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We will always remember what is to come

Saint Grégoire de Nysse


Much has been written already about Goudji and his art, unique amongst all. Who is he? A sculptor, a goldsmith, an alchemist? I see in Goudji a man immune to definitions, containing them all, and revoking them, one after the other. He has no likes... How could he be modern or archaic? The question is endless because it serves no purpose. At first sight, his creations encompass a landscape where the imagination jousts with history. It is in linking the East with the North that Goudji's genius shines through. He draws upon the geometrical and animal styles common to all ancient civilizations, which originally defined two very different concepts of space and time. One relates to the imitative iconography of primitive men, the customs of hunting peoples, and the observation skills of nomads; the other connects to the powerful, even linear patterns which were the legacy of neolithic art to the Bronze age.

Goudji is an artist, not just a craftsman, in that his gold and silver sculptures inlaid with precious stones and imbued with myths are based, not on some fictitious space, but on space itself. Starting with the inner space, where the most elementary yearnings of the soul are satisfied.


We have before our eyes a shimmering of rare colours, alive with orbs, spires, zigzags, curves and rhythms. The forms caught in an inextricable web are parts of the same network, and are engendered by it. Whether they follow purely capricious undulations or are drawn from nature, Goudji's works are like the veins of a Sufi design where a letter takes on a living form—here a flower, here a bird, there a bull—as at the same time its organic shape is transformed into a multitude of knots. The contemplation of Goudji's art is an infinite process: perfection lies not in circumscribing the finite, but in going beyond it. The unique result is the sum of all possibilities. A work of Goudji captures them all, and each one contains the tradition from which it sprung, without ever remaining closed inside it.


Although Goudji's relationship with ancient civilizations is both a mystery and a mark of his modesty and power, discussing Goudji only in terms of that relationship might miss the essential element. Let us make no mistake: it is the Etruscan statues that give Giacometti's their modernity, just as Brancusi is never quite so modern as when he is rediscovering the art of the Cyclades. From Crete to Guernica, it is the same divine Bull against which Theseus forever fights to the death. Painting the Minotaur, Picasso was aware that the labyrinth of civilizations is more open than the narrow perspective of critics, condemned to wander and be devoured, whereas, from age to age, the artist resists cultural shallowness to reach beyond. And amongst sculptors, neither Rodin nor Bourdelle could be persuaded to forgo their love of the original, naive art that breaks out in the smiles of the saints in the tympanum of Chartres Cathedral.


Along with these two masters, Goudji is truly a contemporary artist of the 20th century, even if this is of no concern to him. We all know the argument: either belong to your time or be ignored by your time. In truth, this is a diabolical dichotomy since Goudji is of his time precisely because he transcends it. He will be a classic appearing as an archaeologist when, in future times, nothing remains of the quarrels of our contemporaries. His work is not derivative, it invents itself. It comes not from the past, but from the future. Thus the elegance, as diaphanous as Rilke's angel, with which he fills space with timeless figures. In truth, Goudji is no more of his time than time can be fixed in any of his works inspired by the immemorial and prophetic breath of creation.


Béatrice Comte has written that Goudji's art is total. Artist or artisan? It is Goudji's glory that he alone knows forgotten techniques that he is able to transcend with his imagination. Surely the brilliance of Vermeer's work is the fruit of the wisest craftsman. Conversely, is it not absurd that our time, determined to speak only of "artists", promotes solely conceptual art, where a cliché can pass for the act of creation, and exalts photography and computer design which both use mechanical techniques. Philippe Sollers once said to me that fictitious artists who ignore the elementary rules of painting should be paid with fictitious money. Goudji knows his material to the tip of his fingers; he takes into account every quality of the stone he carves, as well as the complex language of the symbols he uses. Only Goudji can work on a necklace at the same time as the main altar of Chartres Cathedral. Every single one of Goudji's pieces contains all of life's spectrum. The smallest of his creations radiates the grandeur of his most audacious architectural work, just as his most imposing creations hold the finesse of his tiniest pieces.

This secret is called balance, in other words thinking in harmony.


As Goudji deploys his creations, several things catch my attention: first his phenomenal capacity to work combined with his amazing, constant creative renewal. As I was talking to him one day about the pianist Hélène Grimaud who lives surrounded by wolves, Goudji, who is not instinctively attracted to these animals as his natural preference tends towards less predatory beasts, immediately started a piece called "le sanctuaire aux loups". This masterpiece, where three wolves proudly protect the silver plate upon which they stand, reconciled the maker with creatures finally enacting the role Apollo assigned them: to be the guardians of his oracle. More broadly, Goudji's bestiary may be the most potent force against the obsession with destructive humanism, and overused image of man preeminent. By ofen rendering one animal within another, the snake becoming a bird and the bird becoming a ewer handle, Goudji liberates them with unprecedented beauty in time and space. Was it not the Prophet Isiah who said that when the wolf and the lamb lie down together, God's promise will be fulfilled? Even in his rendering of animals, Goudji searches not for a lost era but for the paradise to come.


And another important thing: just as the French writer Paul Claudel was marked by Chinese influences, Goudji, though of Georgian origin, is a French artist in the classical tradition of the 17th century France. He meditates endlessly along with Couperin's Leçon de Ténèbres sung by Alfred Deller, and converses daily with Poussin, his closest master whose self-portrait in the Louvre mirrors him in his Paris studio. He is drawn to classicism which he interprets as the balance produced by inner strength. One would be mistaken to assume that Goudji is a man exclusively directed towards antiquity. He blends the antique and the modern, as well as the particular Christian sentiment which France conferred upon the world, and revives all three sources of inspiration in all his pieces. He goes far because he has come far.


