Karl Godeg

Karl Godeg’s golden paintings are highly spiritual. Godeg uses gold, like other contemporary painters, but in a very personal fashion. After discovering Surrealism after World War II, the painter learned to capture invisible forces, some dictated by his subconscious, others external.

His rigorous questioning of pictorial techniques as well as of the lights and colors of the sky, earth and minerals, endow his work with an abstract, metaphysical power. The paintings shown here are certainly the high point of a body of work that must be considered a major, original contribution to Lyrical Abstraction. Karl Godeg is represented by the Galerie Alain Margaron since 2000. Main institutional exhibitions: Kunstamt Wedding, Berlin; Monchengladbach and Wuppertal municipal museums; Kunstverein, Kassel; Haus am Waldsee, Berlin; K.E. Osthaus Museum, Hagen; Musée de Chartres. Latest publications Karl Godeg, texts by J-J. Aillagon and Alain Margaron (Alain Margaron Editeur, 2012); Karl Godeg, l’alchimie de la lumière, texts by J-J. Aillagon, Fred Deux, S. Hickisch-Picard (L’Atelier des Brisants, 2005); Goldbilder, S. Hickisch-Picard (Alain Margaron Editeur, 2003). Biography 1896: Born Karl Goldberg in Reichenbach, in the Vogtland, Germany. His father, a teacher and organist, is also a draftsman. Karl starts drawing from an early age and is very proud of being the best in his class. At 14, he makes portraits of most of his schoolmates. 1911-1913: Grueling apprenticeship with a stonecutter. Studied sculpture and casting at the Dresden (Germany) school of decorative arts. The artist works on wood sculptures. He is also a stage actor. 1913-1914: Six-month stay in London where he joins his brother, a student. 1914-1918: Drafted in the German army. On the front, in Verdun, he continues drawing. What remains from this period is a drawing of a ruined church surrounded with a few lonely trees where his personality surfaces, under the influence of Caspar David Friedrich. Wounded and gassed, he is discharged in 1918. 1919-1921: Studies painting at the fine arts academy in Berlin with the Expressionist painter and scenographer César Klein, founder of the “November gruppe”. 1921: Starts signing some of his work Godeg, mostly portraits as well as landscapes in the line of early-20th century German Expressionism. He also starts to teach painting. 1926: Marries Thekla, an actress met at the theatre, who would be his partner until the end and who posed for numerous portraits. Their marriage would be childless. She is also the author of a book illustrated by a well-known German artist, Käthe Kollwitz. The rise of Nazism prevents its publication. Since they have other sources of income and modest needs, Thekla does not encourage him to show his work. 1930-1940: Under the leaden cloak of Nazism, his landscapes becomes more conventional, still very well executed but less personal than his portraits and self-portraits, which still evince great psychological authenticity. Godeg is still a teacher. The couple lives in Berlin and in the nearby countryside. 1940-1945: Drafted during World War II, he is sent to Paris as a war draftsman. A sketch of a Paris street and a watercolor depicting cliffs in Brittany bear witness to this period. After the war, Godeg resumes teaching. He is an assistant-professor at the university. 1952: He asserts his talent as a portrait painter with an important series on movie, theatre and ballet stars. Some are published in magazines. He also resumes his research of the 1920s on the role of light in landscape. Like many other German painters, it is as though he had lost two decades compared with the international art scene. From this period remain paintings which, though lagging behind, are sometimes very beautiful and show that he was still pursuing his inner path. 1954-1956: Follows the oneiric path opened by Surrealism and the Cobra movement. 1958: Settles in the Charlottenburg quarter in West Berlin. 1956-1961: This is Grodeg’s great period. The artist conceives his most personal work, which may well be his contribution to 20th century art. He relinquishes figurative references in a beautiful series of oil pastels and a few canvasses, from 1957 to 1969. In 1960 and 1961, his paintings are sometimes reminiscent of light playing in cloudy skies. However, the artist does not become an Informalist. His abstract paintings are meticulously composed. 1962-1965: This is the period of the “goldbilder” (literally, gold paintings), inspired by his alchemical research on the use of metal, gold, silver and copper in painting. As Franz Roh points out, he expresses himself with color as though he painted with light. At first totally abstract, these paintings give hints of figuration from 1964 onwards. At last, Godeg has a few exhibitions in German museums and arts centers, and in two Parisian galleries. Respected art critics and journalists are enthusiastic. The most noteworthy exhibition is probably the one held in Berlin at the “Haus am Waldsee”. 1967: His wife suffers a serious accident. Godeg writes to the director of the Berlin city museum that he is giving up painting. Or rather, that he will henceforth only paint as a dilettante. His struggle is over. With very few exceptions, the tension in his previous work vanishes. Godeg, retreating from artistic life, ends up a petit-bourgeois painter like many other major German artists of the 20th century (for instance Meidner or Schmitt-Rottluf). Yet his creative period was longer than theirs. 1982: At Karl Godeg’s death, Eberhard Roters, secretary general of the influential German society for plastic arts in Berlin, nevertheless praises him very highly in his eulogy, and commits to go on promoting his work in museums. “What drove his artistic creativity”, he asserts, “was seeking the fertilization of light by the dark, obscure depths of being.” 1999: Alain Margaron is struck by a few “gold paintings” found in a Berlin antiques shop. They have been sitting there for years, coated with dust on their old bolted frames. 2000: First exhibition at the Galerie Alain Margaron in Paris, “Karl Godeg ou la magie de l’or “. Sepp Hiekisch-Picard, curator of the Bochum museum in Germany, discovers Godeg’s oeuvre. It also fires up the painters who visited the gallery, particularly Fred Deux, René Duvillier and Brigitte Terziev, as well as major decision-makers in art institutions. 2003: Solo exhibition wholly focused on the “goldbilder”, with a catalogue written by Sepp Hiekisch-Picard. 2004: In Berlin, Sepp Hiekisch-Picard and Alain Margaron discover older works fiercely guarded by an elderly woman who had once worked for the couple. They spend several weekends selecting them. 2005: “60 ans de peinture de Karl Godeg” at the Galerie Alain Margaron. 2007: “Karl Godeg: 1896-1982” at the Galerie Alain Margaron. 2009: “Karl Godeg: Les peintures d’or” at the Galerie Alain Margaron. 2012: “Karl Godeg: 1957 – 1963” at the Galerie Alain Margaron.