Thomas Godin's 'Archipelago': A Vibrant Tribute To The Philippines

French artist Thomas Godin’s recent exhibition “Archipelago” features luminous printmaking on a grand scale, paying homage to the Philippines and referencing his Brittany roots. 

“I need to have a part of my life in the Philippines to feel complete,” shared French artist Thomas Godin during the opening of his newest exhibition, Archipelago. It’s a simple yet powerful statement, one that elicited an emotional reaction from the artist as the words left his mouth. Hailing from Saint-Pol-de-Léon in Finistére, Brittany, the artist was certainly a long way from home in Whitespace Manila, the venue of his latest series of works. Yet the golden rays of sunlight and blue coastlines of the Philippines aren’t very different from those in his native Brittany, which is why he’s come to love the Pearl of the Orient—so much so that Archipelago is actually a heartfelt tribute to it. 

Thomas Godin
Thomas Godin

“It’s my fifth time here in the Philippines, and I just became crazy about this country and its people. I often call it home, and the plan is to settle down here before the end of this year [2024],” he adds. 

This ardent love began when his childhood friend, Jacques-Christophe Branellec of Jewelmer, introduced him to the Philippines back in 2013. Since then, Godin has fostered a deep fascination with the country’s destinations and natural wonders, including Taal volcano, Palawan, and Cebu. The pieces in Archipelago—prints with vibrant splashes of ink and paint in alluring forms—are physical representations of his memories of snorkeling in crystalline waters and seeing the Philippine islands from above during flights. At first glance, many of his pieces look like maps, serving as personal snapshots of the country. 

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From Brittany to the World

Godin’s experiences in his hometown of Saint-Pol-de-Léon would prove to be incredibly formative for his artistic practice. The saturated colors present in his work—namely their rich reds, greens, yellows, and blues—take inspiration from the stained glass windows of a nearby cathedral that he often visited. Then there’s Finistére with its glittering sun and azure waters, brimming with a luminosity that has also deeply influenced his use of light and color. 

Inside Thomas Godin's latest Philippine exhibition, "Archipelago," in Whitespace Manila
Inside Thomas Godin’s latest Philippine exhibition, “Archipelago,” in Whitespace Manila

Learning his grandmother’s language of Breton also shaped his works, as they embody the poetic nature of the unique tongue. “Everything is imagery. The words themselves smell of iodine and conjure up colors,” he states in an interview. “I’m convinced that whoever invented Breton must have been a painter…I can’t think of any other explanation!” 

Circular "Archipelago Flower" and "Rune Talisman" works showcasing Godin's special printmaking technique
Circular “Archipelago Flower” and “Rune Talisman” works showcasing Godin’s special printmaking technique

From Brittany, which will always hold a special place in his heart, the artist began broadening his horizons by traveling to as many places as he could. These cultural experiences permeate his art, forming mosaics of things he learned throughout his travels to places like West Africa, the Balkans, the United States, Mexico, Bhutan, and of course, the Philippines. 

More works from Godin's exhibition
More works from Godin’s exhibition

Talent, a love for experimentation, a strong sense of curiosity, and a desire to explore the shared and unique elements of various traditions, are what make Godin’s works particularly compelling—both on a technical and conceptual level. It’s not hard to see why he’s been featured in French and international exhibitions, and why so many organizations have entrusted him with private and public commissions. 

A Centuries-Old Technique

Godin has created pieces in a variety of mediums, from large sculptures to a majestic diptych for the historical Villa Mangini in Saint-Pierre-la-Palud. The medium that he’s been honing since 2012 is a special kind of printmaking technique that’s hundreds of years old. In the 17th and 18th centuries, Europe’s printing presses paved the way for the mass reproduction and widespread distribution of books. Bookmakers would use engraved metal to imprint ink onto paper, and the rest as they say, is history. 

"Lumen," the diptych piece Godin created for Villa Mangini in Saint-Pierre-la-Palud
“Lumen,” the diptych piece Godin created for Villa Mangini in Saint-Pierre-la-Palud

Yet Godin translated this printmaking on a bigger scale, creating the largest press in the world, which has stood within his studio in Landerneau since 2022. This allows him to create entire works measuring up to ten meters in length—something that hasn’t been done in the history of the art form (or at the very least, is an incredibly rare feat). 

Despite the dynamic forms in the artist’s works, every mark is the deliberate result of a technically-demanding process. He begins by hand-engraving a metal plate (usually made of copper, zinc, or aluminum), which can weigh up to 30 kilograms. Afterwards, he soaks them in a natural vat of acid for several hours, before transferring his designs with ink and paint onto museum-grade Arches vellum paper made from 100 percent cotton fibers. 

He prefers displaying his works in a way that closes the distance between them and the viewers—many don’t have a glass panel on their frames. Yet audiences need not worry: the paper the artist uses is the finest in Europe, capable of surviving through centuries. Paired with natural pigments, he ensures that his masterpieces are built to last. 

Filipino Motifs

Archipelago contains works that showcase the rich hues and motifs of the Philippines. For example, a number of circular works are amalgamations of talismans and objects Godin encountered throughout his travels in the country and Asia. This includes the Ling-ling-o, an ancient Philippine symbol that represents prosperity, fertility, and protection. 

"Ling-Ling-O" (etching on zinc, polychrome print)
“Ling-Ling-O” (etching on zinc, polychrome print)

Meanwhile, larger works evoke images of the country’s coastlines, the depths of its seas, its rock formations, and even volcanic masses. Golds and yellows create images of sunlight, perhaps even sandy shores. Of course, this is all a matter of perspective—something that’s never fixed, which says a lot about Godin’s artistic philosophy. 

More circular talisman prints from Godin's exhibition
More circular talisman prints from Godin’s exhibition

Ways of Seeing

Certain artists are very particular about what their work conveys, and some would rather proclaim a message than leave things open-ended. Yet the reality is that creators can never have full control over how people perceive their works, and Godin doesn’t seem to mind this one bit; in fact, he encourages it. 

Godin encourages viewers to explore and interpret the abstract elements of his work in their own ways
Godin encourages viewers to explore and interpret the abstract elements of his work in their own ways

“I don’t want to constrain the eye to motifs, to limit it to subjects,” he explains in a statement. His works are a prime example of the concept of pareidolia: the act of deriving meaning from nebulous patterns, markings, and objects. The lines of a log could look like the face of an old woman, while swirling patterns could resemble hair. 

In the same way, Godin’s markings are whatever a viewer sees them as. Whether they’re corals, anemones, lava, or stones, the artist invites the viewer to carve new meanings into his inner world, providing spaces of freedom and exploration. 

Photos courtesy of Thomas Godin.

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