I will always remember the meeting between Goudji and Edmond Jabès, the great writer of the Livre des Questions. It was an amazing, moving meeting between a sculptor who had been forced to flee the hell of Communism, and a poet who never ceased to bear witness to the mortal wound of Auschwitz and the evil of Nazism; between an orthodox who discovered faith along with freedom at the age of 33 when he arrived in France, and a Jew who had never felt Jewish until he was expelled from Egypt in 1956; between two nomads, two loners, two true exiles riveted to creation as their only salvation. Edmond Jabès had come to one of Goudji's exhibitions. The man who one day wrote with a mixture of despair and hope: "At such limits, which desire would dare call itself desire, if not infinite desire, the untouchable sky below which all our desires have ceased to be, along with our limits; if not the heaven in love with the blue yonder?", this man who claimed to "know at last", simply took Goudji's hand in his and, without a word, smiled one of his last beautiful long smiles that lit up the soul.


Stéphane Barsacq




Graham Hughes introduces a triumphant, unique exhibition in London

Having myself been involved in silver and jewelry exhibitions for three decades, I know how difficult they are: the security may spoil the appearance, the lights may reflect on the showcases more than on the exhibits, the pieces are usually too crowded, so they acquire a cheap, meretricious glitter, the numbers and labels may seem more prominent or less reDined than the precious objects, the backgrounds may become scratched or dirty as the pieces are moved to obtain the best effect, coloured materials too often reflect in, and coarsen the subtle metals, finger marks which are at first invisible, become prominent as humidity changes on the opening night! It is a major task to mount so big a show as this, about 150 pieces of big tableware and heavy jewels. The showcase plinths are part of the gallery's standard furniture range, the ceramics behind the jewels in their wall-cases are chosen and designed by Goudji himself, as is the spacIous, dignified layout. The effect is of controlled magnificence, of dignity, of richness in colour and texture, of restraint in ornament and technique, of massive proportions combined with elegant lines. I must have seen thousands of modern jewel or silver shows, and I cannot remember one which has surprised and delighted me more.

The big bowls, jugs and mugs are mostly silver, often inlaid with slabs of stone, to give a lovely hint of Byzantine colour, or Romanesque arcading. The stones chosen are mostly of dusky, earthy tone, like the full red/brown carnelian so beloved by ancient seal engravers, or the blue lapis, the green aventurine, or the crystal grained with tourmaline inclusions, the quartz with rutilations. The surfaces are rippled with hammer marks leaving a limpid, watery glow, and the edges are thickened to give a pleasing solidity of touch. Here you can see the echo of a l9th century Russian drinking bowl, there you may find a cousin of the marvellous 4th century BC big jug found in the tomb of Philip of Macedon at Vergina, Salonika, or you may see a substantial memory of an English 17th century monteith bowl. But everywhere you will be impressed by the sureness of style, the f1ne, ~Sometimes the band ot stone inlay extends round the whole border: on one dish, nearly 150 pieces of agate have been fixed, flat and satisfying, in a continuous band round the edge, serving to give accent to the shape, and to provide a grip for the hand. On some mugs, similarly, the stone girdles may suggest where the hand may most conveniently grip the side. A huge silver table is rivetted all over, an amusing reminder of the Duke of Wellington getting his silver made 180 years ago, by the military arsenals of Lisbon. Sometimes an antelope by the base of a candlestick, establishes some ancient Scythian origin on the wild steppes, and demonstrates Goudji's mastery of organic form.

The jewels are olten gilt, necElets with clever magnet c~asps in front. You can pull the front open, change the lozenge-shaped group of stones and spring it shut again. Black stones may be commoner here, obsidian or even ebony wood, set to obtain a glow from their dark red or dark blue neighbours. The simple pear-shaped drop earrings often have balusters above, like thoseworn by the Roman maidens in the tomb pictures from Fayyum, Egypt.

The clasps or fibulas, less weighty than they look, might almost have ennobled an Etruscan princess. Goudji's vocabulary of ornament is extremelv simple, yet it has an arresting decorative qualitv.

He was born in 1941 and brought up in Georgia, whose Tiflis Museum inspired him with its antiquities from many countries, assembled in that great trading centre. In 1964 he moved to Moscow where he worked as an artist (precious metals were forbidden). He met his French wife through the French Embassy where she had come to help her fatherts theatre company for a few days, and where she eventually stayed for 8 years. Love was immediate, marriage followed, and, after a five year struggle for a visa, they went for good to Paris in 1974, with no money or job. At the age of 33, Goudji started his real life. He taught himself the art of goldsmithing, and he now practises in his small workshop with just one assistant. He works ten or twelve hours a day, sometimes more, and the present big exhibition represents no more than a yearts work for him: tribute to his speed and precision. It's an inspiring story: one landmark was the commission to make the ceremonial sword for Félicien Marceau's entry to the Académe Francaise, a piece carrying with it great prestige. Another, was Goudji's show in Lausanne which attracted the invitation for the present show in London, his first major presentation here.

The small world of artist goldsmiths and jewellers is always in danger of being swamped by big shops and mass production. A special bouquet, therefore, to ASB for their courage in launching Goudji with such brilliant style, and for themselves entering the field of precious metal with such panache. And a special welcome to Goudii who has arrived suddenly at the top of a tree which normally takes a life-time to climb. More original than Fabergé was, and less commercially inclined, he now joins the great names of the century like Puiforcat, Schlumberger, Gerald Benney, or Louis Osman.


The artist
Sacred Art