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Alain Bertrand: September 2013

It's the 1950s and a small boy is standing by the roadside in rural France. There's a US naval base nearby, and the youngster is staring in wonder at the gleaming American cars and their impossibly glamorous drivers. The hour-glass coke bottles, the exotic cigarette brands. He drinks it all in.

Sixty years later, the little boy is an internationally acclaimed artist. But in a way, he's still standing there on the roadside, captivated. Alain Bertrand has dedicated his career to celebrating the sumptuous materialistic splendour of post-war America. It's easy to see why the obsession was born. In the 1950s, Europe was waking up from a nightmare. France was shell-shocked. The US offered a magnetic alternative.

Especially for restless youngsters like Alain Bertrand, who was thrown out of a series of schools and nursed a passion for drawing above anything else. After graduation, he spent three years in the navy, where he gained a mechanic's diploma, a love of machines and a great facility for technical drawing.

That led to an 11 year stint with Renault as an industrial illustrator during the boom years for the French car industry. In 1976 Alain took a deep breath and left to pursue a highly successful career as a commercial illustrator, creating film posters, album covers and magazine layouts.

Finally, in 1998, Alain exhibited as a commercial artist for the first time – at the Bastille art market. Within two years, he had his own show at the Ariel Siborny gallery in Paris.

Art lovers responded immediately to Alain's kaleidoscopic evocations of a dream-like America. These canvases are painted in a style that befits the subject matter. They have the sheen of a brand new Cadillac and the heightened palette of a Mad Men-era advertising poster.

And yet, they are still painterly. In this new collection for the Catto, Alain's amazing technique is in full display. Take a look at the rainy street in Buick In Wet Avenue. A sumptuous collage of blues, oranges and yellows. What a technical achievement! Any painter would be proud of that.

There's more of the same even when Alain switches to a black and white palette. The smoke in American Steam swirls ominously, contrasting beautifully with the mechanical precision of the engine below it.

The rest of the show is like a collection of Alain's greatest hits, with something for all of his many fans. There are the cars, the ads, the rock bands, the comic strips, the 'gas' stations. And there's even a diversity of sentiment. Amid the shining optimism are occasional hints at something darker. Rust In Piece is a nice pun (especially for a Frenchman), but is there a metaphor here for the decline of American supremacy?

Perhaps. It's ambiguous. But like all the other works in this new Catto collection, there's no ambiguity in the quality. It's stunning.