Bio & CV
Painting Flesh
Wall Paintings
Buon Fresco


about Isabelle Bonzom's painting by

Eric Fischl - Pierre Sterckx - Baldine Saint Girons - Colin Lemoine
Kathy Borrus - Vincent Cristofoli - Annette Smith - Anne Galzi - David Rautureau
Eunju Park - Marie-France Braeckman - Eurydice Trichon-Milsani - Paola Cocchi - Martine Méheut

"Entre nous"

by Eric Fischl

American artist Eric Fischl meditates on Isabelle Bonzom’s painting. In his text "Entre nous", the world-renowned New York painter and sculptor weaves an imaginary dialogue with the French artist. Excerpt :

« I see people in the park. Some are sitting. Some are walking. Some push strollers. It is a beautiful day. They go about their business. They do not see what we are seeing though it is all around them, almost devouring them. Why do they not see? What greater spectacle is required to arrest their attention? If this celebration of renewal cannot stop them in their tracks, how can they let go, even for a moment, their routines? How can they ever break free from their tedium and ennui? If they cannot experience joy or share it then what must the rest if their day be like? »
... " They suffer terribly but they do not know that they suffer. Because they are in pain, because they have enough, because they have done what they thought they were supposed to do, they do not know that they are suffering. And because they do not know they suffer, I suffer for them. I have become the artist. Become you. I see the world the way you have shown it to me. It is a paradox. The rift that occurs when the conflicts between the inside and the outside of our lives are made visible. You seem to be saying to me, through the vision of your painting: « If you see a leaf on fire, could you understand love? If you see trees explode with the force of a waterfall, but burn hot with desire, would you finally realize that love has consumed you? » »

Read the full essay by Eric Fischl " Entre nous"


Read the article written by the American writer, Kathy Borrus, in the Fearless Traveler


Still life
By Colin Lemoine

Colin Lemoine is a curator, an art historian and art critic. He and former French Minister of Culture Jack Lang co-authored a book on Michelangelo (Fayard publishing house, 2012). In his essay "Still life", Colin Lemoine gives his insight on Isabelle Bonzom's painting. Excerpt :

Isabelle Bonzom ... knows the fragility as much as the greatness of the decisive moment, its charge of unknown as well as its universal discretion. Here, a crossroads populated by solitude; there, a street inhabited by anonymous people; here, a glimpse of a tree, there, a probable shadow. Everything melts and is in tune with everything. Everything seems necessary and evident, as if the world, at last, was seen itself being put into words, into forms. Things make sense.

From our baroque lives, Isabelle Bonzom extracts purity. Not realistic or naturalistic purity – that is the privilege of the documentary and the photograph – but symbolic purity, almost symbolist.

Colin Lemoine

Read the full essay by Colin Lemoine "Still Life"


" The Original Taste of The Peach Tree
by Anne Galzi

I.B. invariably looks for the imprint of that memory in the unmade bed of her canvas: a delicious fruit burst in the mouth.
The juice defies time, splashes onto the painting and runs on her hand, a pictorial gesture. 
A hand blossoms again and grows repels the night, at the scar where the fruit was picked on the branch.

Read more of " The Original Taste of The Peach Tree "

In May 2014 « Vendée Magazine », a bi-monthly published in and about the eponymous Western region of France, dedicated a special edition to the 30 most prominent and creative contemporary women born in Vendée. Among them, editor David Rautureau writes about Isabelle Bonzom, who was born in Fontenay-le-Comte, a medieval and Renaissance city which also gave birth to François Viète, inventor of the new algebra and the foremost mathematician of the XVIth century, as well as hosted writer and humanist François Rabelais when he was a monk and scholar.

