by Tony Clark
I last penned a report of the Galerie des Artistes at Retromobile in 2014, so what has changed? Memories can play strange tricks, but in 2014 it was stated there were 50 artists exhibiting, yet in 2018 the number claimed by the organisers was 60 artists in a space of 1000 square metres. But this year it felt as though there were fewer exhibitors? This was possibly due to the positioning of the exhibitors spaces, which had transitioned away from the two lines of booths into a more random scattered layout. Also the area seemingly had moved further back in Hall1, to be adjacent to the rear entrance from the exhibitor’s car park. Being slightly colder reinforced the feeling that they were out of the main thoroughfare.
Visitor numbers were hard to compare and I visited the exhibition on two occasions, the press preview and reception evening on Tuesday 6th February and again on Thursday 8th February. The visitor numbers seemed good and this has to be seen against the background of the worst snow seen for many a year; resulting in the motorway routes to Paris being blocked and the city bus service being suspended. It was said that the
criticism about harshness and changing colours of the artwork. But from a photographers point of view it was a lot easier to get decent images without having to use computer software to correct the white balance ‘temperature’ of every image. It was not perfect, but certainly an improvement!
So what was new this year?
Well probably the most interesting was the attendance of Jay Koka and his wife Cathy, exhibitors from Canada. I know that Jay will be writing his own impressions of Retromobile and I look forward to reading his
report. The effort of bringing paintings from Canada to France plus the logistics of hotels and transport is considerable and Jay should be applauded for his efforts. Jay had a good selection of larger acrylics on canvas; the one that I particularly appreciated was titled
‘Directions in Cartagena’ which featured a Mercedes-Benz 540K Special Roadster parked in front of a voluptuous naked lady bronze statue. Quite a surfeit of curves!(the bronze is "Gertrude" by Fernando Botero, in Plaza Santo Domingo, Cartagena, Columbia)
Of the other AFAS artists, Stanley Rose had a large double area featuring his cars and musician portraits. The paintings are large scale and one can but stand and admire the quality of the art, particularly the series of the old Jazz musicians which I much preferred to the more modern versions of Mick Jagger and Eric Clapton. Stanley was selling copies of his new book ‘The Wheels of Life’ published by Jamval Editions, a high quality publication featuring Stanley’s paintings split into different chapter themes. The text was given both in French and English.
The other AFAS artist was Klaus Wagger ( see autoartreview.com profile here ) from Austria. Klaus always has exciting large motor racing scenes that want to jump off the wall with noise and dynamism. It was hard to find a favourite, probably the best was a retrospective view of a Bugatti Type 35 sliding round the Station Hairpin at Monaco. Because of the large size and the lighting I found it difficult to photograph so I settled for an acrylic on canvas painting of Peter Collins in the Ferrari 246 Dino titled ‘Anglo-Italian Promise’.
Yahn Janou is a French artist ( see autoartreview.com profile here ) whose very loose modern impressionist work is being appreciated outside his native France. In fact he featured in my report on the RAC art show, November 2017 in London. I just love the pure colour of his paintings but always prefer to see a grouping of his art rather than just a single work.
Another artist that exhibited in London was the South American sculptor Esteban Serassio who had several bronzes on display. One that appealed to my sense of humour was the conversation between two dogs. The rich dog in a blue Delahaye Saotchik Roadster looking at the street mongrel running alongside, both dogs barking at each other. Esteban was sharing the stand with another Argentinean artist in this case a painter, Jose Maria Villafuerte. His work was mainly of racing scenes, his style being somewhat similar to de la Maria with the gold background helping the highlights. The painting of Fangio racing a Talbot in what I assume was the 1951 Le Mans Race was my choice.
Rafael Varela was another Argentinean artist showing his work at Retromobile. Besides some larger watercolours he had some very attractive groupings of his monotone and colour prints.
A quality painter from the Czech Republic was Yuriy Shevchuk, represented in Paris by his son. Shevchuk works in various media and sometimes in combination. An example of this was the scene from the 1964 Targa Florio with the Ferrari 250GTO which was an acrylic oils combination on canvas.
Closer to home was the German artist Hendrik Muller whose technique is close to photo realism and on his larger works one has to admire his fine technique. On one wall he had a large display of BMW paintings of both car and motorcycles.
Uli Ehret is a German artist that has travelled widely displaying his mainly watercolour art. His works are quite detailed but when he paints loosely his output has similarity to that other famous deceased German artist Walter Gotschke.
Martin Heukeshoven is an artist from Germany who creates distressed car sculptures from scrap materials. His rusty old hulks look as though they have been outside in the elements for many years. The 1930’s Buick hearse fresh from the scrap yard had sold by the second day.
