- Doctor of History of Art
THE “LAND OF ALAIN GODON”
Every milestone in the history of art has been marked by a metamorphosis in figurative art. Every artist strives to dissociate himself from external appearance in order to extrapolate his own truth. Alain Godon’s painting, while declaring its singular identity in the stream of figurative art, cannot be separated from the historical and aesthetic contexts which are the cement of his foundations.
After the last world war and its procession of wretchedness, artists fled from reality and moved away from figuration. The giants of abstract art, Kandinsky, Mondrian, Robert Delaunay and Klee, were already dead but abstract art as a movement was truly alive and triumphant in Paris. The major dealers of the French capital were persuaded to establish the Second School of Paris and this gave them dominance over the international art scene for many years. All without reckoning on the emergence of Pop Art, which exploded on to the scene in June 1962 in the Sidney Janis gallery in New York with an exhibition entitled “The New Realists”, co-organised and compèred by Pierre Restany, a young French art critic and founder on 27 October 1960 of the New Realism movement in Paris. The American exhibition assembled all the future stars of American Pop Art and the French New Realists. This still remains a relatively unknown and unsung event in the history of art. The outcome is of course well known. After the serious incident of the Bay of Pigs in Cuba and a brush with nuclear war, followed by a show of brilliance from John Kennedy, America was to emerge powerful and victorious in its global domination. From the sixties onwards, by way of its culture and soft power, the United States was to assert its claim as the world leader in art, and most notably in Pop Art.
Notwithstanding this fact of course, figurative art has always stayed within the mainstream. Over the past decades, the painted image had been in crisis and, although for a long time banished by international dictate, painting as an art form was able to reaffirm itself. Witness Balthus, Dubuffet, Hélion and Bacon and the surrealists Ernst, Lam, Mattà, and Delvaux among others. In 1964, Gérald Gassiot Talabot’s “Les mythologies quotidiennes” at the Musée de l’Art Moderne of the city of Paris, featuring thirty five artists or more, revealed a revival of the figurative image. A kind of surrealist posterity was to establish itself with the likes of Sandorfi, Fassianos, Fred Deux, Enrico Baj and Dado to the fore. Then at the beginning of the eighties, a new form of figuration emerged in several countries. In France it was “Figuration Libre” (Free Figuration) represented by Hervé di Rosa, Robert Combas, François Boisrond and Rémi Blanchard. At the same time in the United States there was Basquiat and Keith Haring, in Italy “Transavantgarde” and in Germany “Bad-painting”. Figurative art, it could be seen, was back in force in all its conceptual austerity. Whatever the epoch, figuration remains pivotal to creativity. It endures, ceaselessly renewed, yet running in parallel to the “other face of art” that would however take centre stage.
Apicture, like a mirror without a frame, presents the viewer with a space. For the artist, it is also his own dream-factory and the substance of his fantasies. The artist who is the focus of our attention today is no exception. As a painter, and like his eminent antecedents, he does not simply reproduce an existing space, he creates a new one. And when the objective is achieved, and with Alain Godon it is achieved, the painting wrests the beholder from his everyday surroundings, wrong-footing him in his vision and perception of the world around him.
Alain Godon was born on 1 November 1964 in Bourges, France, and the whole family painted from his architect grandfather down. In 1975, his father, a doctor by profession, died leaving his wife in a situation of great moral and economic distress. Faced with this difficult situation, the young woman resumed her nursing studies and set about working hard around the clock in order to bring up her three children. Consumed by these tasks, she would be cruelly robbed by time and the young Alain would thus find himself shunted between his mother and his father’s brother, who took him in. But fate would close in on the young widow who found herself forced to sell the family home. In 1979, the family underwent a brutal life change moving from a middle class house to a small flat on the Saint Nicolas housing estate. This change in circumstances was to signal the fate of the adolescent who began to hang about on the streets as well as around the estate’s Chanteclair community centre, where he drew and made pottery. Dominique Garet, director of the centre, was quick to see young Alain’s potential and asked him to give drawing lessons to the other children. His mother left the housing estate in 1982. The budding artist left to live in Achicourt with his uncle, a professional architect who also drew. The young Alain Godon inherited this gift, a gift that is forever at the source of his artistic expression in its every form. Demonstration that works of art are not created merely by chance alone. The rebellious adolescent would soon, from the firm base of his skill in drawing, maintain a dialogue with the real and begin to forge, unwittingly, his artistic future. Alain Godon drew in Indian ink and was to stay with his uncle until his military service.
