In the early 1980s, the excitement of New York's throbbing art, music and club scenes drew the French industrial artist, Aurèle, to the Big Apple. Whilst there, he dated top models, drank in iconic clubs, and even met some of the brightest stars of the era, including Andy Warhol and American photographer Nancy Goldin. But what made the strongest impact on the young artist during this sojourn was a simple black and white hand-written poster advertising a lost dog named Bob, and offering a $100 reward for its return.
Pondering the crude drawing of a wandering bull terrier and the words surrounding it, such as "friendly," "lost," "missing" and "reward," he suddenly had some important revelations that would change his life - and his art - forever. "First, we are all 'lost' in the face of pollution, war and poverty. Secondly, we all have a price. Thirdly, we all need friendship. Fourthly, action equals satisfaction, silence equals death, and finally, where there is a will, there is a way."
Now, many years later, Aurele still bases most of his artwork (and even his wedding ring, which is in the form of a golden dog's head) on that iconic sketch, in order to communicate his lost dog metaphoric themes of solitude, loss and separation through mixed media, including paintings, photography, sculpture and video. He has gained considerable fame in France with exhibitions at the Grand Palais, Palais du Tokyo and Musée des Arts de George Pompidou de Cajarc, and with projects such as his video entitled "Lostdogconnection," which asked famous and everyday people what they had lost in their lives.
Over the past decade, with the rise of China onto the world stage, the artist thought the country - which is straying somewhat from its traditions and seeking to reconstruct its identity - would be an interesting forum for the lost dog concept.
Aurele's works have been met with resounding success in China, which didn't surprise him at all. "The lost dog is a universal metaphor for all of us, for all our ways of life," says the artist. "That dog is you, it's me, it's tomorrow." But he believes the image resonates even more with the Chinese, who are taking ownership of a new global role which he likens to rescuing a lost dog, re-homing it in a better future. In fact, he constantly challenges others to think about what they will transmit to future generations; he himself hopes his "lost dog" messages will resonate through the ages.
The father of two is particularly concerned about the planet's future, and for the Shanghai Expo 2010, whose theme was sustainable development in the urban environment, he created two gigantic dog sculptures, "LostDogCo2." Measuring 4.5 metres each, the huge canines were comprised of densely planted jungle ferns, ivies and other plants that have a high capacity to filter polluted air. His aim was not only to have these two pups attack Shanghai's smog, but to allow them to serve as models for beautiful, yet ecological, urban design. The work won him the Shanghai Art Fair Sculptor of the Year award.
Recently, Aurele further expanded the application of the lost dog metaphor in China: as it emerges into modernity, the Asian giant is still somewhat "lost," seeking an identity that can merge the traditional with the recent, the past with the present. Aiming to fuse these elements in his art, Ricard recently crafted three dogs in traditional Chinese porcelain and sent them to China to be ornamented with ancient designs: two with writhing blue dragons, and one with erotic scenes in the style of the period of Yong Zheng (1722-1735).
However, once the craftsman had finished his task and sent the ceramics to the airport for export, the "Erotik Dog" was seized at customs for displaying "pornographic scenes" that were a "dishonour to the Chinese people." While Aurele tried to explain that the paintings were, in fact, original Chinese works from the collection of Ferdinand Bertholet, and that by employing them in his creations he was in some sense preserving Chinese culture, the customs officials refused to believe such "filth" could ever have originated from their country and took the case to court. Three months later, it was thrown out, and the poor dog was finally flown home to France - but not before Chinese officials "censored" it - with a hammer and chisel.
Now, the chipped ceramic sits hopefully, awaiting a buyer, in the window of the Lefebvre et Fils Gallery in Paris. Its scars only highlight what Aurele is trying to say with his art: times may be tough, cultures may clash, but with a bit of compromise, even the most controversial of dogs may yet find a home.
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