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Dr. Ange Lobue and
the Lobue Collection
Story & photos by BOB DORAN
THE HOUSE IS A WORK OF
ART. Sculpted by the renowned
artist Bruno Groth from rough-hewn redwood timbers and sheets
of glass, it perches on a granite cliff above the Pacific. Once
Groth's home and studio, it now the home of Dr. Ange Lobue, a
psychiatrist who works with the developmentally disabled, and
his wife, Chantal Giebert Lobue, a nurse practitioner.
It's also the home of an exquisite
collection of modern art: prints and paintings, some by artists
with familiar names -- art world superstars like David Hockney,
Jasper Johns, Jim Dine, Man Ray -- and some by relative unknowns.
Right now a portion of the Lobue collection is
on loan to the Morris Graves Museum of Art. Twenty-three prints
are on display in the Richard Anderson Gallery at the Graves
until Sunday, April 21.
Ange Lobue is one of Humboldt
County's more sophisticated art connoisseurs, but he doesn't
see himself as a "serious" collector. Art is just part
of his life.
"I don't identify myself
as an art collector. The thrust of my life has been very different,"
he said as we settled into easy chairs in his home.
"A lot of collectors buy
art because they think its value is going to go up -- then they
put it under the bed. I'm not in the financial collector category.
I just happen to have this collection of prints because I held
onto it. I framed it and put it up everywhere I have lived. I've
The room has a high ceiling
and large windows offering a spectacular view of the coastline.
On the wall behind him is a photo he shot of a Vietnamese Montanyard,
a memento from a tour of duty in Vietnam where he served in the
Army medical corps. Next to it is an impressionistic painting
by an unknown painter, something he has had for decades. African
and Balinese masks hang nearby.
A shelf holds a stereo and an
assortment of jazz and classical CDs. Below them, his "tchotchkes,"
a hodgepodge of ceramic and carved figurines and a couple of
silk boxes that store an array of snuff bottles from around the
world. A display box holds arrows from Philippine pygmies and
pipes he collected from the Montanyards, the tribal "hill
people" of Vietnam.
Lobue grew up in Hammond, La,
a college town not far from New Orleans. While his name sounds
like it might be French, his heritage is mostly Italian. His
father was the son of immigrants; his mother traces her lineage
back to the Renaissance artist, Luca Signorelli.
"Signorelli was a partner
and co-painter with Michaelangelo when he did the Sistine Chapel
-- not employed by him but working by his side. In addition to
the Sistine Chapel, he did these magnificent religious paintings
showing people going to and coming out of hell.
"So art is in my blood
from that direction -- I was always interested in art in general,
particularly abstract art, but I really think I have more music
in my blood. Growing up near New Orleans I grew up with music
all around me.
"I played music, played
jazz. I still do. And I think music has influenced everything
I've done, including the gathering of these pieces of art, including
the way I practice psychiatry where I look at intuitive connections."
Two prints from the Lobue collection at the Morris
Graves Museum -- a portrait of Man Ray by David Hockney (1974)
an aquatint by Man Ray (1966).
A conversation with Ange is
an exercise in improvisation and intuitive connections. A framed
Saul Steinberg print on the kitchen wall is the entrée
into a discussion of New Yorker magazine, the difficulty of keeping
up on all the stories he would like to read each week, and the
importance of clarity in writing.
Asking him about a particular
piece of art spurs memories of where he was and what was going
on in his life when he acquired it. A question about how he began
collecting takes him back to New Orleans.
"While I was in medical
school I was living in the French Quarter and there was an artist,
Rolland Golden, who worked on the street. I just liked what he
did. It spoke to me. I bought five of his pieces, gave three
to my mother and kept two. They were scenes of the Quarter, including
the street I lived on. I still have one of them. That was the
first painting I paid for -- and I only paid a few dollars. The
framing was inexpensive too."
After completing his medical
degree at Louisiana State University in 1964 Lobue headed west.
An internship in San Francisco was followed by a stint with the
Army Medical Corps that included a tour of duty in Vietnam. Fine
art collecting was on hold for a while. It resumed in the 1970s
after he took a job with the pharmaceutical company Hoffman-LaRoche.
"I had an office, health
information and education services or something like that. What
I did was produce programs for physicians. Roche wanted an entrée
with the physicians so that they would think they were a good
company -- and listen to their advertising."
