The Restless Pursuit of Inspiration
PROFILE Andre LaPorte – JUNE 2007
By Joshua Bodwell
Photography Darren Setlow
Those first two years were hell,” says 74-year-old painter Andre LaPorte, his eyes shining with the intensity of a man half his age. LaPorte is thinking back to the tumultuous days when he decided to end his decades-long career in high-end commercial illustration and focus his energy on creating fine art. “The freedom was terrifying,” LaPorte remembers. “I couldn’t kill the illustrator in me!”
Today, one glance at LaPorte’s textured, sensual oil paintings reveal that he has gracefully shed the restrictions of illustration. While LaPorte’s paintings are primarily figurative, they are also bursting with abstract energy. His natural talent and well-honed skills are evidenced in his bold, confident lines that are at once loose and precise.
If LaPorte had not had the support of his family, however, he may never have gambled on an artistic career in the first place. Born in New Brunswick, Canada, and raised in Montreal, LaPorte was the youngest of four brothers. While his family was absorbed in running the thriving restaurant they had opened after World War II, LaPorte never cared for the business. Instead, he aspired to a career in architecture. But after attending university in Canada, including time at the École des Beaux Arts de Montréal, LaPorte was urged by his father to pursue commercial art rather than architecture. LaPorte heeded his advice, moved to New York City, and continued his studies at the School of Visual Arts.
At just 25 years old, LaPorte landed a job in the illustration department of Fairchild Publications, the publisher of Women’s Wear Daily. When publisher John Fairchild noticed a bold fashion sketch that LaPorte had dashed off purely as an experiment, his work was soon being featured prominently in the magazine. A few years later, he was plucked from the art department and promoted to features editor. “The next five years were five of the best I’ve ever had,” LaPorte remembers of his editorship. “Fairchild opened the door to all of New York for me.” But, much to the surprise of his colleagues, LaPorte wasn’t content in the position. “Every seven years or so,” he says, “I just felt this itch to change my work situation.”
While still in his thirties, LaPorte left Fairchild, hired a small staff, and set up an illustration shop in a two-story penthouse replete with a rooftop terrace overflowing with lush vegetation and a view of the Empire State Building and Hudson River. From the posh high-rise, LaPorte and his team created advertising art for fashion, cosmetic, and home-furnishing giants such as Bergdorf Goodman, Versace, Estée Lauder, and Yves Saint Laurent.
By the late 1980s, LaPorte was ready for a change once again, and he left the city for what he thought would be a quieter life in East Hampton. But his respite was short lived; when a representative from Ralph Lauren’s home division saw a hand-painted sisal rug that LaPorte had created on a whim, the renowned fashion designer soon had him under contract. LaPorte hired a team of a dozen painters and began churning out as many as 600 rugs per year. And what had started out as art, LaPorte says, soon turned into work. After nearly a decade with Ralph Lauren, LaPorte finally stopped and made time to do what he had moved to East Hampton to do in the first place: paint.
After struggling to shake off the confines of commercial art, LaPorte began exploring the many themes he works with to this day. His fascination with architecture and farmland has led to an ongoing series called “The Granges.” “My youth still comes back to me when I work on those farm and barn paintings,” he says.
While LaPorte’s work may appear simple, it is deceptively so—his horse series, for instance, reveals a masterful understanding of his subject. With a minimum of brushstrokes, LaPorte effortlessly conjures the form of a muscular, graceful horse rippling with sinewy power. And though LaPorte’s palette often shifts between earthy tones and bright colors, he says that he always strives to create paintings that announce their presence. “I don’t ever want my work to recede,” he says.
After passing through Portland for years on long drives from New York to Canada, the painter finally settled in the city four years ago. “Portland has the energy of Greenwich Village in the late 1960s,” he says.
Recently, LaPorte has taken a break from painting. He has spent the last year making notes that he will use in penning his memoir. But the final chapter of that book will not be written anytime soon—for as he nears his 75th birthday, LaPorte’s artistic energies show no sign of waning.