By 1985, and a visual processor of all around him, his day-to-day existence was based on the tarmac opposite the Louvre, an area of Paris with its own intoxicating opium essential to this artist in the making. His universe, like that of Basquiat in New York, is that of the streets, of squats, of street art. The Mary Poppins character who painted street chalk drawings was his inspiration. He threw himself with zeal into drawing copies in the naïf style of the Mona Lisa and other great classical works of art and earned a few francs. Very early on he drew the attention of Christian Boeringer, director of merchandising at the Louvre, who was intrigued by this young man whom he saw every day on leaving the world’s most famous and most visited museum. During the evening Alain Godon worked behind a bar and did odd jobs to survive. In 1988, he found himself a seasonal worker in St Tropez, where he painted his first oil on canvas, then later in Courchevel. Like Jean Fautrier in another era, he would end up in 1992 as a night club manager, in the chic seaside resort of Le Touquet Paris-Plage on the Opale coast in the North of France. This was a night club which earlier he had decorated throughout.
As ever with Alain Godon, art permeates everything. At Le Touquet his life entered a stage of nocturnal wanderings indicating a greatly troubled inner self with crises whose consequences would endanger both his health and his relationship. But as a man of character, he made a decision to take action. Taking his future in hand, he seriously devoted himself to his painting whilst encouraged and supported by his partner; this support with no sign of weakness brings him happiness and instils in him a great inner strength. Alcohol and the dissolute life are out.
P assionately extrovert, physically resembling a mixture of “bad boy” and d’Artagnan, gifted with a furiously intense awareness of plastic form, Alain Godon is a colourful presence leaving no one he meets indifferent. His meeting with Régis Dorval, a major gallery owner in the north of France, gave him an introduction to the private collections of the region. Patrice Deparpe, director of the museum of Le Touquet and a personal friend, extended an invitation for a private view of the Dubuffet exhibition marking the 20th anniversary of the artist’s death. A jolt to his aesthetic senses that is still just as alive in his memory today and which took place in the same Museum of France where the young artist was himself later to have an exhibition to mark the new millennium.
The artist is a generous man who believes that his path has been paved with good fortune and that duty befalls him to pass that on. This is what he has being doing since 2009 in this resort of Le Touquet, where he has become its prodigal son, by organising the “Festival of Le Touquet” which numbers over a thousand entrants every year and, amongst other things, offers the opportunity to young artists to exhibit. A rare initiative from an artist transformed into benefactor and supported by Jean-Christophe Castelain, Chairman of Artclair Editions and Editor-in-Chief of the Journal des Arts and of the magazine L’Œil. This generosity of spirit is a facet of his personality wholly worthy of note.
T he publicity machine that was to establish itself around him was to prove remarkably efficient. Although Alain Godon is a relentless worker, the demand would very quickly exceed the supply and the price of his works has risen rapidly. A position aided by gallery owners such as Bernard Markowicz, his agent in the United States, and Pascal Lansberg who was to send him to an artist’s studio in Bali.
T he Painting A feverish observer of city streets, his eye filters and tweaks details that he recaptures on his canvases, like topographical reference points on the landscapes to which he gives new magic life. The smallest detail he lights upon or captures takes on an almost surreal tone by using an effective technique he has developed. The image is more complex than it appears. This banishment of reality is transcribed with extraordinary fluidity onto canvas and conjures the ambience of a world of his creation. In the words of the song, the artist, Alain Godon, holds the world at the tip of his paintbrush. He reconstructs urban life for us as in a waking dream. The artist’s composition is unrelenting, bulimic, demystifying what he wants to recount to us with a melody that is his very own.
A lain Godon is a powerful master of colour deciding to stop his watch at the here and now which is of his own creation. This more penetrating investigation, where keenly observed details are freely interwoven with colourful compositions, suggests a creation close to the world of childhood. Reality is transformed into a dream. Against a confident orchestration of gently modulated chromatic backdrops, everything unfolds harmoniously in a coherent and rhythmic unity, where, if one seeks to analyse more deeply, each detail has a meaning; a meaning with a nevertheless beautiful and surprisingly fluid resonance.
The writer, Louis-Ferdinand Céline said, “The street is the most meditative place of our era, it is our modern day sanctuary.” Alain Godon has intuitively and adeptly understood this reality. A playful and magical world comes to life through these streets, buildings, people, animals, objects and meanings all united within the space of the canvas. They are vitalised and energised with a cadence suggestive of a futuristic comic strip. Ornate decorative flourishes populate his pictures, no single building is straight; are these thoughts creations of the mind imposed on canvas, or is the sinuous line an assertion of instinct? In the case of Alain Godon when meeting him in person, the latter appears to be the more accurate conclusion. A graphic dexterity combined with a subtle composition of solid colours bestows each painting with a meticulously organised unity.