Lobue had experience with acting.
In fact he trained under Kim Stanley from the Actor's Studio,
appeared on television in "Soap," "Oh Madeleine"
and "It's a Living." Later in life he taught writing
at USC's School of Cinema-Television. His work for Roche involved
a road troupe, method actors who helped him teach medical interview
"I trained the actors with
actual case histories. I would bring them out on stage after
giving a little description to the audience of physicians. I
would have members of the audience come up and do an interview
with me. The actor was trained to freeze whenever I said stop.
They would freeze in character, then pick up where ever we came
in. The actors were extraordinary. They would actually guide
the arrogant physicians in a sort of confrontative way and encourage
the humble humanitarians. The exercise was really very effective."
As he traveled coast-to-coast
with the road show, Lobue developed friendships with coworkers
at Roche, several of whom were involved in the world of art.
"One was a guy who was
the director of special events or something, but his real talent
was that he had exquisite taste. Everything about him was high
level, high quality. I'm drawn to people like that, so we became
"He was one of those people
who was in the know, who knew what was coming. He would tell
me things like, `There's going to be a printing of Frank Stella's
called "The Sinjerli Variations" from Petersburg Press.
It's not out yet.'
"I had a friend who had
worked for Petersburg Press, so I got on the phone. I ended up
getting first or second pull off the stone on those pieces. And
it was at an incredible price. It was the same sort of thing
as the Golden pieces. They were beautiful -- great and undervalued."
As his circle of friends in
the art world expanded, he began attending art auctions.
"I would go to Sotheby's
and Christie's in New York and L.A. They were the major art auction
houses. I had friends who were gallery owners or who worked for
printing companies, who would be sitting all around me. It was
an interesting club. We'd all have our paddles and we would kind
of look at each other for reassurance.
"I'd see something I wanted
and there might be someone across the room who wanted the same
thing. In order to know where to stop bidding I kept my eyes
on my friends. They would communicate without looking at me,
with a shrug or a nod of the head. I realized, at this point,
on that piece I shouldn't go any higher. The point was the guy
I was bidding against was a serious collector. He might be getting
a good deal, but he wasn't going to make a lot of money.
"I also got to see how
the art world functions, which was a contrast to the way I thought
art sales worked. I thought the art world was a bit like, `Oh,
isn't it lovely. It's you.' And that's why you bought something.
That's exactly the way the sales people would talk when a casual
collector came to buy. But the real collector doesn't fall for
that. The real collector engages in a hard-nosed, sophisticated
Anthurium - Jim Dine (1978) from The
Temple of Flora
Lobue assembled most of the
pieces on display at the Graves during a burst of collecting
from the end of the 1970s into the early '80s. While many of
the artists he favored tend to be lumped together by art historians
as stars of the "pop art" movement, Lobue thinks the
term is all too often misapplied. Certainly the works in the
exhibition are not typical "pop" pieces.
One wall at the Anderson Gallery
is dedicated to selections from Jim Dine's "The Temple of
Flora," a series of dry-point engravings. The floral sketches
are loosely based on a classic botanical work of the same name
assembled and first published by Dr. John Robert Thornton in
"I connected with those
flowers more than anything Jim Dine had done or anything he has
done since," said Lobue.
A series of etchings by David
Hockney takes center stage, part of a limited edition box set
that illustrates six fairy tales from the Brothers Grimm. Some
are familiar images: Rapunzel atop her tower and a roomful of
straw from the tale of Rumpelstilzchen. Others refer to more
obscure tales like "The Little Sea Hare," "Old
Rinkrank" and "The Boy Who Left Home to Learn Fear."
"With the Hockneys, I couldn't
afford the complete set, 39 pieces, so I went in with a friend,"
said Lobue. "We bought a whole box and split it up. She
took one, I took one; she took one, I took one. I wound up with
some I liked more than others. There was one I just love called
`Home.' It's this chair with beautiful curtains. I didn't get
that one, my friend got it, so I went out on the road looking
and I found it at an auction. I just had to have it."
Why these particular prints?
"I can't say what it is
that makes me like one piece over another. There's something
that happens when I look at a piece, something that I can't deconstruct
analytically. Something happens between me and the art that is
unconscious, that draws me to it, that makes me say, `I want
to have that. I want to see it more often.'
And what does the collection
say about the collector?