There were two well known French artists who have been at Retromobile for many years Patrick Brunet and François Chevalier. Brunet draws his pictures mainly with a combination of sepia and black pencil. Often using the sepia to ‘ghost-in’ a driver’s portrait behind the harsher black pencil details of the car. A most effective and distinctive style. Chevalier is probably best known for the life size bronze of Williams’ winning Bugatti from the 1929 Monaco Grand Prix created some years ago. An example stands on the current race course. Fortunately, there was nothing so large on his Retromobile stand which consisted of smaller bronzes surrounded by books of his watercolours and drawings. The walls of his booth were also covered with his interesting art.
François Bruère is an established French artist having been the official artist for the Le Mans Race since 1996 and has exhibited widely including many venues in the United States. Similar to Patrick Brunet, he utilises a monotone sepia or blue background but the foreground vehicle is in colour.
Work by Dubost and Ehret (right)
A younger French artist was Sabastien Sauvadet who was displaying line drawings, watercolours and cartoons. Being an Engineer I always like cutaway drawings and Sauvadet was showing a very attractive collection of small pencil and watercolour drawings of cars half-cutaway. These were both standard road vehicles and racing cars.
Of a similar generation was the modern French painter Natasha Toutain. Her output was pictured in my 2014 report in which I said most of her art was on a Steve McQueen theme. It would seem that this is a winning formula, as besides other film stars such as Marilyn Monroe, the majority of her art featured McQueen. Her technique of combining small photographs into collage artwork with added graffiti is most effective.
The French have always valued comic strip and pop art far more than most nations. The original strips of Hergé’s adventures of Tin Tin fetch large sums in auction. Another valued comic strip is Michel Vaillant which commenced in 1957 about a French Racing driver. There was a display of enlarged Vaillant art strips of which the largest was the Monaco start line scene.
Raoul.W had a stand that combined very interesting structures including a 6 foot high weld-metal motorcycle. The most pleasing of his work was a wall hanging artwork made out of different colours of children’s toy cars. How many cars and how long did this assemblage take?
Increasingly at such car art exhibitions we are seeing artists using non-traditional bases like polished aluminium or stainless steel. There were several artists at Retromobile using such materials both as a basis for paintings, photography and computer generated art.
Work by Sandrine Blondel
One of the more successful artists was Sandrine Blondel who was using a polished steel background. Sandrine was a guest artist at Pebble Beach in 2016. She showed two themes of paintings – industrial buildings and car engines. Possibly not the most interesting subjects to paint but both themes were greatly assisted by the reflection from the steel.
Besides the paintings on plain metal there were also several artist utilising old car parts, either for sculpture or as a base for paintings. Caroline Bocquet seemingly specialises in painting on car hoods and trunks. The main problem with trying to report on such art is that they are very difficult to photograph as the reflection from the lights or the flash of the camera always seems to come through. Some artists were utilising reproduction car parts for display and Nicolas Dubost had a wall panel of car doors from famous cars such as Ferrari and Gulf.
In my 2014 communication I also reported on the art in the two major automobilia auctions concurrent with Retromobile. This year the paintings in the associated auctions were in very short supply. Artcurial Auctions had five paintings which included a very nice small contemporary watercolour by Gaston Maurie of Clifford Earp driving a Napier in the 1906 Gordon Bennett Cup Race. Bonhams Auctions were similar with five lower value paintings. However hat they had were an exceptional run of lithographic posters for the Albi Grand Prix from 1933 to 1948 excluding of course the war years.
So what were my thoughts on Retromobile 2018? The main feeling was that there were fewer artists displaying paintings and motoring sculptures than four years ago even though in theory the number of artists attending had risen from 50 to 60. This means that the numbers of people showing photographs, computer generated images and shiny bits of metal to serve as wall art have increased. I can appreciate many of these works and would hang them on the walls of the house but I still feel sorry that the fine art market seems to be diminishing. Back in 2014 I mentioned artists who were exhibiting but now are not around in 2018. I am sure they are still producing their work so why not be at Retromobile, which must be the principal European showcase for motoring art? Obviously it is the cost of stand/exhibiting in Paris compared to potential sales.
The Galerie des Artistes area has always been at the back of the Hall but this year it felt even closer to the back door of the car park. Possibly the inclement Paris weather contributed to the out of the way and colder feel. However, the routes to the artists area were well signed and the lighting although not perfect was a large improvement from four years ago.
My main conclusion is that I am unsure in my own mind as to what is art and what is decoration? But I accept decoration is an art form! All I can say is decoration is gradually taking over at Retromobile. Is this an indication of changing taste in art? Space and time does not allow a mention of all the artists at the show, apologies to those who I have not mentioned.