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Alain Bertrand: February 25th 2016

Fans of Alain Bertrand will notice something different in the French painter’s newest collection. Alain is, of course, feted the world over for his evocative portraits of post-war Americana. And make no mistake, his latest show continues the love affair. But what’s that among the gleaming Buicks and Cadillacs? A London bus. A Hackney Carriage. An E-Type Jag.

Yes, Alain has finally brought his painter’s eye to the UK – and the results are fabulous. Here for the first time, it’s British icons that get the Bertrand treatment. Alain being Alain, the London works reflect a city of times gone by. He depicts the capital as it was during the optimism of the post-war years: in paintings such as Saturday Shopping, for example, the men wear suits, the women elegant pencil skirts.

However, Alain’s French perspective isn’t entirely absent. Quite the opposite. He may be painting England, but he still gives his paintings titles such as French Tourists. And what could be more British than boater-hatted gentlemen gathered round an E-Type Jag in what looks like a cricket field? Pointedly, Alain calls this painting Councours D’Elegance. Vive La France!

Needless to say, these new works are all presented in Alain’s trademark style – one that fuses the language of illustration, advertising and photo-realistic painting. It’s instantly recognisable, and it’s brought him legions of loyal fans all over the world.

Alain Bertrand was born in Paris in 1946, a year after the war ended. He grew up near an American airbase, and he recalls watching as GIs drove by in their larger-than-life automobiles playing rock n roll. It made a profound impression on Alain that has never left him.

Later, he worked for 11 years with Renault as an industrial illustrator. This period gave him a technical rigour and work ethic and ensured his decision to become a full time artist would be a successful one. He made that switch after a trip to America in 1976, and his work sold immediately.

Ad agencies loved his paintings and commissioned him to illustrate campaigns for Pirelli, Renault, Peugeot, Nestlé and other brands. His talent as an illustrator even won him commissions to design the movie posters for One From The Heart by Francis Ford Coppola, for Mommie Dearest with Faye Dunaway and many French films. He also worked on Jurassic Park 2: The Lost World.

But all the while Alain was also selling his painted hymns to the post-war USA to enthusiastic collectors. His work was especially popular in his home country, which has always reserved a special fascination for Eisenhower-era America. These nostalgia-filled canvases reflect a time when America stood for freedom, possibility and optimism – so beguiling for Europeans still reeling from war.

The new Catto collection may present exciting new London works. But the ‘classic’ Bertrand is still very evident. Slightly Tempted, for example, is a wonderful drama-filled piece in moody black and white. You can read it as a slice of narrative intrigue, guest-starring a glamorous woman gazed at by an entranced man. Or you can just drink in the technical brilliance – the light reflecting off the back of the automobile; the crowd of cinema goers; the perfect perspective of the receding signs.

For contrast, check out Rambler Motel. Here’s the ‘daytime’ side of Alain’s America, with vapour trails traced across impossible blue skies. Just two of many effortlessly beautiful works in a welcome new collection.

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