Michael Godard, rock star of the art world, brings his martini-soaked (and sometimes subversively gay) painting to Dallas
STEVEN LINDSEY | Contributing Writer
Long hair, black nail polish, colorful tattoos, a soul patch, a bandana: It’s a look common to hard-living rockers … and maybe should be one you’d expect from an artist. Yet Michael Godard, sometimes criticized for creating work that is too commercial, still considers himself a rebellious outsider. He sees truth in the world around him and puts that truth on canvas. So what if the citizens of his universe are anthropomorphized olives, dancing strawberries and drunken grapes? Through his martini goggles, we are able to see life as a constant party — complete with its share of mornings after.
“I always say that I’m more of a storyteller than I am a painter. I like to tell stories with the paintings,” Godard says. “I like to mix a lot of humor into them. For me, rather than try to create something funny, it’s a lot easier to take life as it happens and turn it into a painting. To me, they’re like a giant diary and they have all kinds of things going on. No two are the same, that’s for sure.”
For somebody whose first book was titled Don’t Drink and Draw, and whose paintings almost exclusively deal with some form of alcoholic libation, it would be an easy assumption to peg this guy as a heavy drinker. But nothing could be further from the sober truth.
“It’s funny, I really don’t drink at all,” he laughs. “People ask if I’m a recovering alcoholic, but it’s not that. I was in junior high and my mom always had Kool-Aid in the fridge. I grabbed what I thought was Kool-Aid and drank a bunch of wine by mistake and got so, so sick. Ever since, the smell of alcohol sort of just turns me off. It’s really kind of ironic.”
His teetotaling even has the occasional professional drawback.
“Because I am so illiterate about alcohol, I’ll do a painting of a margarita and a gallery will call me up and say, ‘Mr. Godard, the painting is wonderful but actually it’s a salt shaker not a sugar shaker that goes with a margarita,’” he says.
But he continues to use the metaphor of martinis because of what it represents.
“The wonderful thing about alcohol is, it’s such a social magnet with people. We have a drink at a wedding and it’s a toast of good wishes; it calms the nerves on a first date; buddies share a beer together while playing poker. It’s a great thing that pulls people together when they’re stopping life momentarily to relax and enjoy themselves. And that’s why I think I chose to paint alcohol because there are so many situations that come from that. Humor is quite often there.”
His signature subject matter came about almost by accident, as a fulfilled promise to a friend who begged for a painting every year for five years for his birthday. Godard eventually asked the friend what he’d like to see.
“My friend said, ‘I love your sense of humor, I like to drink, martinis are my favorite, just have fun with it.” And so, the world of mobster olives, stripper olives and yes, even gay olives came to life.
“If you look at the painting I did from Fantasy Fest in Key West, which is a gay celebration, I have a cross-dressing olive standing on the street corner,” Godard, who is straight, proudly notes. “There’s one particular bouncer across from the place where I do my shows, the guy must be 6-foot-5. He loves to cross-dress and he’s one of the funniest people I know. There are gay people walking down the street holding hands. And, of course, in my world you know that a male olive has a pimento on top and a female has it strategically placed at the bottom.”
So naturally, if you ever see an olive with a pimento on top and a feather boa and high heels, you now know that’s an olive in drag.
Godard acknowledges that his work is popular with gay audiences, a relationship he cultivates; it’s easy to see why. His work if filled with subtle humor and witty observations (not to mention that some of the legs on those dancing strawberries can be pretty damned sexy).
“I have a lot of gay friends,” he says. “One of the neat things is that my gay friends seem to have a better and a more sophisticated sense of humor I must say, than a lot of my straight friends. Any time we can get together and do something for the greater good, that’s what it’s about. When you think about people that have lost their lives and wonderful people that we’ve lost to AIDS, it’s overwhelming. You realize it can happen to anybody, gay or straight.”
Godard, who recently lost his 16-year-old daughter to brain cancer, has always been dedicated to giving back through a variety of charitable organizations.
“There’s a lot of artists out there that are a lot more talented than I am, but I think the guy upstairs knew what I was going to do with my success,” he says. “I’m so about giving back and doing things for someone else. I’m in a very unique position where I have an opportunity to help a lot of people.”
Now that’s a true rock star.
We’re used to seeing the bold and colorful Pop art of Robb Conover depicting comic book icons of late. Whether he’s giving his take on Wonder Woman or exploring a queer element to Batman and Robin as they kiss, Conover adds a definite punch to the local arts scene. His work has been seen in the gayborhood at Buli, Drama Room and Lucky’s.
He goes in a different direction, above, in Ro2 Art’s exhibit Synclines. Conover joins local artists Cabe Booth and Kevin Obregon, to present, what the gallery calls, new and unexpected works.
— Rich Lopez
Ro2 Art Downtown, 110 N. Akard St. Through Aug. 13.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition August 5, 2011.