by Tony Clark
Retromobile is a huge show that covers three large halls at the Parc des Expositions in Paris. It is all undercover which is fortunate as Paris is normally cold and wet at this time of year. We were lucky in 2019 with mild weather compared to last year which had heavy snow paralyzing Paris and reducing attendance at the show. The attendance at Retromobile was 132,000 during the five days, and two artists I have spoken with confirmed good business.
In last year's report I commented that the artists’ gallery was at the back of Hall One ‘in the cold’ out of the main flow circulation. Well this year the gallery was in a prime position at the front of the hall by the main entrances.
The gallery consisted of a shell scheme with black walls made up into individual or up to treble space stands. According to the guide there were 53 participants with the stands laid out in a double row ‘L’ shape. This seemed a very good layout which provided interest as one walked along often seeing art on the side walls of the shell not seen when
approaching from different directions. The 53 participants seemed a similar number to previous years and ranged through the whole spectrum of fine art, illustration, sculptures, weld metal creations, photographs, laser imagery and wall decoration.
So what of the AFAS artists?
"Bourdonnais et Rapp", Jay Koka
"Sophie's Choice", Stanley Rose
"Splash and Dash, Klaus Wagger
Three members Jay Koka, Stanley Rose and Klaus Wagger were back this year. The surprise was that in spite of all the weather and logistics problems last year for Jay Koka and Cathy to come from Canada; he had found time to get out in Paris to gather reference material for two large paintings.
One showed an exotic Delahaye in front of a crowded French Café. The other was a Ferrari 275GTB near the base of the Eiffel Tower. He also had a third eye catching large painting of the ‘Star of India’ Rolls-Royce at one of the gates to the Taj Mahal. This is a splendid colourful piece with the orange/aluminium of the car matching the fine clothes of the people and drapes of the elephants.
Stanley Rose had a superb collection of large oil paintings, featuring principally jazz and rock musicians but also including portraits of people with a background automobile. The outstanding piece was a woman with a light diaphanous mauve dress standing in front of the headlights of an old Bugatti racing car. The light coming through the skirt highlighted all the folds and creases plus there was a subtle change of material colour from mauve to pink and yellow of the headlights. This painting titled ‘Sophie’s Choice’ was my pick of the paintings to take home at Retromobile. Stanley also displayed a painting of Michael Schumacher standing in front of his Mercedes F1 car.
The painting was very grey overall with the car, background and driver’s suit all merging. The main relief being the red helmet with a serious looking Schumacher. This was a sad and moving piece of art.
Klaus Wagger is well known for his exciting racing scenes where the cars leap out of the canvas with strong colour and speed. His display this year was no exception His vintage Bentley paintings are always a delight. However, I preferred a very wet Sebring scene of an AC Cobra battling through a wet and windy scene entitled ‘Splash and Dash’. What atmosphere!
In addition to the three members, three AFAS Associate Members were also displaying their art.
Sandrine Blondel had a mix of automobile and industrial/urban art painted on brushed aluminium. Several of her engine portraits were on show; the most attractive was a study of a Porsche 911 engine and attachments.
Hendrick Muller is known for the quality and detail that he transfers into his pieces. His work is photorealism and one has to admire his skill. The study of the grill and lights of a Lancia Astura Series 4 was outstanding. I do find his art fascinating and could have spent more time on his stand.
I have always loved the colour and looseness of Yahn Janou’s paintings of racing and racing cars. As I have commented before, I prefer the whole effect of his display rather than the individual pieces. The reason being each piece has a dominant pure colour and the grouping gives an excellent effect.
There were another 40 plus artists exhibiting...
It is not possible to mention everybody and I can but highlight art that took my interest.
The prominent stand at one end of the gallery was dominated by large weld constructions and other art by Raoul W. Unavoidable was a large welded metal chrome lobster complete with wheels, lights, horn etc. The other large piece that I thought great fun was a cut down orange Mini car that was full of clockwork mechanism with a large wind-up key protruding from the roof.
Raoul W is also known for his framed model car composite artworks of which he had several on show.