"That's hard to say. The
connection I see is in what living ought to be like. Living should
be your art. If you live your life as an art, you are doing what
the inspired artists all did, whatever genre they were in.
"I've been having a running
conversation over the Internet with a distant relation from France.
We've been talking about the late 19th century, a time when it
seemed people were living in a way that was creative, living
an art form, even in their conversations, in whatever they did.
All the artists and thinkers, from Freud to the Impressionists,
to Mahler, Chekhov and all of the rest -- they all lived that
LEFT: A room full of straw - David Hockney
RIGHT: A black cat leaping- David Hockney
As a psychiatrist, Lobue is
intensely interested in the workings of the mind. He is quick
to admit that there are mysteries beyond him, but he has his
"There`s something that
happens in the brain when one appreciates art; there's this experience.
It may be similar to what happens when the art is created, if
the creator was inspired and they were working `out of their
head,' as they say, working with the intellectual judgmental
part on hold, set aside. Somehow things shift into another dimension.
It's as though part of your brain gets out of the way.
"I think great artists
are in that transcendent inspired place when they create their
art -- and I think when we look at it, we can experience something
like that. That's as close as I can come to explaining the unconscious
"It's the same with music.
I like listening to a piece of music that was produced when someone
was in that inspired state. And the same thing happens with an
actor. When you produce something that comes from that place,
we relate to it because it takes us there."
The Frank Stella series that
was Lobue's first foray into semi-serious art collecting is not
represented in the Graves show. In 1981, when the art auction
business was at its zenith, he decided to put the Stellas on
the market along with a couple of pieces by Jasper Johns. The
money they brought in allowed him the freedom to make a change
in his life and he left Los Angeles.
It seemed the time was right
for a move. He headed north, settling in Mendocino and establishing
a private practice there and in Santa Rosa. Then after 10 years,
a series of events including a kayak accident in which he almost
drowned let him know it was time to move again.
"I had a near-death experience
at the mouth of Big River in Mendocino, and it changed the way
I approached life in general. I was close enough to death where
I had that experience of letting go, and it was all over, and
it was OK. When they brought me back, that was as painful as
the panic I had in avoiding death.
"There was something about
that day, that experience, that made it easier to continue on
a path I had been trying to get to -- being able to allow things
to happen without making things happen, being able to trust.
I've been doing that with my life ever since.
"That's how I happen to
be here, living where I'm living, working where I'm working."
An offer from Semper Virens
brought him to Humboldt County. Then the sudden departure of
another physician left an opening at the Redwood Coast Regional
Center. Four years ago Lobue began working there leading an innovative
program serving the developmentally disabled.
Hockney etching - Home
"The approach is based
on a biopsychosocial model for dealing with human disorders and
disabilities with the addition of the intuitive and the spiritual,"
Extended sessions with caregivers
or family members sitting in along with the patient allow the
psychiatrist to tune into interpersonal dynamics.
"The developmentally disabled
tend to be lightning rods for other people's feelings. They pick
up on pain, conflict, suffering, judgment -- and most of the
people who live around them don't realize it."
He loves the job because, "I've
been given time to communicate and establish an alliance with
the patients," something that's all too rare in the medical
world today. "And as always I'm still learning new things.
"I really think that life
is a series of lessons. It's like the Universe tries to get you
in sync with it. I think the first time you get a message that
there's something you're not doing right, something you need
to change in your life, you get it as a whisper. If it's not
heard, you get the message again as a tap on the shoulder. If
you ignore it, you get it again later as a bop on the head.
"The message is about letting
go and not consciously trying to make things happen in the context
of the way you think things ought to be. Career, for example.
Making money. I think that's a big one in the world today. People
talk about it as though it's about survival. But sometimes it's
not about survival. It's about buying a television set. It's
about money, money, money.
"You can't live life as
an art form if you try too hard to make it happen. That's why
the self-help books seldom work. There's a fearlessness that
has to come that permits you to go with things that you don't
really know are going to turn out OK. Joseph Campbell calls it
bliss. I call it selfless involvement.
"My mother put it really
well. She says, `You're here -- with all the experiences you've
had -- you're here now working with people who need to relate
with someone who has enough experience that he can be 100 percent
with them, someone not distracted by what he might be doing,
by what he's planning.' She says that everything I've done was
part of a plan to put me where I am now.
"And I have to tell you,
it feels right. It feels so right."
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