- President of Artclair Editions and Editor-in-chief of Journal des Arts and of L’Œil, France
Artist and benefactor
Alain Godon is unique as an artist and benefactor. A benefactor in the true sense of the word. Not a benefactor in the manner of many famous artists who bequeath a part of their works with the express condition that these are to be exhibited in a museum gallery, or better still in an entire museum, which will bear their name until the end of eternity. Not a benefactor in the manner of wealthy collectors who establish eponymous foundations to show their collections. Not a benefactor in the manner of those large FTSE 100 companies who maximise corporation tax benefits by donating funds to major exhibitions or by purchasing acquisitions for the National Treasure. No, Alain Godon is a true benefactor, generous and selfless.
Over the last four years he has, in terms of his own time and money (which more or less amounts to the same thing), financed the Festival of Le Touquet, an art festival open to everyone. It takes place over the first weekend in July in this seaside resort whose opulent sprawling residences, surrounded by manicured lawns, expose a bourgeois community devoted to this small sheltered island. A haven of peace, which every year is shattered by the thousands of bikers who come to watch or take part in a motorocycle endurance race over the magnificent beaches on this stretch of the Channel. But, at the beginning of summer, it is a more peaceful horde that swarms through the Palais des Congrès and the neo-medieval structure which is the town hall. This is a horde of amateur and professional artists and art students, who bring along wife and children, and who come to exhibit their work. All this without paying a penny. Because, like a limpet, Alain Godon is sticking, to his tenet of “free”. No subscription charge, no exhibition charge (as is usual at such events in order to cover overhead costs). For him it is important that no barrier, except that of talent, should prevent an artist from taking part in the competition.
Alain has an account to settle with money. He doesn’t come from an impoverished background but he did spend many years in want. He can recall the times when, to have money for food and a roof over his head, he drew chalk paintings on the pavements of Brighton. He knows what it is to go without and of the ignominy of hardship. And now that he is a prominent and recognised artist, the only payback he actually seeks after those difficult years is to help others avoid the same. Now a rising star, Alain Godon is a million miles away from the common perception of people with money. He doesn’t count the pennies, he doesn’t quibble over costs and it is he, more often than not, who pays the bill even when not his turn. Moreover, he does it discreetly, neither ostentatiously nor egotistically. The prize awarded to the winner of the Festival is a good example: 10,000 Euros and in addition, varying from year to year, a holiday in Martinique, plus a trophy, plus an exhibition in a gallery, plus an installation in the museum of Le Touquet… It seems a lot, perhaps even too much, for a young artist starting out. But this premature Christmas gift is important to Alain and, in his subconscious, this puts right those difficult years.
But underlying all this, the best reward is the opportunity to show your work — a gift to the hundreds of participants. As an artist himself, he understands how important it is to exhibit your art, to stand up in front of your peers, to be in the gaze of the public and judges alike. The work of an artist is solitary, but there is a time for isolated work in the studio and a time, formidable and awesome, to be in the spotlight at an exhibition. The two are inextricably linked. At the end of the day, there are few opportunities or places for these thousands of artists to show their work. Just exactly how many of them are there? La Maison des Artistes lists around 50,000 who more (very few) or less (by far the majority) make a living from their art. But there are ten times this number playing with their paintbrushes, their coloured pencils or the shutter on their cameras. And while awaiting glory, a gallery exhibition, which will never happen to the large majority, they show their work in the collective exhibitions which weave their way through France, in shows which are usually called art exhibitions – bear in mind that after Marcel Duchamp everything can be art.
The Festival of Le Touquet is not like these other shows; it is more of a festival, more of a public festivity than a formal exhibition. With Alain Godon’s stamp: everything with a blend of professionalism and charming lack of sophistication. It is not some sort of provincial feast day. The majority of art shows, as enjoyable as they may be, are generally limited to fifty or so exhibitors, at the most a hundred. The Festival of Le Touquet is on a different scale with its 500 participants. Far from being located in some unprepossessing venue, the exhibition is held in the delightful neo-medieval building that is the town hall, and in the very chic Palais des Congrès. Alain Godon makes no attempt to hide his egalitarian political beliefs and these are evident at the Festival. “One artist, one metre”, that is to say each person receives the same treatment and is allocated the same space at the exhibition. In the first two years the paintings were merely positioned on chairs one next to the other and formed a long snaking line through the exhibition rooms. In the third year, picture rails were introduced, and in the fourth year the artists have been promised that they will only need to scribble their name and the technique on a scrap of paper. Alain Godon is the soul of the exhibition; like a Club Med Gracious Organiser, in his shorts and his Festival t-shirt he doesn’t stop running from one place to the next, talking to the artists, placating those with a grouse, spurring on the more timid, making speeches, gently ribbing the mayor, looking after the VIPs. He is a constant surge of energy.
Any attempt to find any of Alain’s works of art here would be in vain. Here, in the same place where so many exhibitions have been organised either by or for this artist, the star at the Festival of Le Touquet, guest of honour every year, is Alain Godon and not his work. He doesn’t need it. His works sell even before he has started them and, furthermore, his order book is full several years in advance. For him a day spent organising the Festival is a day lost in terms of work, a day longer for his collectors to wait for their paintings — collectors, or rather, his fans. How many residents of Le Touquet, especially the women (as he is a good looking guy with the appearance of d’Artagnan), bombard the artist with requests for one of his works? I have myself been witness to this on more than one occasion, including during the opening night at a gallery in Paris to which his fans had travelled.
Yes, of course Alain Godon likes being centre-stage in front of a microphone, likes people and likes journalists. He needs to be loved for what he is and acclaimed for his work, because success came to him all of a sudden and he finds it hard to believe. These days he operates on a global scale, but the notion of entering the annals of Le Touquet as a sort of Medici patron appeals to him. And should the Festival, in terms of visual art, become the equivalent of the Vieilles Charrues as in music, or Angoulême as in comic strip art, then it would be very well deserved.
President of Artclair Editions and Editor-in-chief of Journal des Arts and of L’Oeil, France