The most amusing sculpture at the show was an old 2CV Citroen car caught in a giant mouse trap which had a can of petrol as bait. (see top of article)
Whilst thinking of sculptures, I am always drawn to the bronzes of Francois Chevalier who had a table of small bronzes surrounded by folders of his watercolours. The quality of his art deserves a better display.
The only British (Resident) artist was Jonny Ambrose who I first encountered at The RAC Art Exhibition at the end of last year. He was showing his bent wood sculptures. I found his car depictions to be very effective,
particularly the front view of a Bugatti; but similar race circuit layouts were a bit more obtuse. Whatever you call it: art, modeling, sculpture ?
The work of the German artist Martin Heukeshoven is unbelievable. Martin works from original materials (not kits) to produce miniatures of as found vehicles rusting away. He employs many skilled techniques such as using acids to simulate the patina. This year he showed an ancient distressed GMC wrecker truck where in the grab was the remains of a Ferrari 250 GT SWB. The total model was approximately 4 feet long and was entitled ‘Too Late’.
The Pop/Street art of French artist Yann Penhouet was different and eye-catching. His paintings on wooden panels were a collage of images with old posters and graffiti aged with strips of the paper torn away to give a further feeling of vandalism.
The base poster was often a famous motor racing poster by artists such as Geo Ham and Michael Turner, several originally from Monaco in the 1960’s.
A painter whose work I always admire is Francois Bruere; obviously he is also appreciated in his home country as he is the Le Mans official artist. Normally his depictions of automobiles are in soft colour against a sepia
or blue detailed background. I particularly like his study of three Porsche cars against a main dealer’s forecourt.
Another French character known worldwide is Michel Vaillant, a racing driver created in 1957 by the French artist Jean Graton. The ever popular comic series continues to this day, the art now being drawn by the Vaillant studio. Vaillant had a large triple stand selling enlargements of some of the comic illustrations.
A regular at such shows as Retromobile is Natasha Toutain whose collage style of art using part photographic detail in her large portraits of the stars, particularly Steve McQueen and Marilyn Monroe. This year, the star portrait was a full length crouching study of Ayrton Senna, the artwork of the driver was in charcoal with his helmet at his feet in full colour.
The background was mainly blank except for felt tip pen Senna graffiti of his fans.
One stand you could not miss was Benjamin Freudenthal’s display of very large paintings. He had various works on his stand and side panels. The more unusual picture was a scene from the grid of a motorcycle race with the rider of an MV
Augusta adjusting the straps of his helmet with help from a female companion.
At Retromobile there is always a presence of South American artists. Rafael Varela concentrates on speed and motion and he was working live at the exhibition. At the time I looked over his shoulder he was doing a charcoal sketch of an Alfa Romeo. Villafuetre from Argentina had canvasses along with Esteban Serassio who produces excellent racing car bronzes.
During Retromobile there are always sales by leading auction houses which often contain paintings and art. This year there were sales by RM Sotheby’s, Bonhams and Artcurial. RM had a few lots of automobilia (nothing of interest) as a ‘curtain raiser’ to their motorcar sale.
Bonhams had a good selection of automobilia but only two lots of original art – a Hispano Suiza styling drawing and four early Englebert advertising panels. However they did have an excellent collection of car mascots. These miniature sculptures often made of bronze are a work of art in themselves. It is sad that many have been copied with later castings so one is unsure of the authenticity.
Artcurial had their sale in one of the halls at Retromobile which in fact was three auctions over two days: one for motor vehicles, one for racing driver’s helmets and race suits, the other was automobilia. In the automobilia sale were original paintings by Montaut. Geo Ham, Rene Vincent, Carlo Demand and Bryan de Grineau. Of particular interest to our North American readers was the appearance of three Stanley Wanlass bronzes. They were his castings of Free-Wheelin, Fast Company and Two Thoroughbreds. They respectively sold for US$8,850, $13,000, $10,325. Cheaper than I would have expected them to sell for back in the USA.
Overall I felt the art at Retromobile was an excellent show; last year I was worried by the increase of bright shiny wall items which lead to me questioning what is art and what is wall decoration.
This year I was very happy with what I saw.