Travel (virtually) with artist Bertrand Goalou

Bertrand Goalou is a French globe-trotting painter. He explores the world in particular Africa and Asia to capture everyday moments with his brushes and transform them into colorful paintings full of life.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is BG_picture-1024x730.jpgHe is passionate about the city and urban mobility. A passion that simultaneously feeds his art and his profession as an urban engineer. In this period of confinement, the artist launched a new series called #virtualtravels “I offer a new destination through my paintings every day. It is at the same time an approach to escape, share and exchange. ” 

He dreams of being able to resume his artistic travels as soon as the situation allows it and to collaborate with an author to “extend by writing and poetry the stories of my paintings.”
An artist in love with cultural diversity, exchanges and colors, who invites us to escape daily on his different digital platforms including his website or his Instagram @bertrandgoalou which he recently launched. 
Easy Rider on Jeepney, Manila, Philippines, Polychromos and Digigraphie® laminated on Dibond®, 80 x 60 (cm), 2019. Copyright © Bertrand Goalou.

What is your artistic journey?

The act of creation, art and voyages of discovery have always been part of my life. These passions are combined with my activity as an engineer-urban planner specializing in the urban mobility sector, now serving development institutions. I have a real passion for the city, its typologies, practices and sociologies, particularly the cities in emerging countries in Africa and Asia. These traits are strongly found in my artistic work and my paintings.

My artistic journey was nourished by practice, exchanges and discoveries. Without following an academic artistic training, I attended the School of Fine Arts and in parallel with my studies of engineer-urban planner, I evolved in the associative and artistic world.  Then came my first projects abroad, mainly in Africa. A revelation, experimentation and burst of color became essential to my artistic work. It was also at this time that “the individual” found his place at the center of my work.

This relationship between voyage of discovery and artistic creation has quickly established itself as an inexhaustible source of inspiration for more than 20 years. My paintings are mainly acrylic on canvas, often large formats. In recent years I have also developed a mixed technique combining polychromos and Digigraphie. I had the chance to exhibit in many cities in France including the iconic Pont-Aven and in several African countries at the repeated invitation of French cultural centers, such as in Niger, Cape Verde and the Republic Democratic of Congo. Each time very strong moments of exchange. On my website I regularly share my new achievements, new projects and temporary thematic exhibitions.

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Colorful Urbanscape, Anatananarivo, Madagascar, Polychromos and Digigraphie® laminated on Dibond®, 80 x 60 (cm), 2020. Copyright © Bertrand Goalou.

What is your goal through your artworks?

My work aims above all to reveal snapshots of life, nourished by light and meetings. I seek to capture the light and energy that emanate from the cities, places and individuals that I discover during my travels. My eye is resolutely optimistic, I try to reveal in my paintings the life, the poetry and the beauty of what surrounds us. We must certainly not ignore the difficulties and often the extreme poverty faced by the populations of the cities I draw. However, what interests me as an artist is to restore the beauty and energy emanating from the scenes that I observe and feel, to honor anonymous people. Each painting is born from a moment actually spent somewhere, the places and people appearing on my paintings exist. So I have long titled my exhibitions of paintings ‘haskan Ku’, ‘your light’ in Hausa (language with very many speakers in West Africa) to emphasize this idea of ​​restitution. 

My paintings are also a form of testimony. I document the city and its multiple faces, ways of life and practices, mainly in the cities of the south which are in full change. It is interesting to note that over the journeys, similarities and contrasts between the different cities emerge through the series. 

My strolling process really consists of strolling around the city along a common thread while trying to get lost and see where my steps lead me, sketchbook and pencils in the bag and iphone in my pocket. It is always an opportunity for discoveries, wonder, meetings and unexpected and unique moments. These are the moments of immersion and letting go that I then seek to restore in my paintings. By the color, the line and the solids, my goal is to suggest these moments with as much authenticity as possible. 

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Passing by the Market, Lagos, Nigeria, Polychromos and Digigraphie® laminated on Dibond®, 80 x 60 (cm), 2018. Copyright © Bertrand Goalou.

You are a globetrotter artist, where did this taste for travel come from?

This is explained by an insatiable desire to go to see, a curiosity fueled a little more with each new discovery. Our world is beautiful and full of diversity. He has so much to offer. I like the name of globetrotter artist very much.

Who are the artists who have influenced or influenced you the most?

I love art in all its forms. I admire and feed on the works of Jean-Michel Basquiat, Paul Gauguin, the sculptor Ousmane Sow, the contemporary artist photographer JR, the urban stencil artist C215 (Christian Guémy), the graffiti artist and painter Bansky, and carnettist artists like Tituan Lamazou and those put forward by Michel Renaud. The works of the great Italian painters of the Renaissance have always fascinated me. Music and soundscapes inspire me a lot, another form of art.

I like the medium and frank colors, yesterday under the brush of Gauguin and that of the impressionists and today under the stencils and the bombs of C215 or Bansky. I also like when, when combined with color, the spontaneity of the act of creation transcends the work. This urgency of creation animated the prolific Basquiat. The virtuosity of Italian Renaissance painters has left us works marked with crazy poetry, sometimes light and often tragic, and where individuals and emotions are the central elements of the paintings. Ousmane Sow’s monumental sculptures exude incredible power. The exhibition of his works on the Pont des Arts in Paris about twenty years ago and this message had really marked me.

Monumental photographic collage techniques by artist JR transform pieces of entire cities and urban panoramas into works of art. I highly recommend the TED Talk he gave in 2011 (JR – my wish: use art to turn the world upside down). I really like this idea of ​​giving art back to everyone as they do, and of being able to transform the city while alerting them to social issues. The artist C215 offers portraits of illustrious characters and anonymous people with identical treatment and the constant choice of ‘admirable’ men and women.

