Interview with the French painter Michel Le Goff and art critic David Rose,
MLG: No, you haven’t missed anything.
It might seem incongruous to you being here onthe island of Hydra facing
the sunset on this terrace overlooking the sea to interview a painter who
lives here, but whose work does not blatantly seek to capture the unique
physical beauty of the landscape. In my own way I think that I respond
very much to this environment but my response is situated on an abstract
plane. You can understand that with a studio situated in such a tranquil
location, one is naturally dragged into contemplation. The many aspects
of the path to contemplation and the issuing surge of energy it brings
about are actually at the root of my artistic production. I believe
that my abstract works on canvas since the 80’s cannot be considered as
a series of individual paintings but rather as a continuum, a body of works
exploring the realm of two strange bed fellows: serenity and chaos. It
is the image of the interplay of this process with the Visual that I capture.
In short – my work is a pictorial research transferred to canvas and initiated by contemplation. And you are right; it is pure abstraction. On the whole, I am against figurative references in art that falls under the term “Abstract”. The “it looks like…” or “it reminds me of…” is really not what I understand by abstraction. If you read my catalogues, you will see that my paintings are often simply named Opus followed by a number.
Q. You use contemplation? Are you following some kind of Eastern meditation to achieve your art?
MLG : Not really no, at least not one I
have ever heard about. My contemplation is not religiously motivated either.
The approach I use is an attempt to leave a graphic witness of a particular
moment by a sort of gestural fulguration in a continuous brush stroke on
canvas. I freeze in time a significant form charged with the energy of
the cerebral activity brought about by my contemplation in progress.
And No! I don’t adopt a strange lotus
position or anything similar whilst I do this. I’d never be able
to paint such energetic paintings if I was frozen still. The contemplation
just happens in my neo-cortex discreetly!
Q. So what we see on your canvas, layers of lines in contrasting colours that zigzag and weave across the surface sometimes creating a psychedelic vortex, are they images that form in your mind when you loose your sense of Self?
MLG: In a way I am going against an artist’s
natural tendency, which is to follow the impulse to produce orderly arrangements
across a surface. Writers on the Chaos Theory will explain that throughout
evolution, inherent forces have conditioned the human mind to seek order
as a prerequisite for something to function well. My paintings unravel
that and I end up trying to walk the tightrope between order and disorder.
In nearly every one of my unpremeditated compositions is what I would call
an epistrophe; an area on the canvas the lines seem to gravitate toward
or terminate at. This is the result of that aspect of my brain controlled
by order that keeps leading my hand back to seek a controlling safe base.
Q. Which brings us to Hydra. You have lived for so many years on this small Greek island – so you are saying that this peaceful untroubled unpolluted environment is an essential part of your creative process?
MLG: This kind of painting process does not go well with the noise of the town, the social obligations, etc. Yielding to that kind of life would make me feel in the present creative process of my art, a “fraud”. The realm of abstraction needs serenity and isolation. I would experience great difficulty in being an urban painter living in Paris, London, New York or around argumentative people. Florence where I also live is about as urban as I go.
Q. Is there any intended message therefore behind your paintings that rejects or criticizes contemporary urban culture and the giddy heights of consumerism and materialism that dominate the cities you’ve mentioned?
MLG: There are those who need to know what
do my paintings represent or say, what is the message! And those
who do not question the works and naturally capture the holistic composition
and let themselves be drawn into it. To the latter, explanations are superfluous.
Let them enter the work, enjoy it, forget their Self in the painting, in
the viewing process, as I forget myself in the creating of it.
Q. Well that eliminates a lot of critics for a start. Are you suggesting your work is immediately accessible at face value to anyone and should not be analyzed and categorized?
MLG: Ask the man in the street and he might
describe my work as coloured random lines on a coloured background. I am
perfectly happy with that. But then, I understand that most cannot help
but make associations and although the painting may remind viewers of a
maze, of a cathedral window, of Celtic graphism without its symmetrical
counterpart, a rainforest, a Persian calligraphical attempt, a Zen scroll
a-la-occidental – it is none of those things to me. There is no mimesis
in my work, no reference to the Greek culture in which I am immersed on
a daily basis. The forms I create spring from the human brain a “mechanism”
unsurpassed in sophistication. In terms of artistic creation, the brain
leaves both computer-generated fractals and computer random generated forms
far behind. I believe that a human creation carries within itself seeds
of our infinite potentiality and this transpires only through direct human
intervention. You could say that a painting created by a human hand is
de facto, ‘transcendental’. The painting I created is pure energy and it
will live a life of its own distributing its own energy; it escapes me
the minute it is executed.
