By Howard Bernstein
During a career spanning several prolific decades, director, illustrator, and photographer JEAN-PAUL GOUDE has created towering and irresistible visual icons, effectively changing the face of art and advertising. SPREAD ARTCULTURE interviewed Goude while he visited New York in January to attend the opening of "So Far So Goude," an exhibition of his work held a HASTED HUNT Gallery.
HB: Were are you from in France?
JPG: I was born in Saint-Mande, a neighborhood on the outskirts of Paris that one would qualify these days as a banlieu. Banlieue is a term that's been perverted; when I was born, banlieue meant "quaint little neighborhood"-it was not synonymous with roughness and delinquency as it is now. In my day, it meant middle class. My particular area was rather low middle class, very lovely and quaint. It's a neighborhood that actually stemmed out of a prewar event that was very important in French history, the Colonial Exposition of 1931. That event was dedicated to the French Empire and its colleagues. At that time, France had lots of money because it had lots of colonies, and the people in charge of the exposition recreated our colonies in the Colonial Museum, which is a museum that is still there (known today as Musee des Arts Africains, Oceaniens et Amerindiens), a fantastic, huge, art deco museum dedicated to (works from) Africa, Asia, and all the colonies that were inhabited by the French. (They also founded) the Vincennes Zoo.
HB: What effect did these places have on you as a child?
JPG: That has a terrific effect. The zoo was very spectacular. I made friends with the son of the chief guard of the zoo, and after school we'd have the zoo to ourselves and use it as a playground, especially when it was snowing. There were reproductions of different monuments like Angkor Wat, which was rebuilt in the middle of the zoo. There was a fake jungle, an African village, an American Indian village with imported American Indians-actually that was the American contribution, as there was no colony of ours in America. It was quite spectacular. The sets were so grand and very artificial, but to a child they were Africa, Asia. I still have a preference for ethnic mythologies, and it's because of this.
HB: Did you have a favorite animal?
JPG: I was a big fan of "Mowgli's Brothers" through Cub Scouts. "The Jungle Book" with Sabu was a focal point of my fantasies because I identified with him. The black panther was my favorite because it was the favorite pet of Sabu, and the tiger was the enemy. All this is, in a nutshell, the basis of my work.
HB: You have said that your mom was the star of your family.
JPG: My mom was American and had been a dancer on Broadway. She was very pretty and glamorous compared to French women, especially in that neighborhood- she smoked cigarettes, she wore red lipstick, she talked with a very thick American accent. It was always memories of Broadway. In fact, after the war, when I was very little still, her friends used to come over and we'd have a bunch of officers from the American army in our little apartment. They were stunning in their uniforms, brass everywhere, looking super-hip. Taking off their hats, they would start nervously crossing their legs; it turns out they were ex-dancers and choreographers. That was my first exposure to gay culture. And that's probably why I've always been very much at ease- I'm very interested in what they have to say, what they think.
HB: Tell me about your father.
JPG: He wasn't a bitter man, he was disappointed. He came from nothing, from an orphanage. His parents had died, both very young, so he was all alone, had no education whatsoever. In pre-war France, when you were in an orphanage it was almost like you were in prison or reform school. He and his brother came out and became handymen. My dad was extremely good-looking and he decided to go to America to make it. He had an affair with some very famous entertainer who took him to America. Not that he was a gigolo, but he profited from the ride, you know? She took him there, dropped him right in the center of New York, disappeared, and married a millionaire. He tried to make it, but it was very hard for him, as it was the tail end of the Depression. He actually started modeling for hats- he had a beautiful profile. He even ended up doing extra work on Broadway. He couldn't dance, couldn't sing, he was just good-looking and would stand in the chorus. My mom was costarring with Clifton Webb in a musical and fell for my dad. They were romantically in love for a while, and then he said he would come back for her when he got a real situation. He said, "this showbiz business has to stop. I have to get an education." So he went to night school, got a degree as an engineer, and seven years later went back to see my mom and married her, on Broadway, in a little romantic church near Joe Allen's- I'm not making up anything; it does sound like a film script, but its not! I have photographs of them in Central Park. Then they came back (to Paris) and war broke out. I came during the war in 1940.
HB: Your mom had danced. Did you have any interest in dancing?
JPB: No, no, not yet. I hated all that stuff, it was for girls. I was a little macho boy. But still, my mom was a source of pride, because she was pretty, she was a dancer, and she was exotic to the neighborhood. Eventually she started a little school, very modest but extremely creative. It was wonderful. She didn’t make a dime – my poor father, he had to pay. But she put on shows that were incredible. Because of the American connections and influences, the kids in the neighborhood didn’t get it, but they obeyed orders and would find themselves dancing to Harry Belafonte. I was an only child, which is why I was so attached to her. One day, she asked me to stand in – I did do a lot of dancing, stuff like that – she was desperate and asked me to save the day. One of her girls was supposed to be an 18th century duchess, but she was very ill, and my mother had based the whole show around her. She asked me to replace her. It was rough, because I didn’t want to dress up as a girl, but I did it anyway. That’s why I ran, in my book, his photograph of me in drag. I find it really funny.
