Le jardin de Bépi Donal (Bépi Donal’s Garden)Joseph Donadello (b. 1927)




Route de Saint-Lys, Saiguède, Midi-Pyrénées, 31470, France

Visiting Information

If Donadello is at home, he is usually happy to show his sculptures to interested visitors; in any case, most of the artworks installed in his garden are viewable from the road.

About the Artist/Site

Joseph Donadello, of Italian origin, was born in France, and had a varied working career, at different times serving as a postal carrier, a bricklayer, a driver, and a farmer, among other jobs. Always energetic, he could never stop moving: “I can’t be idle for more than five minutes without doing something,” he said.

More than thirty years ago Donadello settled with his wife Juliette in Saiguède, a small town near Toulouse in the south of France, where they raised six children. While it is typical for owners of small homes with gardens to construct a well or pond, or perhaps to install a trio of gnomes, after his retirement Donadello instead chose to build characters out of concrete to ornament his well. And, with his typical intensity, he continued his creative activities with such enthusiasm that his creations quickly overran the entire garden. Taking advantage of his home’s location near a relatively busy road, he installed them such that they could be seen by passing motorists, painting a panel that cautioned drivers to slow down in order to see better.

The garden currently contains some 220 sculptures, many of which are constantly changing. Donadello will repaint some, changing the image or accoutrements and the name; others are donated, sold for very little, or even stolen. Any such unauthorized removal simply spurred him on to replace the missing characters; he estimates that he has created a total of 650 sculptures and 420 paintings over the course of his work on this site.

Creating his artwork has been a joyous and constant task for Donadello. “When I can’t sleep at night, I think about what I will make the next morning,” he says, “And when I am asleep, I see the next sculptures I will make in my dreams.” Each morning he makes a sketch to memorialize his visions of the night before, and then constructs a wooden mold into which he will pour the concrete mortar. This is the most complicated part of the process for him, and sometimes he gets up in the middle of the night to process the mortar before it is finally poured into the mold. He had earlier tried plaster instead, as one can work more quickly with it, but it is not appropriate for display outdoors, and would crumble if left outside. He also tried working with Siporex, a lightweight and aerated concrete; concentrating his work in this medium on bas-relief sculptures, some of these are still extant in his garden.

The sculptures are flat, only some 10-12” deep. Once the concrete mortar dries and he removes it from the mold, he fixes the largest ones to a base of concrete, paints it in bright colors and names it with often bawdy humor. La Cicciolina, for example, the Hungarian-born Italian porn star, politician, and ex-wife of renowned artist Jeff Koons, is represented several times within the garden. Adam, with a large erection, mingles with celebrities of television and film. Some of these are identified fully (Sophia Loren, Laurel and Hardy), while others only with a first name or initial. Carmen Miranda and Romeo and Juliet are included in the garden, as are Charles de Gaulle and Julius Caesar,  along with soccer players (Donadello’s favorite sport after petanque), and others with mysterious names and enigmatic references: Zelia, Floria, Piroulet, or Pabo. A man “left by his wife” hangs from a tree, and an audacious devil carrying a forked weapon runs over the wall of the house. Animals (a rhino, a deer, chickens, dogs, zebras, a monkey…), and small examples of architectural fantasies and icons – the Eiffel Tower, the Mont Saint Michel – alternate with the human figures; smaller creations are displayed on shelves that face the road, and others are attached to trees or placed on makeshift tables.

Inside the house, the trophies Donadello won at petanque jostle with his bright, often rapidly painted acrylic boards and with cutouts from magazines. All of his work reveals his fun and ribald sense of humor and many include plays on words. Now, at age 87, he is painting more; in fact, he no longer makes large sculptures from concrete, as it has become too difficult for him to work with such heavy pieces: some weighed 150 kilos (330 pounds) or more. He does continue to make smaller ones occasionally, but especially in the winter he prefers to paint. And whereas before the vandalism or theft of one of his sculptures would inspire him to make another to replace a missing or broken figure, now he has become discouraged by these delinquencies. The surrounding fence, only a meter high, isn’t a sufficient deterrent for malicious visitors, and Donadello has found several broken sculptures in the creek in front of the garden. In response, he has installed a black and white sculpture of a dog at the entrance, inscribed with the warning: “I Kill. Danger;” there is also a roadside panel with two skulls that warns: “Park under Surveillance with Infrared Camera, Invisible Electric Fence. Danger.” Yet it is unlikely that these naïve warnings will protect the park from those who intend to do it harm.

If Donadello is at home, he is usually happy to show his sculptures to interested visitors; in any case, most of the artworks installed in his garden are viewable from the road.

~Jean-Louis Bigou

Translated from the French by Henk van Es


Map & Site Information

Route de Saint-Lys
Saiguède, Midi-Pyrénées, 31470 fr
Latitude/Longitude: 43.5254063 / 1.1562746

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