Rightly celebrated for his associations with Warhol’s New York, the legendary Esquire Magazine (with George Lois), advertising for Kodak, Chanel and of course Grace Jones. Goude has both captured and defined the people, mood and spirt of the times he lived through. He has been subject of retrospectives in Musée des Arts Decorative, Paris and Théâtre de Photo in Nice and is recognised internationally as one of the most accomplished creatives of his generation. And then there was the small matter of that photoshoot… you know, the one that “Broke The Internet”?
qWhat got you interested in dance, drawing and fashion?
My mother, no question. She taught classical ballet to the young girls from good families in Saint-Mandé, where we lived. Every year she would ask me to join in for the end of year performance. And every year I refused because for me dance was something only girls did. It was only later, when I was studying at the Ecole des Arts Décoratifs in Paris, where I was getting into American musical cinema, that I wanted to learn to dance. A way for me to get closer to the subject of my attention, to find out more.
On the other hand, I was always good at drawing. Of course, like every little boy of my generation, I started off by drawing soldiers, war, cowboys and Indians, et cetera…
Everything tipped the other way when I saw King Solomon’s Mines, an adventure film that couldn’t have been more ‘made in Hollywood’, but in which there was this long musical sequence filmed in Africa with authentic Tutsi warriors doing an amazing ceremonial dance. From that moment, I only drew people moving.
Which artists influenced you?
As a child I was fascinated by René Gruau’s drawings that were pasted up all over Paris. Later, through dance, I discovered Tom Keogh, an Irish-born American illustrator who worked for [choreographer] Roland Petit. His drawings were a cross between Marcel Vertès, Christian Bérard and Goya.
But what drove you to become a professional illustrator?
The love of American magazines of the time. Harper’s Bazaar for its layout and Avedon’s photos. Esquire for George Lois’s covers. Producing images of that quality for magazines seemed to me to be a worthwhile thing to do. A few years earlier, after an extremely promising start, my career as a fashion illustrator finished in bitter failure. It all started when the artistic director of the Printemps department store, Kimpy Baumgartner, suggested I cover the walls of the store with my drawings. They were brush and ink drawings, quite spirited, showing my little gang from Saint-Mandé with the new look I lavished on them. So not a great thing to do for a commission. But I’d forgotten that my role was to make a case for what the client was supposed to be selling. The fashion of the time that I’d been asked to interpret for the store was the complete opposite of what I considered stylish – it just couldn’t work. After a year the freshness of my first drawings had evaporated, and I was totally out of favour. I was barely 24 years old.
How did you bounce back?
Régis Pagniez, the art director of all the magazines run by Daniel Filipacchi, whom I knew a little, came to my rescue.
Which magazines did you work for then?
Salut les copains, but mostly Lui. It was a job that paid me enough to get by until something better came along, while belonging to the art scene in those days. Inspired by the work of artists such as Piotr Kowalski or Stephen Antonakos, my friend from the Arts Décoratifs Albert Velli and I came up with a furniture line in neon that was exhibited first at the Musée des Arts Décoratifs, then at the Milan Triennale. Unfortunately our furniture was too fragile to be transported, so the project was abandoned.
In 1970 the editor-in-chief of the famous Esquire magazine got in touch with you. How was the move from Lui and Salut les copains to Esquire?
It was a matter of luck. Harold Hayes, the eminent editor of Esquire at the time, was preparing a special issue on American life in Chicago. He had come to Paris to meet Jean Genet and ask him to join in with the project. My friend Charles Matton (who signed his work Pasqualini) had encouraged me to send Harold Hayes a portfolio of my work. He was interested, and he managed to get in touch with me while he was staying in Paris. When I told him that I knew Jacques Prévert, he asked me to introduce him, which I did just before he had to return to New York. Nothing more after that. A few months later, he calls me to say he’s looking for a new art director and asks me if I know anyone. I jump at the chance, and offer him my services. Three days later he calls me back and asks me to come as soon as possible and bring everything I own. Shaken by the speed of his suggestion – I was already imagining my hellish life with all those ultra-professional American journalists who would see all my faults – I decided to bring reinforcements and told him I’d share my new job with Jean Lagarrigue, my best friend and an illustrator like me
What was Andy Warhol’s contribution to the magazine in 1970?
We were preparing this issue on ‘The final days and total collapse of the American avant garde’. A presumptuous title that sums up the insolent tone of the magazine. For the cover, Andy Warhol was shown drowning in his Campbell’s soup, and he was featured inside in an article on the state of avant-garde theatre, notably about ‘the Theatre of the Ridiculous’, which put on a play called Cockstrong. Sitting in the theatre looking through the curtain that was purposely kept open, you could see an enormous erect phallus, which came out from the back of the stage as far as the last row of the orchestra, pointing right over the audience’s heads. Of course, at the end of the show the phallus ejaculated over everybody. Elegant, huh? Typical ‘entertainment’ of the kind that played in the New York underground theatre in the 1970s.
