Henry Périer

  • Doc­tor of His­tory of Art

THELAND 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.

µ

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.