I love curious artists from the world around them. The testimonies take different forms and sometimes that of travel diaries like those of Titouan Lamazou. These traveling artists owe a lot to Michel Renaud who in France has largely contributed to developing this art form. Journalist, sociologist, photographer, ambassador of the French-speaking world and above all insatiable traveler, he founded in 2000 the ‘Rendez-vous du carnet de voyage‘ which quickly became the annual benchmark event in this field in France. Unfortunately, he was the victim of the appalling Charlie Hebdo attacks in Paris in 2015. Today, this annual meeting and its motto ‘you have to go and see’ continue to inspire traveling artists. Travel drawing is an art form in its own right.

Donkey cart, Cairo, Egypt, Polychromos and Digigraphie® laminated on Dibond®, 80 x 60 (cm), 2018. Copyright © Bertrand Goalou.

Tell us about your current project #virtualtravels

It is about going on a daily travel through art. The concept is simple, I propose through my paintings a new destination every day, on my online gallery and on my Linkedin account during the current period of confinement. It is at the same time an approach to escape, share and exchange. 

This journey through art takes us repeatedly to Africa and Asia, mainly in Egypt, Ethiopia, Niger, Nigeria, Madagascar, the Philippines, Pakistan and Tunisia. 

This project started in March 2020 and was born from the current context of a global pandemic. This health crisis affects us all to different degrees, its impacts are terrible and very anxiety-provoking. The containment measures imposed on almost the entire planet are unprecedented. In this period of adversity, we also note that energies are mobilized and that everyone seeks to make themselves useful to the height of their capacities, sometimes revealing a potential for adaptability and unexpected creativity. Art in all its forms has as always a role to play and we can count on digital and social networks to disseminate new projects. 

The works are selected from the double angle of contemporary art and urban mobility. It fits my two hats and also my two communities. 

I am very happy with the real enthusiasm that the project is arousing. The most important for me is to encourage exchanges and sharing of experiences. As often in front of a work of art, everyone has a very personal reading. Spontaneously, the art lover and the artists share their impressions, the travelers their anecdotes, the professionals of mobility and town planning their understanding of the places, their projects. Now, every day, I invite a few eminent people in the field of urban mobility and art to share anecdotes from the angle of travel and mobility. 

#virtualtravels has become for many a daily getaway, a parenthesis at the end of the world. Each painting belongs to a series relating to the city in question, and it is possible to extend the experience by consulting the complete portfolio on my online gallery. Finally, I am happy to note that the audience is truly international with connections observed in over 30 countries. Beautiful illustration of the words of André Malraux, ‘it would seem that art, is the shortest path from man to man’, which take on a particular resonance in these times of confinement!

No one can predict the end of global deconfinement, only one certainty it will end and until the resolution of this crisis I intend to continue this project and continue to offer new destinations of #virtualtravels and generate exchanges day after day.

Do you have an anecdote to share about your artistic travels?

Travel and especially strolling are extremely conducive to anecdotes. The person who draws what surrounds him both intrigues and amuses. Passers-by do not always understand the interest that one can find in drawing their environment which they often consider so insignificant. People come very often, exchange a few words and joke easily. They have fun recognizing their friends in the drawing, and sometimes make fun of them a little. In almost all cases, this moment of exchange is simply appreciated as a mark of interest and consideration. 

To keep only two, I will quote this time in Morocco, where the drawing was the starting point of an invitation to drink tea and then have dinner. A unique moment spent in the village of Ilmil (at the foot of Djebel Toubkal). The beauty of this spontaneous invitation, the flavors of the dinner and the exchanges during this beautiful starry evening. And also, at the end of this same trip to Morocco, the memory of having forgotten my complete drawing book on a train. This is my first sketchbook of completed travel drawings, which ultimately became an ephemeral work with a very limited lifespan! The art for art and the understanding that the important thing was to have lived this journey fully and all these moments to draw.

In Ghana, the memory of having spent the afternoon drawing children playing soccer and not being able to refuse to give them all the drawings at the end, they were so happy and proud to see each other. It was before the iphone and so I could not keep any trace of this beautiful afternoon spent on the beach of the port of Elmina. And yet, I still have each of these drawings very clearly in mind.

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Enter a Colorful bus conductor, Peshawar, Pakistan, Polychromos and Digigraphie® laminated on Dibond®, 80 x 60 (cm), 2017. Copyright © Bertrand Goalou.caption

What would be the project of your dreams?

I have a lot of artistic projects in mind. Among them of course, continue to travel to new countries and return to the countries that I love, to paint them again with a new eye and new techniques. Then to exhibit the series in each of the countries where they were born, the restitution on the premises itself is an essential dimension of my work. Continue to make them live online and try to make friends and lovers of art. It would already be a real artistic achievement.

The project I would like to launch in the short term is a collaboration with one (or more) writer, or journalist. This project would consist in seeing extended by writing and poetry, the stories of my paintings. Reading and discovering what they inspire and seeing it transcribed by the pen would add a very enriching dimension to the experience offered. This obviously involves an artistic encounter. The project could take several forms: exhibition offering a visual and sound association (table + text + reading) promoting immersion through the imaginary, online gallery according to the same principle (immersion through the virtual imaginary), and obviously under the form of a beautiful book or series of books. What a beautiful project !!

Now in terms of the artistic project of my dreams and therefore a little crazy, it would be a long-term collaborative project on several continents. The work of monumental photographic collage by artist JR particularly resonates in me as much in form as in substance. This nomadic project would therefore be a work on the city on a monumental scale, by the collage of prints of works coming from the districts where they are glued and thought according to the places; an alliance and a direct dialogue between the urban and art, my two passions. 

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