“I am interested in the body. In what having a body feels like, or how we try to hide the way it feels. To contain it or control it. How it brings shame and humiliation because we cannot control it,” says artist Louise Bonnet. “I am fascinated by the ornamentation of it, the extreme ways of hiding our primal origins with all this external stuff. For example, with the Hitchcock Blonde, or the renaissance portraits, where any sign of wildness is eradicated. I love all the intricate techniques used to achieve this. It’s so prevalent and all-encompassing.”
Born in Geneva, Louise moved to Los Angeles in 1994, where she currently resides. Prior to this, and all the way up until 2013, she had never used oil paint. She worked primarily with acrylic, gouache and ink, mostly on large scale paper. But discovering this new material was a revelation for her: “At a certain point, I realised I was trying to make acrylic behave in a way that wasn’t going to work for it. I wanted more depth and flexibility,” she tells It’s Nice That. “When I finally tried oil, it was love at first sight. It really was as if I had been trying to make oil paintings my whole life with the wrong tool. But oil was intimidating; you had to mix stuff up, it was sort of toxic and appeared complicated.”
Complex as it may be, Louise has certainly adapted, and adapted well. Her recent work is captivating. Exaggerated bodily features stretch across the canvas, making the flesh the focus of each piece. The other details appear secondary, serving only to draw attention to the figure in the middle. Bold backdrops do little to contextualise each painting, instead emphasising a juxtaposition between their striking colours and the peachy shades of skin. Curves and folds and creases amplify the contours of the body, whilst hair almost always covers the entire head and face, maintaining the figure’s anonymity.
It’s interesting then, to hear about Louise’s latest inspiration: Humiliation by Wayne Koestenbaum. A mix of cultural critique and personal reflection, Koestenbaum’s book is an investigation into the meaning of the word. There are parallels to be found here between the concept of humiliation, how it serves as a reminder of our physical being, and the figures in Louise’s work. Contorted, they look as if they could burst from the canvas at any moment. The positioning often feels undignified, yet their concealed identities prevent the viewer from observing their expression. To that end, can we make any assumptions about their discomfort? In the book, Koestenbaum poses a similar question with regards to a controversial photo taken by Annie Leibowitz of Susan Sontag’s body at the time of her death. Is it humiliating that Sontag had no say in this? But, equally, does it even matter if she is already dead, and the photographer is a loved one? “I’ve been thinking about this book a lot,” says Louise.
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