Flames roaring or confined, sinuous lines, a ballet flawlessly arranged enact a veritable visual incantation. The trees, streets, buildings, birds, cars, lights can either shrink or grow at the touch of the artist’s imagination. The skies in “The Last Sleigh” are ruby red, carmine red in “Ça glisse à Paris”, pink in “Yellow Shoes”, cobalt blue in “At the Foot of the Christmas Tree” and ultramarine in “Extravaganza” and evoke the starry skies of Van Gogh. The power attributed to the imagination, the return of wonderment that the Surrealists advocated, have schooled the young artist. It is also impossible not to acknowledge the influences of comic strip art that nurtured the Figuration Libre artists before him. As we are aware, it is not easy to define absolutely comic strip art, which finds itself at a crossroads of many artistic forms of expression: graphic art, cinematic art and literature. Graphic, cinematic and literary arts coalesce to form a truly new art.
With Alain Godon there is at the same time a passion and a great modesty when he talks of serious matters, of his artistic work. In this game where he walks about cities, in the midst of his buildings which he systematically subjects to convulsive distortions and which are now the foundations for his semantic material, he lends poetry to all things and offers us his vision as the virtual urban pedestrian that he has become. Alain Godon’s celebration of street life appears to be the displacement of objective truth into the world of children and of play. The artist’s intervention is now synonymous with a style that bears his hallmark. The landscapes of painters exist only within themselves. Whether wilting under the sun of the Marquesas Islands or huddled against the winds of Brittany, Gaugin infused the sands of his beaches in tones of pink, the universal colour of his dreams.
The BildoReliefo Adventure His characteristic energy and stubborn appetite for work pushes him further to seek, develop and master other disciplines. Without rejecting, as we can see, the constituent parts of the painting, the French artist is above all a man who lives and breathes the present, who immediately grasps the fabulous possibilities opened to him with the technological revolution and its new tools of global communication.
From early on, he is captivated by the photographs of Cindy Sherman and David Lachapelle. The new digital technology offers him glimpses of new fields of opportunity. The appearance of a car’s bodywork, this metallic brilliancy intrigues and seduces him. The internet and the computer do not leave this predator of the visual image indifferent to new artistic media. He puts his mind to work and the result is the creation of the BildoReliefo, meaning a three dimensional image in Esperanto. A word coined by his friend Hubert Konrad, co-founder of Art Price, and a man himself never short of ideas.
T he process of the BildoReliefo starts in the Picto studio with an enlarged photograph of one of his oil paintings on canvas. With a childhood memory in the back of his mind, the artist then reworks his base material remembering those little viewfinders where, in childlike wonderment and by turning a disc, he could see two dimensional images of the Queen Mary liner or the travels of Babar. This is precisely the image he wants to convey, by firstly separating the background in order to change, like Andy Warhol, the colour on each individual print. The artist’s print-paintings, through a clever process of fusion and reprise on which his imagination has been focused, will with time become an entire facet of his creative work. His enormous vital energy works on tirelessly. He systematically takes each constituent element of his work to create a new image and strives to recreate a shadow effect and, thereby, a relief image, which will take him to uncharted territory and to taste the pleasures of chance.
Naturally, we may surmise that the Bildos are the photograph albums of his dreams; dreams closely interwoven with his distraught awareness of modern nature in the immanence of time. New technologies, which he uses to advantage, give the artist a power previously unparalleled in the history of art; an occasion and an opportunity, which Alain Godon does not miss, to add a new dimension to his creativity. Emmanuel de Chaunac, senior vice president of Christie’s encourages the artist. Often attending his opening nights, he has become a friend and a valued mentor in this jungle of the art world and is a figure of importance in his mental landscape. As a 21st century artist, Alain Godon has no intention of passing up on one of the major milestones of contemporary creativity that uses the enormous potential of the computer revolution. He is also aligning himself with Mec Art and its systematic reproduction of the photographic image, a process elevated to a level of artistic creativity by Andy Warhol with his ready-made images. Hyperrealism would itself make use of photomechanical effects to analyse and enlarge detail. Similarly Alain Godon is, with his BildoReliefos, following directly in the line of his eminent forbearers.
BildoReliefo is the transformation of a single painting into a digital work of art after being subjected to numerous procedural alterations by the artist. The Bildos were a spectacular success with both the public and collectors alike when introduced for the first time by Hubert Konrad at the Tuileries in Paris at the Pavillon des Arts et du Design. They bear witness to the spectacular visual impact of this new experimental phase which Alain Godon has introduced into the majestic progress of his aesthetic journey.
