mainland U.S. was in Laguna Beach in 2003 before passing of pancreatic cancer in the Dominican Republic the following year.

Retrospective at closeup

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Submitted photo

Sacha Tebó – also known as Sacha Thébaud – as a young man

In his 20s, his art toured Madrid, Barcelona, Paris, Hamburg, and Amsterdam. In an artistic career spanning nearly fifty years, his work has been exhibited internationally throughout museums and galleries in Europe, North, Central, and South America, and most frequently throughout the Caribbean islands.

Since his passing, Tebó works have been exhibited in St. Croix, Solana Beach, Irvine, New York, Dominican Republic, Mexico, and now in Laguna Beach.

“This exhibit is dedicated to both my mother and father,” says Fabiola. “We are holding it now because May 26 was the 17th anniversary of my father’s passing. The pieces are from our collections. There is positive energy here, and it’s a good place to reconnect with his work. Our mother, who recently moved to Orange County, was his muse. He painted her a lot.”

Fabiola’s brother Francisco “Kiko” Thébaud, who flew over from Boston, is also an architect, and like his father, is environmentally conscious. He’s working on building with sustainable, power efficient, and fire-retardant insulation. 

Falling in love with wax

Sacha Tebó  was born in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, on January 22, 1934, and raised in Montreal, Canada. At the age of five, Tebó became fascinated with all aspects of wax crayons, a gift from his Dutch uncle. In his youth, Tebó watched his oral surgeon father emboss and incise metal sheets into bas reliefs as a form of dexterity exercise. During his teen and young adult years, he painted and incised bronze and copper reliefs for the family’s holiday cards. 

Then in the mid-1950s, he delved into making cutout and relief sculptures from oil barrels and large metal sheets, as well as incising in encaustics, a technique surviving thousands of years since Egyptian, Greek, and Roman antiquity, in which pigment-infused beeswax adds a tactile quality (encaustic painting). Tebó was then encouraged to pursue his studies in architectural engineering.

Retrospective of Kiko and Gab

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Photo by Mary Hurlbut

Kiko and Fabiola

“He loved the smell and feel of wax,” says Fabiola, “and raised his own bees for the wax he used in his work. The lines in the wax are very dynamic, and the colors most often rich and bold.” 

“The lines are very dynamic, the colors bold,” Kiko explains. “He painted on a clean wax sheet, by drawing a line – an incision – into the wax. It was very precise, pure, and purposeful like a surgeon’s incision but on canvas. He incised personal styled pictographs, ‘hieroglyphic symbolism’ on both canvas and metal sculpture. Like shorthand or hieroglyphics, he developed his own language as a narrative to tell a story,” says Kiko. “It’s representative of hermetic symbolism –  access to a secret language of sages.”

Encaustic becomes specialty

This difficult medium of encaustic became Tebó’s specialty, and he created a unique artistic style which covered a myriad of spiritual, mythological, and metaphorical aspects of the Caribbean region: indigenous subjects; figures of men and women; metaphysical creatures; buildings and villages; flora and fauna from the sea; natural forms; horses, bikes, kites, rhythm, and movement, all in dynamic lines with rich, texturized colors.

Hermetic symbolism and synchronicity

Edward J. Sullivan, professor and scholar of Latin American Art, wrote of Tebó’s work in an article “Hermetic Symbols for Universal Language” while teaching at NYU. 

Referencing the discovery of ancient images that might be defined as abstract images of which the original meanings are veiled, he says, “Much of the work of Sacha Tebó, and particularly his most recent pieces, embody precisely this element of hermetic mysticism expressed with a strong reverence for the power of the eloquent line. Highly personal forces of the spiritual world, he often embodied in specific forms, both animal and human. The artist’s manipulation and appropriation of the inhabitants of the animal kingdom are among the most fascinating principles of his work…His art is a simulacrum of his own work of spiritual convictions.” 

Retrospective wall

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Photo by Mary Hurlbut

Paintings cover the period from his early work (1963) to later work (2003) – sculpture “Anacaona” (heroine of the island) represents genocide of indigenous people on Hispaniola after arrival of Christopher Columbus. Her left wing depicts the arrival of the ships and horses, and her right wing depicts the indigenous islanders.