HB: After art school at Arts Deco (ENSAD), you pursued a career as an artist and illustrator, until Harold Hayes called…
JPG: He asked me to art direct Esquire’s 75th-anniversary issue. I leapt at the opportunity. Later Harold called looking for a new full-time art director, and I proposed myself despite having no experience at doing layouts. Harold became a second gather to me. He taught me to be myself and have the courage to speak my mind. I am his protégé.
HB: At Esquire you had the opportunity to meet and work with Andy Warhol. What was that like?
JPG: We would go for lunch. Andy was always enthusiastic. We shared and admiration for a favorite illustrator from my school days. Then Andy would perform and intellectual judo, in which he would bombard you with questions about yourself to avoid exposing himself. Andy ended up on the cover of Esquire drowning in his own soup.
HB: Toward the end of your time at Esquire, you became a pioneer in photograph manipulation. Your ideas are still represented in the work of today’s most well-known artists, although they typically create via digital cameras and Photoshop versus hand-cutting Ektachrome. This was also the disco era and the height of Studio 54. Is this when Grace Jones entered your life?
JPG: Yes. I was introduced to her and then later photographed her for a story. In order to make it possible to show her simultaneously full frontal and in profile, I shot her in various positions. Then I combined the images into a montage to look like an Egyptian bas-relief. Grace has had the most profound effect on my career.
HB: You staged many of her performances. Tell us about one.
JPG: Performance art is a constant theme in my life. In one New York show, we had Grace singing onstage dressed as a tiger. We then pushed a large cage with an enormous Bengal tiger through a crowd of 6,000. The cage was brought to the stage where Grace opened the cage, and the place went pitch black. The music stopped. You heard the sound of animals fighting. When the lights came back on, Grace was in the cage singing and chewing on a piece of raw meat.
HB: How did you enter adland?
JPG: I was now established. The buzz was extremely positive. Philippe Michel, who was a legendary advertising person and had his own advertising agency, called me up and asked me if I would do a Lee Cooper ad. I said, “I know nothing about jeans, I’m not interested in the world of blue jeans, cowboys, and all that shit.” I couldn’t care less. “But, “ I said, “I really believe I could do something taking the premise of the jean and making it a mini-opera.” He was interested because I had proven that I could do things that were hip and at the same time commercial. So he let me do it, and I did that first little ad-very artsy. The music was Stravinsky’s Rites of Spring. We’re talking about 1982 or ’83. I did all the costumes and the makeup and all that; it was like a continuation of what I had started with Grace. In fact, if I may use such a metaphor to describe my career, I see a little theater, with just me, and from stage right come in characters who perform with me and leave stage left. So Grace Jones had exited stage left, but on stage right came in the characters of Lee Cooper, still being performed in the context of what I did. And therefore, advertising was cool for me because it was no longer a sellout, it was a way of expression that was legitimate, and I had money to actually do the productions – I’d never had that before, even in the world of entertainment, Especially for Grace, because Grace was a black artist and Michael Jackson is the one who broke the color barrier, not Grace
HB: Tell me about the French bicentennial.
JPG: In 1989, I was asked by the French government to put on a show to celebrate the bicentennial anniversary of the French Revolution. President Mitterand did not want any kind on nostalgic implications. So instead, we focused on one of the great principles: the rights of man. We asked the best singer in the entire world, Jesse Norman, to sing our national anthem. Chinese break dancers were brought in to perform as a symbol of democracy. We juxtaposed French ancient traditional music with African dancers and had them perform Swan Lake. Since it always rains in England, we asked the British to perform under artificial rain. Then for the Russians, it was artificial snow. For the Americans, we had a marching band that played the hits of James Brown.
HB: Your subsequent work for the Chanel was groundbreaking, the “Egoiste!” campaign.
JPG: That went big, again. Chanel is powerful and international, and everybody saw it. I had such confidence in me at that time because I had done the bicentennial parade. To pull off such a feat was very difficult, and I did it. I was sort of the hero of the day. So I was on a roll, as they say. “Egoiste!” followed, and it was me at my best, I guess.
HB: You recently worked on a commercial for Sarah Jessica Parker’s new fragrance. How’d that work out?
JPG: I think the concept is really good and the film is good. It doesn’t have the look of my previous stuff, it’s not theatrical. It’s an ad, and it’s also a moral tale. I always love to tell stories, even through advertising. And there’s space to do it – in 30 seconds you can tell a story. It’ll be out in the summer, and I think she’s great.
