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Painting Flesh
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Buon Fresco


From May 22 to August 29, 2010, the City of Les Herbiers, in Vendée, western France, presented an unprecedented exhibition

Jouvences, carte blanche to art critic Pierre Sterckx

For this special show housed in the city art center, the Ardelay Castle, were gathered for the first time some of the most renowned contemporary living artists such as Wim Delvoye, Tony Cragg, Julie Mehretu, Christopher Wool, Charles Sandison and Eric Fischl.

“Although our show gathers artists of various generations and styles, all those artists have one thing in common: a rejection of the prevailing morosity. All reflect a vitalist contemporary art that is an art provoking intensely lived perceptions. Faced with the death wish that surrounds us, "Jouvences" does not, however, oppose it with a superficial hedonistic euphoria, for there is gravity in the joy that is shown in this exhibit”, wrote Pierre Sterckx

Among the 23 artists of different nationalities selected by Pierre Sterckx was Isabelle Bonzom. In 2003, she already had a solo show at the Ardelay Castle. Curated by David Rautureau, that exhibit was a retrospective of her work featuring around 70 paintings. For the Jouvences show, Pierre Sterckx's choice focused on recent paintings from her Cascade series.


Pierre Sterckx wrote: “Isabelle Bonzom has developed over two decades themes as varied as urban architectures, urban forests, subway systems, meats and nudes. But the invariant thread woven through all her work is her concern with incarnation. How to incarnate the movement of life and intensity of the flesh? More precisely, Isabelle Bonzom paints the fluid evolution of the flesh, the turmoil of bodies and their passages. She extends a quest that started with Caravaggio and Gentileschi and continued with Chardin and Bonnard.”


On June 4, Isabelle Bonzom was invited by David Rautureau, director of the Ardelay Castle, to lecture at the Jouvences exhibit. For her talk, she chose the following title:

Delicious gravity, jubilation in art

Jubilation in art is a serious matter. Isabelle Bonzom talked about her approach as a painter. She provided her thoughts on the notion of vitalism in art. She also discussed her correspondence on the matter with painter and sculptor Eric Fischl, while giving her take on his “Tumbling Woman, II”.

Isabelle Bonzom explains that the title of the talk came from a text about her work by Annette Smith, art collector and Emeritus Professor of Literature at the California Institute of Technology (Caltech):

"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?...
I, a stranger, want to know why Isabelle Bonzom paints those snowflake shaped dabs that make one feel the brush hurrying down, perhaps toward a final dissolution...
In her studio, 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?"

The artist recalls her talk:

"The talk "Delicious gravity" was the first time that I talked to a large audience in such an intimate tone but at the same moment with the purpose of testifying as an artist during a collective exhibit which was the extension of a general point of view, the one of the curator. The title of the show, "Jouvences", could be translated by " Jubilations". The exhibition was about vitalism in the creative process. My aim was to testify about the way I live art and about the way I paint what I paint, in a society which puts the emphasis on "sad passions", a negative vision of the body and of the painting considered as a dead thing. How to jubilate, how to continue to create in this context?

Looking at my paintings of lush landscapes, some people talk about a rejoicing and a loving vision. Some viewers feel that behind these vigorous images of "Cascades", for instance, a sense of catastrophy is hidden. I think both feelings are there. This complexity interests me.

I am often thrown by anxiety and doubt, by the fear of the fall, its visual, physical and symbolic aspects. But what happens when I paint?

Perhaps I've been influenced by lectures of Epicurus and Lucretius' rain of atoms and "fertile fluid". We are elements of nature, of the cosmos, we are all made of atoms. We are crossed by, we are part of them. Lucretius said: "just let go and live". We have to be careful because we are trapped by everyday life, by troubles and we are ossified by mental and cerebral attitudes. So, my primary aim is to continue to be attentive, open to sensations and to develop intuition.

I'm aware and concerned by danger and dramas, but I think the most important thing is to keep and develop the capacity for astonishement and marvel. The capacity to be sensitive to each moment, a smile, a flavor... Because I am aware of the precariousness and preciousness of life."

Isabelle Bonzom continues:

"I feel painting as a living body. The painter has to let it breathe, to take care not to insist on it, nor to fix it. My main purpose is to keep the rhythm. I develop my sensitivity to light and fluidity. I let the painting goes and acts. I play with the accidents, the randomness. Each work or series nourishes the other. I rejoice when a painting opens a new path that I have never imagined. For me, painting is a field of experiment, a great area of experiences and discoveries. Painting is linked to life, to my surrounding, not in a selfish way. "I" is not important. It's what we can share that interests me. To revigorate our own art, the capacity of adaptation is essential. "Listening" to the environment, being sensitive to the space between things and people are also crucial.