“Isabelle Bonzom, The Absolute Painter”
by David Rautureau

Born in Fontenay-le-Comte in 1964, Isabelle Bonzom lived there until she was 10. Today, she is based in Charenton, near Paris. For Isabelle Bonzom, painting can be everywhere and take all possible forms. The artist is among those who have literally reinvented watercolor. She is also one of the great experts at fresco panting. She authored a standard reference book on the topic published by Eyrolles in 2010 and taught fresco for ten years at the International Center for Mural Art in Saint Savin. She also lectures at Pompidou Center.

Her favorite themes as a painter are the body and landscape. She paints as no one else human bodies in motion through landscapes, mostly urban ones.

Her childhood in Fontenay-le-Comte has nourished her oeuvre, she says. “As a child, I not only learned to paint but also practiced dance there, which may explain my fascination by the movements of the body. The plains of Southern Vendée also remain in my memory, the fields which extend as far as the eye can see and the land which regularly comes up in my pictures,” she notes.

Fontenay-le-Comte’s classic and military statuary heritage made a strong impression on Isabelle Bonzom, herself a great expert and lover of sculpture. Then, the Mervent forest may be holding the roots of the artist’s attraction to blossoming trees which, in her work, become veritable explosions of color.

Her native Vendée has paid several tributes to Isabelle Bonzom with several exhibitions*, in Fontenay in 1993, Noirmoutier en 1996, and at the Herbiers in 2003 and 2010.


* Personal exhibitions and group shows, see résume

"The Savor of things"
Interview with Pierre Sterckx

Pierre Sterckx, who died in May 2015, was an art critic. He worked for French art magazines Beaux-Arts Magazine, Art Press and Art Studio. He was a great supporter of Isabelle Bonzom's painting. They had a long conversation about art, which started the very first day the critic and the artist met, in 2001. This dialogue continued until Pierre Sterckx’ death. Read excerpts of their conversation:

Pierre Sterckx: Your series of meats and bodies are one of the important vectors in everything you paint. I see your picture of people in the subway as a display window that resonates with your painting of ribs on a butcher stall.

Isabelle Bonzom: These "Subway stairs" are bodies accumulated in a given space. People go down the steps, each in a particular way and in motion. It is an activity that is repeated daily, that people do without thinking about it, and yet, as a viewer, it can be perceived as a piece of choreography. Every individual has interest: his/her look, his/her flesh tint.

P.S.: Your painting is very sanguine and carnal: there are ochers, reds, something reminiscent of blood and flesh, yet not expressionist or lacking substance. Indeed, painting meat as you do is not mortiferous, it’s the contrary of a sad passion.

I.B.: My work tries to evoke delight and jubilation at the world through the medium of painting, but without ruling out a critical outlook, on the contrary. It’s not about embellishing or idealizing the world, it’s not about being gaga in front of it. Everything depends on the way we look at things. I try to be attentive and receptive to my environment in order to see it in a positive way.

P.S.:The act of painting is, in effect, an act of sensation. Some don’t even know anymore what they feel as they face a color or a rhythm. They are immediately caught in prejudices and small concepts that prevent them from feeling...You deal with a certain type of body, with flesh which is not what we might think because we have lost our sense of carnality.

I.B.: The body I paint is alive and intense. It quivers.

P.S.: Yes, it is alive. It is maybe why the latest paintings (landscapes, crowds and even meats) feature bodies in motion. It is like being on a traveling platform. There is a sort of visual caress. The steps of the stairs are a series of markers that graduates what is impossible to graduate because it is a crowd, and then, this sort of large and oblique red area says to us: “I am a piece of flesh that one can penetrate without cutting anything, I am only an oblique”. And then, what do I find out ? The diversity of the bodies and their virtual slices, transversal cuttings.

Read more:
the entire conversation between Pierre Sterckx and Isabelle Bonzom
published in 2006 in The Heart of the Matter


Discover the Tribute to art critique Pierre Sterckx

Watch a talk between art critic Pierre Sterck, and philosopher Baldine Saint Girons about Isabelle Bonzom's painting,
at the gallery d'Est et d'Ouest, in Paris: excerpts of this talk.

