Emergence of an art

By Jacques Santrot,

Director and Curator of the Thomas Dobrée Museum


Goudji was born in 1941 in Borjomi. in Soviet Georgia. His father was a doctor and his mother taught natural sciences.They lived in Batoumi, a small seaside resort on the shores of the Black Sea.At the age of 18, he entered the Academy of Fine Arts in Tbilissi, majoring in sculpture. There he was taught painting, sculpture, graphic arts and art history by very talented teachers. Three years later , in 1962, he was forced to leave Georgia while he was on holiday in Batoumi, several of his friends were caught trying to cross the "Iron Curtain" by swimming to neighbouring Turkey. Suspected of possible complicity, Goudji escaped to Moscow where he initially lived in secret.

While reading books on art history remained his consuming passion, he eventually found a job in a "kombinat" where he was responsible for the design and creation of models for toys and ornaments made of alloy and destined for mass production. His competence and creativity were soon recognized, and, at the age of 23, he became a member of the Soviet Artists Union, the youngest member ever tobe admitted to this renowned institution.

However, refused to work for the glorification of the regime and limited his contribution to designing items for interior decoration and monumental iron gates. He also created models for commemorative medals and designed stamps. But, most of all, he took advantage of opportunities to travel and meet other creators, while continuing, Goudji met, observed, imitated and assisted two old goldsmiths who beat copper, day in, day out, producing the same pots and pans for sale on the market.This was to be his only training in an ancient craft that can only be passed down by apprenticeship. Two months later, he knew how to beat copper, work repoussé metal, weld, rivet, and tin.

On his return to Moscow, Goudji met Katherine Barsacq, daughter of André Barsacq, then director of the famous "Théatre de l'Atelier", in Paris. Katherine, was working for the French Embassy. In spite of innumerable problems, they were married in 1969 and sought to obtain an exit visa for France. Rejected as a pariah by Soviet administration and society, Goudji had to wait five years before obtaining the visa, during which time he had no job and no orders. He took advantage of this time to discover and master the delicopper and glass paste deposited in successive layersKatherine was also obliged to give up her employment, but she continued her efforts to obtain an exit visa and, thanks to the joint intention of French President Georges Pompidou, Mr. Maurice Schumann, Goudji was finally authorized to leave the USSR.

On January 31st 197l, twenty years ago, Katherine and Goudji arrived in France, where he was readily welcomed and accepted.

"I was born in Paris at the age of 33. "

Because of the trauma and exhaustion caused by the change, Goudji was unable to discover Paris straight gla-away. During the first three months he did nothing butsleep. But he gradually became familiar with Western lifestyle, began learning French, organized his new life and then set up a modest studio in a gallery in Montmartre, almost opposite the house where two other emmigries had once led: Théo and Vincent Van Gogh.

In the Soviet Union, Goudji had been prohibited from working with precious metals. However he had sacrificed a few small silver spoons so as to offer his friends brooches made with colored stones found on the beaches of the Black Sea. It was his only experienceas a silversmith until his arrival in France.

Goudji both loves and needs to create. For obvious economic reasons, his first parisian creations broaches, necklaces and belt buckles - were initially made of recuperated copper and latten, bought at the Porte de Clignancourt fleamarket in Paris. From1975 onwards, his copper alloy creations were silvered by electrolysis. Thanks to these small works - first modest, later sumptuous - Goudji rapidly became well-known among lovers of contemporary jewelry.Always unique, due to the technique employed, this first batch of jewels quickly came to the notice of Hubert de Givenchy, but Goudji was unable to accept the idea of mass-production under any name but his own: his first personal exhibition in Paris was presented in 1975 in the Sven gallery.

Following his first successes, Goudji began working with sterling silver. Affer a few shaped works in silvered cpper, the wonderful bull-headed bowl was his first work in sterling silver and the artist's taste for depicting animal forms is already evident here. The piece is perfectly executed and remains a symbol to this day, one of the few objects which Katherine has kept. Gradually, Goudji began to practise his singular "hollow-beating" technique, revived from ancient times, with double beaten silver sides, enabling him to lighten the effect of larger works and enrich them with precious stones, saving metal and softening jewels.

The use of vermeil (gilding sterling silver with gold by electrolysis) enabled Goudji to play with new associations of colors and materials as early as 1976. A substitute for gold, which it resembles, and easier to work with, vermeil develops a matchless "patina" with use: the silver appears under the gold film which becomes transparent as a result of rubbing.

A man of his times, Goudji quickly adopted modern techniques. From 1980 onwards, the soldering iron replaced the age-old forge, while a magnet fastening (which allows the use of several interchangeable rings or neeklaces on a single reversible base) replaced the tack of Hittite torques. Dissatisfied with the results of subcontracted silvering and gilding, he acquired the equipment needed to make electrolytic film himself.

In 1983, Goudji created an initial collection of "shaped works". A reminder of ancient civilizations, his works are neither copies nor plagiarisms, but are "Goudjis". Following his success, the artist began tocreate more ambitious works: boxes, table-centers, bowls made from hard stones.

In 1987 he produced his first large religious works of art, the baptismal tank and the easter chandelier with inlaid armorican granite to be installed in the cathedral of Notre-Dame in Paris. During the same period he created the first of his stunning tablecarts.

Following an order made by theater writer Félicien Marceau in 1975, the historian Robert Turcan commissioned Goudji, in 1991, to create the sword he was to wear during his ceremony of admission into the French Academy. This was the first occasion upon which a work of this kind was commissioned from a single artist rather than a team. In 1993, five other members of the Academy entrusted him with the same commission.

Nourished by the spirit of cathedral builders, this orthodox Georgian steeped himself in the Gothic tradition of the french region of beauce, creating the bases of a new expression of christian art. At the beginning of 1992, in the space of scarcely three months, Goudji succeeded in creating the altar major, furniture and liturgical objects to be part of the new fittings of the cathedral of Notre Dame in chartres, whose eighth centenary was recently celebrated. He is now being asked to design furniture and liturgical objects for other religious buildings.

Both intellectual and sensitive, GoudJi's art is a kind of modern alchemy, atransmutation of substance which gives it strength, beauty, balanceand timelessness.


The artist
Sacred Art