I feel my work as a spiral. It grows like a spiral and like a plant, with different and new ramifications which develop into an irregular spiral. Sometimes a curve of the spiral returns to the old and central point, touches it and goes toward the exterior. It's a moment when I have the sensation to re-visit a research and discover new fields."

"The art of the others also nourish me, especially some "old artists-friends" who are, for me, modern and alive, as Veronese, Seurat, Titian, Chardin, Rubens, Matisse or the Pompeians. Movies, music, dance, philosophy, literature* also nourish me. During the talk, I showed external images, very important for me, as this one, which is a still from "Kaos" the Taviani Brothers's film, based on novels by Pirandello. The children are tumbling down a pumice dust hill, jumping into the Mediterranean sea. In "Kaos", the stories and the characters are inscribed within the landscape which takes an important role. The human beings are in symbiosis with their environment."



Artist Isabelle Bonzom, who is also a French expert of the work of American artist Eric Fischl, explored the question of the fall in his work:

"During my talk "Delicious Gravity", I commented "Tumbling Woman, II" by Eric Fischl. This sculpture combines dynamism and drama. It gathered different and sometimes antinomic aspects. From above, the figure is eroticized, it reminds us that "to tumble" means not only "to fall". From a distance, we see an athletic and female body on the ground. We don't know exactly if she is falling down or if she is about to stand up. She is twisted in a spiral tensed into two opposite directions. The Tumbling Woman seems to struggle against the emptiness, against gravity, in an improbable and astonishing equilibrium. To me, Tumbling Woman is like an Amazon, an archetipal and emblematic figure, with her tonic tension, with the special gesture of her arms and her reduced right breast.

The way Eric Fischl has molded the face is extraordinary. Partly erased. Disformed? A loss of identity? A mark on the mold looks like a "scar". It reinforces the sensation to be in front of an écorché, a sacrifice. Because of this "scar", the face of the Tumbling Woman is like a mask. It's not a portrait of a specific person, it could be everyone. It's as if this figure incarnates all the victims who jumped from the Twin Towers in September 11, 2001, a tragedy Eric Fischl had in mind when he made the Tumbling Woman. The strong and vivid presence of this sculpture is an hymn. Tumbling Woman embodies the absence after the total disparition of these victims."






Isabelle Bonzom ended her talk Delicious gravity with a sentence that Eric Fischl sent her,

"I will say," wrote Eric Fischl " that I have also talked about my creativity using the image of a spiral. I wonder if there is a term or condition in physics where an energy can be both contracting and expanding simultaneously but that is how I feel about my spiral. The revolutions become tighter and more focused as my awareness and understanding become more expansive. Your title "Delicious Gravity" is profoundly ironic which for me speaks to a perverse delight in tragedy. I don't mean perverse in any moralistic way. It is the only position one can take; pleasure in what cannot be prevented or escaped."

* During her talk, Isabelle Bonzom quoted Henri Bergson and Joseph Delteil.

Read, listen and see more about:
- Jouvences exhibition
- Isabelle Bonzom's analysis about Tumbling Woman and Ten Breaths by Eric Fischl

- Isabelle Bonzom's approach and current research
- fragmentation of the body and precariousness on Off with their heads! and Painting flesh
- a conversation between Baldine Saint Girons, Pierre Sterckx and Isabelle Bonzom about white as a fertile color
- comments by Eurydice Trichon-Milsani and Paola Cocchi about drama and accident in Bonzom's Cascade series
- images of falls in Isabelle Bonzom's murals 1 and murals 2
- portraits of Eric Fischl by Isabelle Bonzom

Eric Fischl also wrote an essay on Isabelle Bonzom's painting, "Entre nous", published in the catalogue "Traverses"

Isabelle Bonzom expresses her thanks to Claude Baudez, CNRS iconologist and mayanist, expert of self-sacrifice, for their conversation about sacrifice.

She also thanks the Taviani Brothers, Annette Smith, Eric Fischl, Pierre Sterckx, David Rautureau, Marie Tochet,
the City of Les Herbiers and the Templon Gallery.

Press release of the Jouvences show, list of the 23 artists:

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