“The limpidities of Isabelle Bonzom”
by Baldine Saint Girons

Baldine Saint Girons is a professor of Esthetics and Philosophy at the University of Nanterre, Paris X. An art curator, she is also the author of many books, in particular “Le Paysage et la question du sublime (The Landscape and the Question of the Sublime)” (Editions du Seuil, 2001). She has published "Les Marges de la nuit", 2006, Editions de l'Amateur

“Strength and tranquility strike the viewer in Isabelle Bonzom’s paintings, but first, unusual limpidities. Is ‘limpid’ an equivalent to ‘liquid’ or does it derive from the Greek word lampô which means ‘shine’ ? In any case, Isabelle’s paintings combine fluidity with clarity and luminosity. Successive layers appear, rendering the viewer sensitive to history and giving the acute sentiment of the kairos , that auspicious moment when things reveal themselves and can be understood.

Watercolor is Isabelle’s medium par excellence. Look at those meats: they are painted as tenderly as a landscape. The pale pink, the carmine red and the orange appear from under the vermilion and scarlet red. The grey and the amaranth show on the surface through the beige and the white, applied with large snowy touches. From a background of black ink, emerges a rack of short rib never seen before. Two light strings guide it into levitation and the reflection of its appearance is spread on a board. By applying layers upon layers of touches, it is as if the painter transports us through the matter and makes us reach its core of phosphorescence.

Those membra disjecta offered to our sight do not reproach us for being accomplices to the cruelty of the slaughterhouse. Nothing of the cadaver here, but the radiance of the flesh that has become imputrescible.
Nothing, neither, that calls for the fork and knife, but a pure shine, a raw glory which calls for an outlook enamored of truth and organization.
All the beauty of the world is there: perfect distinction, ingenuity of production, radiant depth. The search for the beautiful, as was shown by Galien commented on by Jackie Pigeaud, lies under the thin envelopes of the skin. And nature is an inner Phidias.

No bloodiness, but a measured and restrained appearance. The short rib fleetingly looms up into our visual field, as an epiphany. Is it going to enter the canvas and disappear for ever? The triad of a dark night, a red and white short rib and a pool of light seems to emerge from a unique moment."

Click on Buon Fresco to read more about Baldine Saint Girons' text. See other paintings from the series on the Meat

"What is tender, fragile and delectable in a man’s body
by Marie-France Braeckman

Art historian Marie-France Braeckman is also an art collector. In the catalogue of the exhibit Isabelle Bonzom, "Corps à corps, terre à terre", she writes about Isabelle Bonzom’s series of male nudes ( 1994-2002)

"Isabelle Bonzom’s paintings convey a sense of health, solidity and sturdiness, as well as an appetite for life that run counter to the dramatic vision of sickly and suffering flesh with which we are too often presented. Isabelle invites us to look differently at the image that unites flesh and meat, an image that she translates with legible lines and outlines and with frank flat surfaces of colors. Her research leads to a vision of the male nude that no other artist, in particular no other female artist, has ever dared to express. Hers is a lucid look of jubilation that manages to render, both with modesty and boldness, what is tender, fragile and delectable in a man’s body, when that body dares to surrender and accepts to be looked at without the conventional attitudes that aim to extol the conquering virility."

See more Male Nudes here.


"An eroticization of landscape" by Vincent Cristofoli

Vincent Cristofoli is an art historian and a curator. In 1996, as director of the Museum of the Island of Noirmoutier, in the West of France, he gave Isabelle Bonzom carte blanche to on site work related to their collections. Within the collections and outside on the walls in the surrounding streets, the artist exhibited more than 100 of her paintings. Different series were shown: Faces, Meats, Objects ( drawings on roof tiles) and Landscapes. Vincent Cristofoli's text was published in 2003 in Isabelle Bonzom's catalogue.

