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Portraits / 15 Nov 2018
Stéphane Lehembre – portrait

In our daily life, we meet people whose faces are familiar and we think we know them.  So as not to miss out on these fabulous people e com image created its “portraits”.

AN ABSTRACT ARTIST

Stéphane Lehembre (stephane-lehembre.fr)

When you are not on the right track, everything is complicated… and you’re not so lucky. When you are on the right track, everything goes well : everything is easy.”

Stéphane Lehembre is a discreet man of great kindness. When he talks about finding his way, it is knowingly. Societal norms traced his path for him ; then towards 55, against all odds, he finally freed himself.

REBEL…

Stéphane was born in Neuilly sur Seine in the middle of boxes,  the day after his parents moved from the north of France to  Paris. Coming from the aristocracy and the industrial bourgeoisie of the North, he grew up in a protected environment, secure but also closed. During visits to his grandfather in Lille, he went to the dentist in a chauffeured limousine.

At the beginning of his adolescence Stephane recognized his homosexuality. The environment in which he grew up was suffocating, and at the age of 14, he asked to go to boarding school. By seeking admission to a mixed boarding school, he thought he would remove his last doubts about his sexual orientation, but he found himself at an ‘all boys’ school. The friends he made left him when they discovered that he was gay and Stéphane has never been able to forgive their betrayal. He fought a lot ; it was a question of survival, but each year, throughout his school career he achieved the 1st prize for drawing.

After the boarding school I did not care about anything !” Stephane led a double life with a sexual aspect that he kept hidden from his family. He entered a private school where a teacher discovered his artistic talent and advised his parents to send him to the Penninghen Met Workshop, which became the School of Graphic Arts (ESAG). Selected through competition, Stephane stayed there from 1967 to 1969 showing creativity in his painting.

CONFORMIST…

At the age of 18 he met Hélène, the granddaughter of the poet and co-founder of surrealism, Philippe Soupault.  Stéphane was flattered by this encounter with the Parisian intellectual milieu. However, his paintings were selling badly and Stéphane was not able to marry Hélène. He refused the position in an advertising agency of finding creative ideas while simply sitting on a staircase. He preferred to go through the classified ads and he finally got a job selling life insurance ´door to door’. This canvassing helped him overcome his shyness ; people liked his androgynous look and he earned a good living. And so the wedding with Helene took place.

From 1983 and for the next 20 years, Stéphane’s life became a pernicious spiral. Positions in the IT sector followed a pernicious spiral. Stéphane moved to different companies, at the height of his success helped by his intelligence and supported by Hélène who gave birth to two boys. They  lived in Paris and led a comfortable lifestyle. However Stéphane still lived a double life: his well-ordered existence hid the intimate reality that became increasingly difficult to conceal. He used alcohol to anesthetize the underlying malaise.   A picture taken in his garden during a family lunch shows Stephane weighing 120kg. Those who know him  now woudn’t recognize him.

…FREE AT LAST !

After several successive positions, at age 45, Stéphane set up his own company. After eight years he was forced to sell his firm because his main client had no budget. He created another business which also went bankrupt. This time Hélène, accustomed to a high lifestyle that Stéphane could no longer support, did not follow him. Even by reducing his salary by half, Stéphane still did not find work. A private insurance coverage  allowed them to hold on for a year, then the couple divorced.

At that time, Stéphane received the minimum integration income (RMI), the universal health insurance (CMU) and the help of the general council. He moved to the South and, at the age of 55, found a part-time job washing dishes in a restaurant.

  ” I was at the lowest level socially but I was the happiest of men!“. Free to be himself, he stopped drinking and lost more than 40 kg. At 60, Stephane finally reached retirement. A friend, admiring his drawing pads, advised him to do sketches again. Stéphane went back to painting and fell in love with a man. This romantic encounter released all his creative energy and allowed him to finally find his style.

For the past ten years, Stephane has exhibited regularly.  His painting is abstract, dynamic and joyful. It represents the joy of life finally found through the freedom to be himself. His exhilaration explodes with spontaneous expression ; the euphoria needs the space to welcome the vibrant colors. Each large canvas catches the eye and takes us into a mysterious universe that overpowers our imagination. This is the charm of Stephane’s work from his generous hand: its secret side. In short, Stéphane still expresses his double life : the visible versus the invisible. Here what we see flatters the eye and what we do not understand touches the heart.

– What is your deep motivation ?

” It is the memory of the passionate love that I lived. It constantly charges me with energy to paint. It’s something that can not be explained.

Now I feel an inner well-being. I do not need to drink because I feel heat in my belly. I am in perfect harmony with nature. I will die in total serenity, as I saw my father die.”

– And on homophobia?

” Gay marriage has freed homophobic speech even more. I was prey to it as many others are still today. I landed in the emergency room. The guy had a heavy criminal record and at the hearing he did not improve his case before the judge. He said to him, “You’re not going to believe that fag, are you ?!! “

– How were you accepted here ?

” To be integrated, I often took a non alcoholic mint drink at the village bistro. I was mocked but then I bantered right back, making them think I was happy to please them and suggesting they come with me. Taken aback by my composure, they got tired and little by little I was respected for what I was. It took me 2 to 3 years to be accepted.”

– How do you see the future ?

“Carpe diem. I do not see the future. I can die tomorrow: now I do not care, I can die tomorrow.”

Fortunately for us, Stéphane does not intend to leave us tomorrow. His new exhibition that will take place next year is promising. If you liked this article and want to stay informed, you can follow Stéphane by liking his Facebook page @lehembre-stephane. He is also on Instagram and LinkedIn. You can visit his website stephane-lehembre.fr, newly created by e com image.

Text by Sylvie Houssais – e com image – ‘reproduction prohibited, all rights reserved ‘

Photos of portrait and interview by Jacques Huissoud – ‘ reproduction prohibited, all rights reserved ‘

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