Jean-​Cristophe Castelain

  • 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.

Jean-​Christophe Castelain

Pres­i­dent of Art­clair Edi­tions and Editor-​in-​chief of Jour­nal des Arts and of L’Oeil, France