He is without question a product of the cartoon age, but also of the Pop Age, less in the manner of the form he has adopted than in the sense that the artist never makes a judgment on the world around him in his paintings; a constant motif in the American movement and differing significantly from the French artists of Narrative Figuration who employ readily understood satirical or political imagery. In his paintings as much as in his Bildos, Alain Godon remains faithful to a very personal world, to its acid tones and affirms a mastery of colour.
Be careful, however: the artist does not simply whisper sweet nothings, which may be thought by some when they see the good humour, even joy, the naturally seductive charm that exude from his canvases. Be aware, Godon does not try to sweeten the pill. Certainly, the man is funny and derisive, and, it must be admitted, that the pomposity often found in certain artists is not one of his personality traits.
Extremely clear-sighted, he can also be direct and caustic, which at a certain time earned him enemies in his own “village”, but this helps us to understand his forays into sculpture.
The Sculpture It is in his sculpture where the truth emerges that the artist is not singing the praises of an idealistic and pure world. It is through the medium of his sculpture that he challenges the conceptual foundations of his pictorial work. Gone is the seductive and overly predictable finished product. In form it is assuredly classical, but there are elements which immediately pervert the original message. Some may claim it is kitsch, but Alain Godon likes to fly in the face of convention.
An artist’s work is often divided into different periods and attempts made to separate the most successful or the most spectacular. The artist approaches the uncertainty of sculpture from a completely different viewpoint. It is not merely copying a physical image or seeking an imitative quality, but using his ability to bring an idea alive. By completely and utterly throwing himself into his sculptures, Alain Godon is on a quest for an artistic medium of enormous power.
The narrative component introduced into Alain Godon’s sculptures literally causes an explosion of its fundamental meaning. We are not looking at a figure treated only in representative fashion but as a story. I was able to understand all this energy in one of his bronzes, which I saw in an apartment in the avenue Friedland in Paris, and felt the discomfort engendered by the image of a machine gun brandished by the gentle Bambi, fictional fawn of the famous cartoon film. Another example, by way of a well-known little bear, can be found in this book. A revelation. So there were two Alain Godons: the Alain Godon of the paintings and the Bildos and the Alain Godon of the sculptures.
It was Malraux who spoke to us of this silent dialogue between an artist’s different works, for him the distinguishing dynamic of art. Alain Godon is at the same time his own master and his own witness, carrying on this dialogue above all with himself. As we have seen, he can move smoothly from canvas to new technology, to then plunge vertiginously into sculpture, finally revealing a deeper side to his nature. His success is undeniable and the surprise is complete. In a single phrase: here art becomes language. He introduces a sense of disquiet and, by deflecting the essential meaning of his sculptures, he brings about a fundamental mutation and sets off with his eyes open on another adventure. It is the clash of the physical sculpted figure with this unexpected element that characterises Alain Godon’s work. This is the strategy he uses to shatter the conventional direction of the narrative, which we were entitled to expect having seen his paintings, and now, as we view the object, the meaning is immediately apparent. The emphasis in his sculptures is on the external, as in Art Nouveau and in design – that is to say arts with less of a focus on the internal structure of the object.
Through his sculpture Alain Godon plays a role rather more of challenging dialectician than of creator of objects that invite contemplation, and demonstrates most brilliantly the richness of his talents. Clearly, both an analysis and an overview of his work bring to the fore its tremendous logical organicity. Through the power of his imagery Alain Godon enters with great ease into the visual universe of the spectator and into his enduring present. The artist is all powerful and Alain Godon knows this. His fountain of creativity is not about to run dry and he can still surprise us, to the great joy of real lovers of art.
Henry Périer Doctor of History of Ar
Henry Périer has a doctorate in the History of Art. He is the author of many articles and art catalogues. The publication of his biography on Pierre Restany, one of the most significant international influences in art in the second half of the 20th century, has ranked him as a foremost specialist on New Realism, the European equivalent of Pop Art. As an independent exhibition organiser, he has staged many events, the latest in 2009 was the largest Bernard Buffet exhibition ever installed in France in forty years. He is also a leading specialist in France on contemporary Chinese art. Commissaire de l’Année de la Chine in France in 2004 with the exhibition “Chine, le corps partout?” at the Musée d’Art Contemporain de Marseille and author of the work “China Gold” published by Gallimard in 2008; an exhibition for which he was the consultant at the Maillot museum in Paris. Also curator of the Panda Fashion Show by Zhao Bandi in the Palais de Tokyo in Paris, March 2009.