A SOLDIER IN THE CITY,
A figure of sacrifice in the urban landscape
2014-2018 is the hundredth anniversary of the World War I. Yet, Isabelle Bonzom has long been moved by the French soldier known as the “Poilu” (literally: the hairy one), an emblematic image of the common man drawn into war whose statue often ornates city plazas and squares in France to commemorate the soldiers fallen during World War I.
Since 2012, the artist has painted the Poilu in a series that pays homage to all human beings affected by war and reflects on the place that a conflict such as World War I occupies today, not only in the urban landscape but also in people’s consciousness. She also views this particular statue she paints as vivid and poignant in the neighboring cityscape. Through this subject, she renews a topic that she treated from 1991 to 2002, the flesh.
From September 15 to November 18, 2018,
museum director and art historian Bernadette Boustany
is showing the entire series painted by Isabelle Bonzom about the WW1 soldier
during the commemorative exhibition at the Musée de Saint-Maur - Villa Medicis (near Paris)
"1914-2018 Témoins d'hier, mémoire d'aujourd'hui"
Isabelle Bonzom is the only female artist, the only living painter of this group show.
Musée de Saint-Maur - Villa Medicis 5 rue Saint-Hilaire, 94210 La Varenne-Saint-Hilaire
From Tuesday to Sunday, 2-6pm
"I have chosen to do a series of paintings about a particular statue of the Poilu, the name given by French people to French soldiers who fought in the First World War. This statue is a memorial located in the town where I live and work. I found this sculpture poignant and as if it is almost alive. Its current urban environment creates a time warp which arouses my interest.
Indeed, this soldier, isolated, yet in full action, cohabits strangely with emblems of the consumer society. He could pass unnoticed, being part of the landscape, but, for me, his dramatic strength is revealed by the power of the natural elements or the night lights around him.
The magnolia flowers which I paint around him are sanguine, fleshy and bloody. They suggest the carnage and horror which this soldier experienced after he left for war with "a flower in his rifle". I evoke the danger, the destiny which awaits him, his life rendered precarious and the risk of being turned into cannon fodder.
I do no glorify war. I empathize with this poor soldier whose life has been destroyed. I also reflect upon these images of sacrifice which populate our towns."
" This painting by Isabelle Bonzom evokes a reality absolutely tragic. Strangely, I don't talk about war.
It is not about the blood which stains the jacket of this soldier... but the neon lights of the Monoprix supermarket."
Arnaud Faure Beaulieu, gallerist and curator
"This exhibit presents a series that I like very much on the theme of the Poilu (the emblematic soldier of World War I), and more broadly, on a meditation about the evolution of the work of remembrance. Playing with shadows, the many aspects of the color black and various viewpoints, Isabelle Bonzom gently forces us to question our humanity and our perception.”
Thierry Tessier, art historian
"Isabelle Bonzom paints contradictions with emotion. Between the tall and the small, the extraordinary and the ordinary, between History - with a capital H - and the common man.
She weaves a thread, between the grand statue and the small human being who fell in combat, between past and present. She questions herself and questions us about the presence of this urban ornament that we have integrated into our daily images.
The artist re-creates life in this carapace of representation, in this memory forged, fixed, made of matter, which occupies squares and plazas in the heart of our cities. Let us look very carefully, for we may suddenly perceive a human breathing, a heart pulsating, and we may meet the eyes of those living beings"
Valérie Fruaut, playwright and deputy mayor in charge of the arts and cultural affairs of the City of Charenton-le-Pont, during the inaugural statement of the 2014 show Sur le Front de l'art contemporain.
In her book Collector published in Seoul, journalist and curator Eunju Park dedicates a 45-page chapter to the impact of art on life. She bases her analysis on the painting of Isabelle Bonzom in which Eunju Park discerns a vital force and a creative abundance. The author views the singular approach of this artist as embodying the constructive and beneficent power of art on the human being. Eunju Park also interviews a dozen collectors of Isabelle Bonzom's paintings about their reasons for choosing her works and what those paintings bring to them. In this context, Jean-Marie Brétillon, Mayor of Charenton-le-Pont and District Council member of Val de Marne, talks about "Poilu, I - Coup de Grâce" which integrated this public collection :
"The scene described in this painting immediately attracts the viewer by its originality, its power and the very peculiar atmosphere it conveys. Two worlds coexist, albeit so different from each other, or even indifferent to each other. A ray of light bathes the conquering soldier, symbolizing the glorious past, the sacrifice admirably set in majesty by the artist. The nocturnal scenography strengthens the powerful rendering of this warrior.
At the same time, there is a gap between the old-fashioned aspect of this patriotic scene and the everyday life which surrounds it with the city, its shops and peaceful activity. Beyond the sperimposition of those two potentially contrasting themes, hasn’t this glorious ancestor’s sacrifice allowed his descendants to live and the city to grow in prosperity and peace?"
Jean-Marie Brétillon, Mayor of Charenton-Le-Pont and District Council Member of Val de Marne (near Paris)
© Isabelle Bonzom - 2021