Interesting Artworks: Sol 23 by Conrad Jon Godly

Sol 23, 2013. Oil on Canvas. 

Sol 23, 2013. Oil on Canvas. 

The artworks of Swiss native Conrad Jon Godly offer an immersive hybrid of painting and sculpture. For Godly, the perimeter of the canvas does not define the physical limitation, and the term mountainous applies not only to the subject, but the artworks themselves. Sol 23 is one such mountain.  

Understanding Godly’s personal narrative is essential for appreciating the context of his work. In the eighties, he studied painting at Basel School of Art and later pursued a successful and lucrative career as an internationally renowned photographer for supermodels and celebrities. Godly has since expressed a profound distaste for the industry, citing its fixation with bodily perfection and working conditions as reasons. The aftermath of witnessing and documenting the deceitful world of celebrity culture formed an internal void that Godly sought to fill. After almost two decades, and one final shoot for GQ Magazine, he migrated back into painting; an infatuation that remained intact throughout his career in photography. 

Godly’s transition back into painting was not particularly smooth and he faced skepticism from his peers and former colleagues. He invested heavily into his career shift, and  armed with the very same tubes of oil paint he had purchased two decades earlier, sought to ensure that painting translated into a successful and sustainable career path, and that it did.

During weekends, Godly began to establish himself in the Canton of Grisons, Switzerland where the mountainous vista became his muse. The Alps offered a ‘perfect contrast’ to the ‘fast and superficial’ environment he had previously worked in — ‘solid, unmoved, mysterious and imperishable’.  The distinctions between the metropolises and the Alps is perhaps what drew Godly to the subject matter of mountains. Upon returning home in 2004 and seeing their ‘immense energy and beauty . . . [he] immediately knew what [he wanted] to paint.’

Post-photography, Godly’s earlier period of painting makes use of a tenebrous palate and the subjects feel distant and obscure. Wary of succumbing to the very sphere he had sought to abandon, he was initially reluctant to expose this work to anyone but himself. After all, painting was supposed to be a means of escape from the consuming realm of commercialism and promotion. So, in a sense, these mountains transcend external, physical entities, and serve as metaphysical formations for darker internal turmoil.

His early and recent works are introspective and allegorical - Godly describes them as a direct reflection of his mental state. In 2012, his painting entered a new phase with the Sol Series. Lines became more defined and his palette less solemn. In this series, the mountains remain the core subject and are just as grandiose, but their meaning seems to have altered. They offer a new impression in which sanguine replaces austerity.

In Sol 23 of 2013, the artist makes use of broad, gestural brushstrokes to depict a turbulent mountain. The serenity of the Alps is juxtaposed by the chaotic composition. The dense impasto creates a three-dimensional composition and provides a multisensory experience; the viewer becomes engaged in the process and virtually subsumed.

Sol 23 is comprised of oil paint and turpentine whipped into a thick paste which swells from the canvas’ surface. The mountain itself offers a stark contrast in surface consistency to the crisp, monochromatic and placid sky. The tips of the mountain’s protrusions are rippled with Titanium white snow and deepened with stark black contours. Yet despite the surface distinction, the composition remains unified through the mountain’s reflection and absorption of the surrounding Indanthrene Blue sky.

But these paintings are not merely a description of snowy mountains; they are a purposeful manipulation and portrayal of light. ‘It’s not about the picturesque mountain, no, it’s about the light, reflected from the snow’ proclaims Godly. ‘If you stand in front of these works you almost have to blink because [they are] so blinding’ – in this instance we’re most unfortunate; the nuanced reflections are best seen in person . It’s here the parallels with photography become particularly apparent. Godly’s inherent perception and trained eye for light would have proved vital for photography – they are talents that translated adeptly into his painting.

Godly allows gravity to carry the paint naturally beyond the base of the canvas, where it drips and icicle-esque formations emerge. This characteristic is a movement away from the traditional and classical structure of photography, in which the image is so often confined and constricted to a specific ratio. Through a more organic approach to composition, Godly has provided a seamless depiction of the Swiss Alps, in which the viewer is further imbued with a sense of authenticity.

At an intimate proximity, Sol 23 appears an abstracted and ambiguous textural tumult, yet from a more distant standpoint, the viewer is thrust into the scene and the Swiss Alps become confrontational and tangible. This masterful optical device is a technique honed by Godly over many years, and despite the departure from photography as a discipline, this aspect is evidence that his affinity with photography is still very much at large.



Prints of Sol 23 are exclusively available through Avant Arte. Click here for more info. 


If you liked this article and would like to stay up to date with our future publications then click here to subscribe to our mailing list! 

Harriet Lloyd-Smith