Sullivan continues, “As can be gleaned from his art, Tebó believes in what could be designated as the ‘synchronicity’ of earthy existence, the interconnectedness of our lives with those of other people and other beings, the inevitable correlations between the world of the senses (that of perceived reality) and the more intangible, incorporeal atmosphere of the sublime.”

Tebó especially loved trees. “To him, trees were sacred entities,” Fabiola says. “In Haiti, which has been heavily deforested, he created installations and ovens made of clay and discarded tires to influence people not to cut down trees. He was environmentally conscious and used scrap metal in all his sculptures.” 

“My father was a prolific artist,” says Fabiola. 

“Known for his appropriate use of colors,” says Kiko, “he used complementary colors and developed his own theories on colors. Different cultures have different relationships with different colors and where he traveled influenced the colors he used in painting.”

Lines define his art

However, the lines seem to be the defining element of Tebó’s art.

“Despite Thébaud’s vivid colors, it is more in his use of lines that his works take form,” says Haitian Art Critic Gerald Alexis in his book Peintres Haitiens. He also wrote a book about Tebó titled Pour que Vive La Ligne (That the Line Might Live).

Tebó started exhibiting in the U.S. in 1958. After earning a bachelor’s degree in architectural engineering in Haiti, a grant took Tebó to the École Superieure des Beaux Arts in Paris to hone his architectural skills and where he worked alongside Bauhaus minimalist architects Marcel Breuer, Luigi Nervi, and Bernard Zerhfuss on L’Arche de la Defense. He also interviewed with Le Corbusier, who offered him a position to work on what was to become the first planned city in India, named Chandigarh. He turned it down, and instead married Rona Roy in Dothan, Alabama, and returned to Haiti to start an architectural practice. 

Retrospective of trio

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Photo by Mary Hurlbut

(L-R) Owner of Forest & Ocean Gallery Ludo Leideritz, Kiko, and Fabiola

His art caught momentum early on in his artistic career when in 1963, he participated alongside American artists Robert Rauschenberg, Jasper Johns, Larry Rivers, and California artists James Jarvaise and John Paul Jones among others in an itinerant group exhibition called Art de America y España.

Tebó left his native Haiti during the political agitation of 1963 and settled in Coral Gables, Florida, with his wife and children. In 1965, he resided in the U.S. Virgin Islands and established an architectural firm. He became a U.S. citizen in the 1970s.

In the 1980s and 1990s, there was a shift in his painting, and he began doing commissions and public installations. 

Universality

“His paintings were a diary of his experiences in different cultures. Yet with the importance of seeing Caribbean in the Cosmos,” say Fabiola. “Call the influence part of his narrative – an ongoing discourse with – but not exclusive to one culture. With that, he was able to incorporate a style that resonates with humanity. This exhibit presents his work with renewed insight and energy.” 

Retrospective smiling

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Photo by Mary Hurlbut

A celebration of their father’s work

“His work could be called Caribbean Contemporary, but his paintings went to a higher and more universal level,” Kiko adds. “In the 90s, his incisions or lines became more informal. There were more lines, and he used different sizes and shapes of spatulas.”

It’s easy to imagine this visual – as described, “He mostly painted outdoors under a blue sky, the sun’s rays casting warmth upon his encaustics with his canvases leaning against a cluster of palm trees or floating on the tranquil turquoise waters of a sandy cove.”

To experience the mystery and beauty of Tébo’s work, don’t miss this retrospective – each one has a story to tell if you just read between the lines.

On July 18 from 3-5 p.m., Laguna Beach Sister Cities is hosting an event at the gallery and Fabiola will be present to speak a bit about the exhibit. It is a paid event, and tickets may be purchased online at www.lagunabeachsistercities.com

Forest & Ocean Gallery is located at 480 Ocean Ave.

For more information on the gallery, go to www.forestoceangallery.com or call (949) 371-3313.

 

Shaena Stabler is the Owner, Publisher & Editor.

Dianne Russell is our Associate Editor & Writer.

Michael Sterling is our Webmaster & Designer.

Mary Hurlbut and Scott Brashier are our photographers.

Alexis Amaradio, Dennis McTighe, Diane Armitage, Maggi Henrikson, Marrie Stone, Sara Hall, Stacia Stabler and Suzie Harrison are our writers and/or columnists.

In Memoriam - Stu Saffer and Barbara Diamond.

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