Two bishops in a kayak

The bishops in the kayak piece is what caught our attention. It was on the lawn of a home in Bas Cap-Pelé along with maybe 20 other pieces with a sign in front that said, “Goguen’s Museé de l’Art Brut. Now, they may not have been bishops but we always try to make sense of what we see and these two mannequins had what look to be coconut miters on their heads.

They had other things on, like rain coats and there was a lobster trap perched on the bow, but it was the miters and the black Beatle wigs which made me think of bishops. It was probably a joke and I should have asked the punch line but art should stand on its own and when the artist puts a work on display he must abandon it to the viewer’s interpretation.

Desire Goguen on his front porch snapping beans.

An inscrutable art

Most of Désiré Goguen’s art brut is “inscrutable” that way. You sort of get the joke, but it doesn’t quite come through, unless there are puns in French that I can’t catch. That’s possible.

So, what is the punch line here. Are these the mounted police we all respect?

Andy McDonald of Andy’s Dummy Farm, which is not far away between Aulac and Cape Tormentine, solved the problem by nailing signs near his dummies telling you what he meant. I don’t remember reading any of them because they mostly seemed to be mean-spirited political jokes, the kind bitter old men make, and I can’t imagine Désiré Goguen being bitter. I can only imagine Désiré being generous and exuberant and if he doesn’t put up signs explaining his art it’s probably because he wouldn’t think of spoiling it for you. Think what you want, would be his wish.

artwork boat on a limb with shells on it

3,759 stuffed monkeys and counting

Proof of Désiré’s exuberance and good nature are the 3,759 (at the time of writing) toy monkeys in his house. I mean, the inside of the house is literally covered with his collection and his only explanation doesn’t really explain anything at all. “When my wife was living, I had 19 and she said that was too many.”

He seems to treat each one like a small child, touching its hand gently, turning the mechanical ones on and watching with delight as they dance, sing, or worse, both. “My brother sent me that one from Florida.” It was a gorilla sitting on the floor.

Elaine, who not only had a broken toe but was so hungry she was getting a headache because of our not being able to find a decent place to eat, waited in the car and missed out. Driving away after she said, “You’re smiling.” I was. I couldn’t help it.

older man with stuffed monkeys pinned to walls and ceiling.

It had been such a delightful encounter when I had expected an experience like Andy’s Dummies, especially when Désiré said to me after I had taken his picture, while he sat on the porch stemming yellow beans, “Look around and when you’re done I have something in the house to show you. You will like it.”

I dread encounters with people who impose their assumptions on strangers and, once I was done, I was going to slip back to the car but he caught me and I went in and was delighted. It took a moment, though, for me to realize that all those stuffed toys pinned to the walls and ceiling and posed on chairs and tables were all monkeys.

Perhaps that was the best part of the surprise for me, that they were monkeys. Salt and pepper shakers would have been impressive as would a beer stein collection that was that big. But they were monkeys.

The trip

Years ago when I was in the army I had made an over-hasty decision to embark on a motorcycle trip to Montreal on my first day of leave. It was a Monday and I had just completed my punishment of being confined to barracks for a week for falling asleep on duty. It had been a long, long week of marching on the parade square in the full heat of summer with 60 pounds of kit on my back. On top of that, there was the tedious reporting to the duty sergeant every hour on the hour in a different uniform. Man, it had been a long week and just when I thought I had made it through my five day punishment, I got nailed for a speck of rust on a magazine and got the weekend tacked on to the week as well as a $50 fine.

When I was finally free to go I impatiently packed my pack and headed out. My plan, such as it was, was to ride until I got half way, find a place off the road to sleep for a few hours and be in Montreal by morning. However, by the middle of the night I was exhausted and depressed and could find no suitable place to hide and sleep.

My enthusiasm for the trip evaporated, I decided to rely on stamina and just keep going but the chill of the night made me lonely. I wished I had some company so at a truck stop I bought a stuffed monkey and fastened it to my bedroll behind me so I could see him in my rear view mirrors, sitting like a passenger, smiling incessantly.

When dawn broke and people I passed on the highway could see my companion, they were delighted, especially the children. I never took a motorcycle trip without him after that. When I discovered that all Désiré’s toys were monkeys, that same delight returned after all those years.

Exactly how many monkeys typing away will eventually write a play as good as Shakespeare’s? I doubt Désiré would care, unless there were a chance of adding those monkey’s to his collection once they were done.