Former fire-breathing street performer Guy Laliberté transformed the age-old circus with Cirque du Soleil, the imaginative and artistic entertainment troupe he cofounded in 1984. The Canadian entrepreneur, now 52, drew inspiration for Cirque du Soleil from his extensive travels and the cultures he encountered along the way. His most ambitious adventure—a trip to space he took in September 2009—is the basis of a new tabletop book, Gaia, published by Assouline. All the proceeds and royalties from the sale of the book will be donated to One Drop, an organization Laliberté founded nearly five years ago to provide access to safe water in impoverished communities around the world. Robb Report spoke with the father of five while he was vacationing on a diving boat in French Polynesia. —Jill Newman
How has travel influenced your work and life?
Travel was my original dream in life. I started out as a traveling performer and met people around the world who inspired me. Planet Earth as a whole is what I love—the ensemble of all its components, so many beautiful places, both natural beauty and places where mankind has left its mark through architecture and civilizations. I’m always curious to learn more about where we come from and where we are going as a species.
How has that curiosity shaped you as an art collector?
I’m touched by and passionate about primitive art because it carries an aesthetic, but it also has a ritual and spiritual aspect. These objects have social significance and powerful messages. Most of my primitive art comes from Africa. I look for reliquary, little statuettes in different forms, and I look for the fire-breathing figures because of my background as a fire-breather. I am also a collector and supporter of contemporary art. I believe in our society a lot of things are expressed through art, which is what drives Cirque du Soleil, and we support young artists around the world.
What else do you collect?
I’m a maniac about watches. I like the aesthetic aspect and the technical challenge. I have watches from Audemars Piguet and Richard Mille, and some unique models by other makers. I enjoy wearing them, and they represent good investments when you look at the history of watches. I also like wine, especially Burgundy. I have wine from all over the world and have the capacity to invest in wines and wait for them to reach maturity. In jewelry, I look for the beauty of a certain stone, or I like the work of an artist. In choosing jewelry, it is also about pleasing the person I love.
Tell us about Gaia.
It was an amazing experience and a privilege [to go into space], and there is so much to tell, but it was difficult to transmit the emotion into words, which is why I created a book of images that I took from space with written text that I selected by people greater than me. A lot of texts were personal inspirations for me in my life, and I hope the combination of words and pictures will inspire people to reflect about the beauty of this planet. And this is a tool for me to raise money for One Drop, because everyone should have access to clean water.
What is your favorite place to travel back on Earth?
I have to admit I have a deeper emotional bond to the Pacific islands over any other place. Hawaii is a healing island for me. I have a house there and go every year. It is where I go to think, reflect, and chill out, and when I have a big business decision, I go there because it inspires me.