"The road is like a shock.
Shade is laid down as a laceration. Isabelle Bonzom contrasts surfaces, one is fluid, the other not. She contrasts colors, too: warm colors, cold ones, muted and vivid ones. She delights in producing not one but many marked contrasts and her palette expands and intensifies. Now, she contrasts matters and hues. The blade of the brush has left a black gash in the flesh of the support.
Cut and severed, the city presents a gaping hole. The construction site is a wound.
The subtlety of the layers of flesh unveiled by the artist is, in itself, erotic.
For their part, the rural landscapes are cut through by a construction site. It is the highway being built that passes; it cuts through the earth as a ploughshare, and goes deeper still.
Isabelle Bonzom proposes to us a state, a moment in time. Suspended. There are no regrets, only a statement of fact full of delectation...
Finally, beyond what she suggests, beyond all those faces and meats, one can bring a stream of evocative terms: rawness, execution, slaughter… All refer to a world that goes very far.
Isabelle Bonzom’s painting, understood as a material, is under constant evolution. She seeks chromatic uses, she pursues her work both slowly and quickly, as a fresco painter.
Therefore, one can follow her in her paintings and feel all the innovations, all the variations, and the maturity of her brush and of her intent. Her latest paintings beget others.
In her jubilation in the visceral act of creating, one senses that new pictorial territories are being opened to her and by her."


“Experiencing the universal” by Martine Méheut

Martine Méheut is a doctor in Philosophy. She is the author of “Penser le Temps" (Thinking about Time), published by Ellipses Marketing and “L'invention du Bonheur" (The Invention of Happiness) published by La Table Ronde. She is also an art connoisseur and collector. In the catalogue for Isabelle Bonzom’s exhibit “Corps à corps, terre à terre”, Martine Méheut reflects on the series of faces painted by the artist between 1990 and 1992.

"The eyes of those faces are extremely present, without any notion of future or past. They are a timeless presence. Isabelle Bonzom has effaced anything concerned with anecdote, and temporality is, indeed, a form of anecdote. The faces series is about escaping out of time through fullness, rather than through stiffness. It is a living presence, it is full of life but life without time that flies, without anything ephemeral…

All I see in Isabelle’s paintings seems to be lit up. It is perfectly luminous, crystal-clear as far as light is concerned and yet, she approaches obscurity, that is to say, mystery. Through light, she reaches mystery.
Isabelle doesn’t muse, she finds what is essential. In her work, I see a return to the inside, a return to intimacy. Intimacy in the sense that I, as an human being, have shed all my singularities and found the central core again. It is intimacy as universality.
I am not interested in what is different but in what we share. Why am I moved by Isabelle Bonzom’s work ? Because I feel something I live, something that is buried somewhere and that we, human beings, probably share, thanks to a dimension in which we can live, and that is what universality is.

Universality is actual experience that one cannot reach every day or at every moment because one is dragged away and absorbed. In fact, one is absent-minded. By contrast, universality is the opposite of absent-mindedness, and something of the same nature as experience.”

"An enigma, an expansive and dreamy joy"
by Eurydice Trichon-Milsani

An art critic and a doctor in art history, Eurydice Trichon-Milsani is also a writer and a poet. Following a conversation with Isabelle Bonzom at the painter’s studio, she wrote an essay that is a sort of meditation on the theme of the flesh, a theme very present in Isabelle Bonzom’s work. Translated in English are some excerpts of her text published in the 2003 catalogue of the exhibition "Corps à corps, terre à terre", at the Château d'Ardelay, art center of the City of Les Herbiers, Vendée, France.



