DELICIOUS GRAVITY - A MARVELOUS ALCHEMY
A text by art historian Valérie Montalbetti
about the art of Isabelle Bonzom
Valérie Montalbetti is an art historian and an independent exhibit curator. From 2008 to 2017, she was the curator of the Coubertin Foundation’s Collections. Prior to that position, she worked in Paris at the Louvre Museum, at the Cognac-Jay Museum and at the Musée de la Musique (Museum of Music). Her text below was written in conjunction with the 2017 exhibit of Isabelle Bonzom entitled “Delicious Gravity”
First, we are struck by Isabelle Bonzom’s landscapes, planted with trees and luxuriant. They dazzle us with their foliage and enchant us with their aerial, luminous, vibrant quality, like a rain of light.
Those landscapes are not wide panoramic views but focus on a few trees, more often than not on just one tree. We could be in the countryside, and yet, most landscapes deal with urban parks. Hence, a human presence, not always seen at first glance because the silhouettes of lovers, joggers and walkers blend in nature, even merge with her (the silhouette in “Camouflage-Cascade” seems to literally serve as a trunk for the foliage).
Leaves consume a large part of the surface of the painting. To compose them, Isabelle Bonzom’s touch is extremely fluid. There are, at once, a superposition of multiple and light strokes which give leaves a transparent, limpid, almost crystalline aspect, and a rhythm in the juxtaposition which conveys the shifting quality of vegetation. The alliance of the two engenders a sensation of gush and twinkle. She also uses of vivid colors that are supported, sublimated and sometimes devoured by white, a creamy and generous white. Her colors are brightened by the dark strokes of the branches (Bonnard said that, in order to give to yellow its vivacity and light, the painter must put some black underneath). This marvelous alchemy creates an impression of joy, an unctuous foliage.
However, behind this luminous and shifting foliage, lies an opaque universe with dense, indeed somber colors. That’s a place unrevealed, full of intensity, perhaps provoking anxiety, which attracts us inside the depth of the painting. Behind the luminous joy lies a sense of gravity, for joy is not a superficial or careless emotion nor a means for one to forget reality; no, joy is a will and a wish before life and art. As Isabelle Bonzom says, « In art, jubilation is a serious matter ».
This density is also found in the “Taking the plunge” series whose title seems highly symbolic to me. The water into which the swimmers dive could be an allegory for life. This is intense, opaque and abyssal water, traversed by currents and waves like Monet’s Nymphéas. Swimmers’ bodies are, for the most part, left in reserve (unpainted areas letting the canvas or wood support show on the surface), offering us the mental opportunity to project ourselves in the painting and complete it.
In her urban views (passers-by in the street or Metro system), Isabelle Bonzom adopts an almost photographic framing/composition, as if passers-by are seen through the viewfinder of a camera. In that constrained space, the artist plays on the disparity of scale in the juxtaposed elements of the picture. In « Catwalk » or « Minnie Mouse », the passers-by depicted in full length pass by the body of a woman displayed on an advertising poster which is too large to be viewed in its entirety. Isabelle Bonzom beautifully creates a "mise en abym" — she plunges into the abyss — : the advertising poster forms a picture within the picture, yet is incomplete as it spills over the frame of the painting. She also plays with the incongruity of a body wearing a swimsuit in the Parisian Metro (not allowing us to see the woman’s face, the composition reduces the person to a body, echoing the core message of any ad).
In Isabelle Bonzom’s work, the materiality of the painting itself allows pieces of daily life to become incarnated and to be at once astonishingly present and somewhat supernatural. Her work is the interplay of painted and unpainted areas, of precisely defined elements and elliptical ones, of opaque and saturated areas and others composed of transparencies, of what is made visible, what is only suggested and what is deliberately hidden.
In the face of a depressed and gloomy climate, Isabelle Bonzom champions a vitalistic conception of painting. Just as nature is a universe in perpetual growth and germination, yet feeding on destruction and rot, the painter does not ignore the difficulties of the human condition. However, and precisely because life is fragile and precarious, she prefers to explore its richness, while trying to preserve a capacity for amazement and wonder, letting herself be overcome by sensations and guided by intuition. Isabelle Bonzom’s painting does not ignore everyday life, she knows how to enchant it anew."
Copyright 2018 © Isabelle Bonzom