This work, the largest painting in Tate Modern,
is Civilisation Atlantique
by French artist Andre Fougeron.
He's born in nineteen thirteen in the Creuse,
a rural departement in central France,
the son of labourers. He joined the left
and was a communist until he died
in Paris at the age of eighty-five.
He worked for the Resistance in the war
by printing anti-Nazi magazines.
In post-war France he was opposed to the
americanisation of the west
and that is what Civilisation
Atlantique is about. The painting dates
from nineteen fifty-three. Scroll down and click
its image at the bottom of the page
which magnifies. The narrative is full
of contradictions rich in irony.
The artist uses comic strip style to
attack the culture of the comic strip.
The posters on the sunlit tower-block
promote colonial heroics in
the war in Indo-China to wide-eyed
young men who will return to France in coffins.
Ma fortune la Gloire the poster reads;
mon domaine la Bagarre: my world is war.
On a lid a woman weeps. Her ethnic
sister cradles a dead child. (The outstretched
limb relates to Guernica.) A faceless
soldier, feet up, reads a porn mag while
providing paid work for the shoeshine boy
in just a vest. The pampered pups have coats.
The frivolous pink cocktail on the cafe
table goes to waste while others thirst.
The Chevrolet so blue protects the Nazi
taking aim. SS is on his helmet
linking fascism with capital.
The corpulent French businessman waves through
the massive vehicle, his head bowed in
obeisance. The middle classes keep
their young in camouflaged bomb shelters while
Algerians hide under corrugated
tin. The old folk sit alone, bemused,
detached from fam'ly life prophetically.
A struggling single parent multi-tasks.
A woman makes a home out of a tent,
a refugee of war, while children play
where factories belch smoke beside a stream.
And on a pure white pedestal's a throne
of the electric chair, invented by
the dentist Alfred Southwick, Buffalo,
New York in eighteen eighty-one. It was
what executed Julius and Ethel
Rosenberg in nineteen fifty-three
for spying. Fougeron's enormous painting,
largest canvas in Tate Modern, was
displayed that autumn. Fellow communists
complained the cartoon style departed from
the realisme socialiste they loved.
They didn't get his irony perhaps.
Fougeron defended his approach.
He'd always painted in this figurative way.
Other artists painted abstract which
to Andre Fougeron was cowardice.
While others painted geometric symbols,
Fougeron revealed the horror of
the Spanish Civil War in Espagne
martyre of nineteen thirty-seven by
depicting a raped woman and a dead
horse, while his later painting Massacre
a Sakiet Trois nineteen fifty-eight
shows victims of a shooting in the War
of Independence in Algeria, the boots
along the top identifying those
who were the executioners as French.