AN INTERVIEW OF ARTIST ISABELLE BONZOM ON HER MALE NUDES SERIES
by GQ journalist, Maïa Mazaurette
Maïa Mazaurette is a journalist and blogger for GQ, Glamour and Le Monde focusing on issues of sexuality and its role in culture and society. She interviewed Isabelle Bonzom on the artist's series of male nudes. This interview was published by GQ/France, on May 10, 2016.
Maïa Mazaurette : Conventional wisdom says that women, in their imaginary eroticism, are not visual but emotional. You are a visual artist. How do you react to this idea?
Isabelle Bonzom : I am pluri-sensorial, the visual plays as much a role as the emotional, as well as the senses of touch, hearing, taste and smell.
Maïa Mazaurette : How did the idea and the desire to have men posing for you come about?
Isabelle Bonzom : Several reasons led me to tackle this theme. First, lots of my female fellow artists portray themselves naked, thus perpetuating the stereotype expected by the art market and the social system that of the woman as object of desire. What I'm interested in is the other, and for me, the other is the man. I am attracted to the male body, his gait, his morphology, his complexion. I paint the male body dressed or undressed.
At the same time, there has been for a long time this discourse about what a painting made by a woman must be like. Some comments on my painting have been made by certain actors of the art world saying : " that doesn't look like a female painting"... The large and vigorous touch, the monumental and built aspect of my compositions, the subjects ( urbanscapes, meat, etc.) didn't coincide with what they expected from a female painter.
I define myself as a painter, not as a female painter, and most of the time, I am not concerned by the fact that I am a woman painting. Nevertheless, it has amused me to challenge the established social representation of the artist and HIS model which, for centuries right up to today, dictates that the painter is a man and the model a woman.
I had painted models before, here and there, but this time, I decided to dedicate a long series to the male nude. It appeared that my model was the man I loved, spiritually and physically, a man whose silhouette, skin and look I loved.
In general, I concentrate on the body and I compose in such a way that the head is not represented, the face is often out of frame. What is of interest to me is not to make the portrait of man naked, but of his body. More precisely, for me, it's about doing a portrait of a human being through his body.
The subject of the male nude is entirely in line with my approach as an artist focused on the painting as the body and flesh of the image. Besides, at the same time I was painting these male bodies, I was also painting meats and series of smiles. I've exhibited the three series together on several occasions.
Maïa Mazaurette : How have you worked with your models? Was there a game of seduction, was it purely artistic? Who are the models? Is it complicated to undress a man for art sake? Did you have the strong feeling that you were reversing the roles between the muse and the artist or, on the contrary, was it natural?
Isabelle Bonzom : The model of the first series from 1994 to 2002 was my lover, I did hundreds of drawings, watercolors and oil paintings of him. He loved to pose, he was at comfortable with his body and he had a strong sense of humor. It was like play, the posing sessions were very pleasant and serious at the same time. I studied his skin, various points of view, his physical presence, his moves. Yes, I felt that roles were reversed, as regards art history, he was my muse.
Another series in 2002-2003 was a commission. The partner of the model wanted a portrait of her boyfriend. He was less at ease with his body and the posing sessions were a sort of therapy for him.
Then, the "Confusion" series, from 2007, combined life sessions with a man and a woman close to me, photographs and souvenirs, and transformations through the work of painting at the studio. Those paintings have a strong dreamlike aspect, sensuous and gustative. Paradoxically the atmosphere is moist and sweaty and the bodies are dematerialized.
Maïa Mazaurette : How would you qualify your nudes? Is it an objectification of the male body? A celebration? Something else?
Isabelle Bonzom : For me, it's a carnal gaze, a desiring and loving gaze on the male body, an amorous gaze that reconciles. It's a view on our human condition, its vitality and fragility.
Maïa Mazaurette : Do you consider your work as one of an activist? As I told you, I had difficulties finding artworks on this topic. Are you a pioneer of the female gaze on the male body?
Isabelle Bonzom : Activist in the sense that my artistic approach is dedicated to fighting against all type of stereotypes, not only related to the woman's condition or to the woman as artist, but also as a general rule.
In 2010, American fellows thought of Alice Neel when they learned that I painted male bodies. For my part, I never thought of her. In sculpture, Louise Bourgeois has dealt with the issue. However, I have the feeling of having tread and of treading in virgin territory.
Maïa Mazaurette : How does the public respond to these works of yours? Have you ever felt that viewers were uncomfortable or, on the contrary, felt a kind of relief?
Isabelle Bonzom : The public is sometimes intrigued by these nudes without head.
Most of the people who have purchased my paintings of male nudes are women. They relish in them.
Some men regularly ask me to pose, I don't know them necessarily, they have discovered my work and they contact me. Their reasons are varied. For instance, they tell me " Before I turn to ashes, I wish to be portrayed by you" or " My anatomy is very peculiar and I wish to pose for you", but I don't respond because my models are close friends, usually.
The few reactions of discomfort or rejection come most of the time from men who consider that the male body is not "beautiful" and sometimes from women, for the same reasons or because they are not comfortable with nudity.
Copyright 2018 © Isabelle Bonzom