You know, someone told me recently that I am “a figurative painter of Music” as I painted last year a series of works sparked by the input of various musical compositions. I disagreed with this view as music is not concrete and I think in this instance, I have painted somewhat the abstraction of abstraction. In the coming exhibition in Florence of the works you will see, there will be only a couple of quasi-figurative works; a circle and a triangle. One represents a computer disk the other a mountain and both carry strong significance for me iconographically. Another work in gold, the pendant to a work now with Shiu Wing steel corporation in Hong Kong deals with magic squares, which I find fascinating mathematically.
Q. Yes, the circle, the mountain and the magic squares are unlike the path paintings because they are made of just blue pigment and real gold. Whilst your path paintings are your most recognizable works you are also known for your unusual use of gold and animal excrement. Can you tell me about that?
MLG : Hydra where I live most of the year has no cars only donkeys, mules, goats. The animal droppings randomly distributed are powerfully apt symbols of a disappearing world. I wrap them in gold because I believe we should treasure what they represent, a natural rhythm of life. I also like the perversion of taking an organic substance that is trodden on and generally despised, then glorifying it with man’s most coveted metal. Using mule droppings in my work is “the exception that confirms the rule” insofar as I never include any type of concrete reference in my abstraction. It is also a humble tribute to this island I live on and visually, they are compelling sculptural objects.
Q. And the gold? You use it in heavy quantities in some works.
MLG : Let me get this straight. I use gold
leaf that is almost pure, 23 karats in fact and fresh from the bowels of
Australia. Its raw purity as a material and its mercurial healing qualities
appealed to me. Nobody else I know of uses gold on canvas in the manner
I do. The reflective surfaces I create with the gold leaf create fields
of energy and offer endless contemplative interaction. I always employed
the line in relief though, to echo my path paintings somehow upon the gold
surface. These works on canvas of random three-dimensional surfaces with
gold inclusions are the result of the evolution of the polychrome chaos
inspired by the Topoglypte series I created in the seventies and early
eighties when I worked with a friend of mine, the American visual artist
Richard Lubovsky who worked in Paris and who unluckily died too young.
The difference with the Topoglyptes lies now in the monastic simplicity
of the random paths featured in my latest works.
Q. Why are your paintings so difficult to execute?
MLG : Everything has been pictured. A pot has been painted one thousand times. Copyists copy the works of masters. Whilst my Path paintings may appear similar to each other they are all unique because of the complexity of them. They rely for birth upon unique receptacles of my energy. It is impossible to replicate them. One could probably mimic some of my paintings but nobody could copy one. At the present, my work is like a global weather system: complex, deterministic and yet, the outcome is unpredictable.
Technically, it is important for me to
have the possibility to modulate the path of the brushwork as my contemplative
experience is not linear either. No authentic such experience is.
This is why I personally manufacture a lot of my brushes, I am at present
against flat brushes which give linear parallel boring path on the canvas.
Almost nothing is parallel, repeated or symmetrical in my paintings though
symmetry, structure and order are not excluded, it just is not prevalent.
I work on a flat plane – not vertical on the easel so I don’t have the
popular drippings and splodges. I am proof that to be spontaneous you do
not have to be messy. Although speed is essential when I paint, they are
slow paintings to execute because, after having applied the background,
I must apply my brush to only one continuous line that flows at a time
and let it dry for sometime. A typical work would at least require a dozen
sessions. For the sake of integrity of a specific work my initial sensitivity
to each session has to be somewhat constant.
Q. Your work, which is a result of your own contemplation, seems to be very egocentric. It does not as you said carry any political or social message or function. I would say it is anarchistic in concept and delivery. How do you justify your work and its value.
No artist’s work needs justification at
a particular moment in time, for the simple reason that artists are precursors
and what seems to carry no intrinsic value today is bound in time to reveal
itself within the evolution of the Visual Art. The Chaos of today might
be the Order of tomorrow. Besides, I totally disagree with you on the fact
that a work of Art has to carry a message. But since you raise the issue,
you should know that any of my abstract works, if one takes care to view
it at length, carries an important philanthropic quality, it allows the
viewer to take his mind off daily problems and to turn off, in short ‘to
relax’. Funnily enough, I was told that my paintings are quite therapeutic
for hyperactive people, tense people, people under pressure, etc.
Q. You say there is no preparatory work, no drawings, no pre planning but is there not any aesthetic intention?
I cannot say there is no aesthetic intention as there is in the articulation of the colours, which give an illusion of depth. The three-dimensionality is played up by the degree of intensity of the layers. That’s why I so often use strong contrasting colours. Furthermore, I believe that at various levels, we are all programmed to aesthetic endeavour in whatever we create even if some try to fight it.
Q. Yes you do use quite strong colours.
MLG : Well, chaos shouts, it is not a polite
thing. I emphasize the optical aggression of my paintings with the crudity
of the prime colours I use.