Francois is from just outside Quimperle in south Brittany. Much of his childhood was spent at his grandparents’ holiday house in Le Pouldu and at the beach at Le Kerou. Le Pouldu had a small close-knit surfing community with many third-generation surfing families - Francois’s father was also a surfer and was known as ‘The Fossil’. The coastline of south Brittany is suggested under the sky on the left-hand side of the painting.
His first memory is of being pushed on a kayak through the water by his dad at Le Kerou. Francois was called ‘BeBe Banane’ (Banana Kid) because he was always smiling and had bright blond hair. He used to be in the water so long he would turn blue, so his father bought him his first wetsuit which was turquoise and blue. I’ve taken this as inspiration for the turquoise and orange colour palette of his painting.
As a teenager Francois excelled at sports. He reached national level at squash but after injuring his knee it put a stop to his ambition on the courts and he threw himself even further into surfing. Francois would travel the coast of France in search of waves, even surfing the world-famous breaks at Hossegor.
After school he wanted to go into forestry but was encouraged to go to university instead. Francois studied literature and languages so he could travel the world. At university one of his courses focused on Pre-Raphaelite writing and painting which was often about nature, love, life and death. The leaves in the painting are a symbol of Francois’ love of nature but also point to his English literature studies.
In the early 2000s Francois met Paule and they moved to Cornwall to teach and surf. Tragically Paule passed away in 2011 after a battle with cancer. In amongst the leaves is a dove symbolising Paule’s passing.
Surfing and the community in Cornwall provided Francois with a way to cope and also gave him a new chapter in his life as it was through surfing that he met Kirsty (also featured in the exhibition).
They decided to move north and did a recce tour around Scotland to find a place that would allow them to surf and settle. The final choice was between Lewis, Thurso and Dunbar. Dunbar won as they could both get jobs, but while living in Dunbar Francois and Kirsty kept coming back to Lewis for surf trips.
Surf on the east coast is inconsistent and there can be months with little or no swell. After a while they decided that surfing was their real passion, so took the plunge, left Dunbar and moved to Lewis in 2017. Francois now works as a supply teacher, and when there aren’t any waves, as a labourer for Stevie, John and Kenny (all featured in the exhibition).
The oyster catchers are a symbol of Kirsty and also of his connection with his dad who was an ornithologist and was hugely influential on his love of the outdoors. Oyster catchers are a constant feature of Lewis beaches and symbolise Francois and Kirsty’s new adventure in a place they both love and have made a home together following their passion for surfing.