“Bodies alone. Sprawling, sitting, falling backwards, taking the pose of Mantegna’s Jesus-Christ, they are here like targets in an empty space, their heads missing, out of the frame of the image... Silky envelope, bared and vivid flesh, put side by side, weave a dialogue in a troubling way. The viewer finds that same interest in the rapprochement of what is within and what is outside in Isabelle Bonzom’s series of paintings about the mouth, that intimate opening of the body which is not the redoubtable “safe“ evoked by Francis Bacon. Isabelle Bonzom’s mouths, often smiling, suggest an enigma, an expansive or dreamy joy.
The effect of the “cut”, cruel in the series on the bodies, is different in the case of the landscapes. The anatomical fragments of the urban fabric are tonic and perceived as abstract compositions.
These contrasts between the figure and the environment, between the human and the matter constitute an artistic choice that stimulates the eyes as well as the thoughts. For Isabelle Bonzom, painting is visiting the world, taking ownership of it, and then, making an inventory of the world, investing the canvas with that unctuous mat aspect, that structural density which is the imprint of character.
All this abundant variety, all this moderate exuberance is a precious present which the artist lavishes at a moment when painting becomes rare.”

See more Smiles or Male nudes


"Delicious gravity"
by Annette Smith

Art collector, Annette Smith is an Emeritus Professor of Literature at the California Institute of Technology (Caltech). She has authored books and articles on the general theme of “the Question of the Other,” in the XIXth and XXth Century literatures. She is a specialist of Aimé Césaire's poetry. She is the recipient of a several awards from the National Endowment for the Humanities, the National Endowment for the Arts and the Poetry Society of America. Her husband David R. Smith was the founder, director and later Chairman of the Board of the Caltech Baxter Gallery (1971—1987) which specialized in contemporary and avant-garde art and whose archives are now in the Archives of Contemporary Art at the Washington DC Smithsonian Institute, in the USA.

"Showers of leaves in various seasonal glory, depths of fronds disappearing into nowhere, tiny joggers barely distinct from tree trunks. A crowd, human foliage floating down subway stairs. A world perpetually gushing, created by some Danaë?

Her name is Isabelle, a Marie Mancini escaped from Louis Quatorze’s court, kicking up her heels, enormous joyous eyes, a fine waist between generous hips and breasts she manages to display by the very way she covers them.

I, a stranger, want to know why she paints those snowflake shaped dabs that make one feel the brush hurrying down, perhaps toward a final dissolution. She does not know, she says after thinking over it.

Just then, I am standing next to a tiny table on which lie several large lumps of stone, one of them halfway off the support. Instinctively, I push it back onto the table. “No, no,” Isabelle protests in alarm. “ I like things to be about to fall!”
Ha! Here we are! At this exquisite, delicious, frightening point where gravity takes over gravitas.

Wasn’t it Montaigne who wrote that where everything falls nothing falls?"


November 2009


Wall paintings in a jailhouse,
conversation with Paola Cocchi

In 2000, the French Ministries of Justice and Culture jointly commissioned Isabelle Bonzom for an ensemble of 30 mural paintings at the Jailhouse of Saint-Malo, on the coast of Brittany. The artist created a comprehensive pictorial program specific to the space and its residents and inspired by the theme of the sea. A catalogue documents that project. Featured in the catalogue is a conversation between Isabelle Bonzom and art critic/psychotherapist Paola Cocchi. Click here to read the French catalogue.

In June 2008, there was a talk by Paola Cocchi, psychotherapist, and Eurydice Trichon-Milsani, art critic about Isabelle Bonzom's painting,
in the gallery d'Est et d'Ouest, in Paris.
Please click here to view excerpts of this talk

Isabelle Bonzom is the author of a long conversation with Eric Fischl. Read excerpts of this talk published in May 2009 by the website Culture&Cie. The first part of the conversation is entitled The breath and the touch, followed with a second part which deals with shadows in "Ten Breaths". She has also written an essay about the Ten Breaths, Eric Fischl's installation: “Ten Breaths,” a place for experiment and a return to the origins

Read and see more on Writings by Isabelle Bonzom


More articles about Isabelle Bonzom's painting in the French version of this site, please click here.

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