“Neither an illustrator nor a filmmaker, I’m just the author of my own fantasies, and the process doesn’t matter much. I’ve always told my own story.”
How would you define your artistic approach at that time?
Instead of following the trend at the time towards anecdote, my images were visual metaphors that were meant to give some sort of shape to the stories that we offered readers. Despite my fancy-sounding job title, I considered myself an apprentice and took the time to try things. People seemed less and less interested in drawn images. From my point of view, I figured that the lengths illustrators went to in order to imitate photographic realism were not only pointless, they also took a disproportionate amount of effort. You had to take an untold number of reference photos that you then transferred painstakingly to put the final layer on paper in order to compose the image. It was pathetically hard work. Giving up photographic realism, why not paint straight onto photos? That’s what I did at the beginning of the 1970s, creating painted images that looked like photographs. A titanic amount of work that sometimes took me a week to produce a single image. It wasn’t until the 1990s, at the beginning of the digital era, that I finally got to make my images in a more straightforward way.
Isn’t this practice of modification at the centre of your work?
Something I’ve chosen to call ‘French Correction’ – it has always been not only at the centre of my work but also in all the different means of expression I use. Whether it’s on an image or directly on the body using various prostheses, modification – morphological stylization – interests me greatly.
Was Grace Jones one of the great ‘French Correction’ moments?
Grace agreed to French Correction to make me happy. We were ‘romantically involved’. We were living together. No one tells Grace what to do: it’s whatever she wants, wherever she wants, with whoever she wants! She had already built a little reputation with her record La Vie en Rose, and of course she had this extraordinary physique, at the same time sublimely beautiful and grotesque, and that’s exactly what fascinated me. How could she be one thing, while at the same time being the other? On the other hand, on stage she was unmissable… dazzling, especially in One Man Show, although that was three years later.
How did you meet her?
Grace had heard about me in Paris when I was art director at Esquire. When I met her, I was writing a script with a friend for Andy Warhol about Chu Chu Malave, a beautiful young Puerto Rican boxer that he had a crush on. The fact that I was working for the famous Andy Warhol certainly played in my favour! When Grace asked me if I would help her out I jumped at the chance to see if my musical theatre instincts were well founded. I dived in without a second thought. But very quickly the passionate romance turned into a relationship that was a little too professional for her taste.
In your work one finds the wonderful world of the circus, this wondrous magical sense that a child has of this kind of show, or even a street show. What do you think about that?
In my first book, Jungle Fever, I evoked the rock at Vincennes Zoo, the Foire du Trône carnival and the Papous, fire-eaters that I went to watch practically every day after school. While my mother and I were fascinated by their performance, my father – irritated by my naïvety – got it into his head to restrain my unbounded imagination, by explaining to me that these Papous were only white men blacked up. I was wiped out, staggered, deeply disappointed by this revelation. Even today, I’m still not sure that it wasn’t fear of the ‘other’, the fear of the wild, that made me such a devoted spectator of this fairground attraction. Mystery always brings fear, makes an impression, intimidates us. Quite probably my sentimental adventures were a way of exorcising my fears.
Vincennes Zoo in Saint-Mandé is a sort of reconstituted nature, completely false, an artificial setting whose animal exhibits have influenced your work. What can you say about the presence of animals in your working vocabulary?
The rock at Vincennes Zoo was and still is an inexhaustible source of inspiration. It’s the source of everything that has inspired me artistically.
From Kodak to Perrier, via Citroën or Chanel, you’ve imposed your style and used advertising as a kind of laboratory for your own creations. In general, most advertising creatives are supposed to transform or transpose the vocabulary contained within their brief. But you’ve always taken on the unlikely challenge of ‘Goudizing’ the world with your vocabulary, your characters. From Orangina to Kodak, your images have a modernity as powerful as in your first clips.
Even if I often say the opposite, the truth is I’ve always considered myself an artist. It was only much later that I became aware of the line between art and the applied arts. I made my first film for Grace in 1982 on the roof of my apartment building on a total budget of $5000. The whole team worked for next to nothing. The clip was never distributed anywhere but Europe. Before Michael Jackson you never saw black artists on MTV. Three years with Grace without earning a cent nearly reduced me to poverty. And when adland got interested in me, I grabbed the chance, although not without an element of suspicion. Philippe Michel called me over to Paris to talk about the Lee Cooper campaign. Knowing nothing about blue jeans and not wanting to show off the virtues of denim, I suggested a mini opera which, I promised him, wouldn’t go unnoticed. With Grace, I gave in to the lure of the footlights. Now I firmly intended to prolong the pleasure. I could see this new adventure as part two, the second act of what I’d started with her. While my new characters entered stage left, Grace exited stage right. Just before Farida, hidden in the wings, came on for her part in my little theatre.
What’s still making Goude the sprite run?
You mean Goudemalion? Right now, he’s not running any more. He’s studying his belly-button and he’s scared stiff.
For more info: www.jeanpaulgoude.com