HB: You said you still haven’t done a film, Is that on the agenda?
JPG: We’ll, it was. In 1987 I was asked to do one by my advertising producer, Thierry de Ganay, a very rich, very successful, famous producer in advertising. Even though he has the worst reputation, I always liked him because he was bigger than life, like a fiction character. He was a mixture of Orson Welles and Al Capone. I knew that he was not all that trustworthy, but he liked me – it’s like being friends with the godfather, you know? You develop a friendship, and when he said, “Okay, this is big time. I’m putting money on you. We’re going to make a movie,” I said, “Great.” We tried several writers, but they didn’t work out because they proposed ideas for scripts that didn’t speak to me. Finally I told him, “I’m from the school were the author directs the film. I have to be the author.” I believe very much in being the illustrator of my own fantasies. Which is actually where illustration finishes and being and author starts. So, I went to work. It took me an eternity because I’m not a writer, I’m very thorough, and I was doing all this research. I ended up handing in my first version – it was huge. When you tell a story, you just imagine a dartboard, and you gather all the elements of your story from the outside and you shoot. I was completely obeying the contractual obligations. In the meantime, [Thierry and I] learned to know each other deeply, not superficially, like we’d known each other for years. And I realized he was indeed not a guy for me, and he realized that I was dangerous for him, and he wanted to pull out. And he’s not the kind of person to pull out because it cost him money. It took him a year to give the pretext “You didn’t deliver.” I didn’t deliver! I delivered too much! I even had dialogue in there, camera moves, descriptions of sets fight, I called a lawyer and prepared to sue for breach of contract. He, much smarter than I, had already started a process and sued me. It ended up in a ten-day trial in a high court in London. It was a battle, but I won, eventually. It was a trauma while it happened. The whole thing lasted for five years.
HB: It takes a piece of your soul away.
JPG: It did, but at the same time it enriched it. Everything that happened to me that may appear to anybody as negative has helped me a lot. After all this, I became very sick. Everybody is mortal, you know, it happens. So I decided to do what I do best: still pictures. There was a big market for me, a big demand. I started off with a public event in New York, an event for Hermes, in the streets, which was a big success. I ended up on the front page of the Financial Times. It was a big event, the opening of a new store, and [Hermes chairman] Jean-Louis Dumas was very nervous about not being a success in New York. He didn’t understand why Hermes was not accepted here.
Following that, the president of Galeries Lafayette, after having read the newspaper article, said he wanted to speak to me. So I went in with a friend of mine who has a virtual agency – that means he’s alone, he’s commercial, and a copywriter – and I was creative director. We talked directly to Mr. Galeries Lafayette, the Man, which was like night and day. Working for an agency is one thing, it’s fine, but you don’t get the story fresh. But you speak to the man who’s really concerned about his store, and you really understand what he wants. He’s not stupid, you know?
HB: Working directly with the boss, there’s no layer of protection.
JPG: Layers can water down the idea, and everybody ends up doing the same thing. But at Galeries Lafayette, we talked about the customer, the career woman, about style and fashion. He had no intention of being a fashion victim, of his behavior being dictated by luxury houses; he was looking for something else. And we gave it to him. So we had a contract for one year, and seven years later I’m still there. Now I think Galeries Lafayette has an identity, and we’re having such fun doing it.
HB: A full circle for you?
JPG: I hope it’s not the kiss of death…No, it’s fun, that’s all. Because I have a direct rapport with him. Whenever there’s a new poster or commercial, there’s reaction from him. He’ll argue – some things he doesn’t like, and he’ll tell you why, and it’s a wonderful experience. And to me, that’s not advertising, that’s just fun. And of course, I have other clients, like Chanel…But I wish I could do the more creative things at Chanel that I was allowed to do years ago. I did one last event that I really think was one of the bet things I did. I worked with a guy named Pierrick Sorin, who works with two – way mirrors – illusion again – and we did a wonderful to Tokyo, Taiwan, and we were supposed to end up in New York, but 9/11 happened. And it was goodbye, it was back to sell, sell, and spend as little as possible.
HB: It came around again, though.
JPG: I really hope so.
HB: What influences your work most today? Politics? Art? Music?
JPG: What I’m drawing from is this obsession with a story that I wanted to do called “The Queen of Seoul.” I’m interested in trying to put it onstage. I’ve been asked by several people why I don’t do any more theatrical performances. There’s a story there that’s very interesting, and it coincides with a lot of sentimental involvement with my wife, who is Korean American, very very pretty, and when I met her eleven years ago, I had this idea.
HB: You’re here in New York for your gallery opening at Hasted Hunt. What’s next?