Louise Bonnet - 20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale Hong Kong Thursday, March 30, 2023 | Phillips

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  • Los Angeles-based Swiss painter Louise Bonnet dances between the humorous, the beautiful, and the monstrous in her paintings of strangely contorted, misshapen bodies or figures with oddly placed organs and appendages. Rendered with the meticulous attention to light, shadow, and texture of the Renaissance masters, her paintings enact emotions of shame and revulsion through the dramatic surrealism of the absurd. The Velour Jumpsuit, created in 2016, is an enchanting and thought-provoking example of Bonnet’s distinctive style. An apparently bodiless pale purple velvety jumpsuit set against a glowing greenish-yellow background is the tranquil backdrop for the outlandish occurrence of a digestive organ, placed outside of the body. The organ, which brings to mind a human stomach, is effortlessly volumetric and exquisitely rendered in chiaroscuro, and although located outside of the body it is drawn into the painting’s inherent drama via the rope that ties around the waist of the velour suit.



    Peculiar Bodies, Uncomfortable Minds

    “I’m interested in shame and the body in my paintings, and bodily functions bring extra shame and embarrassment.”
    — Louise Bonnet

    Bonnet studied illustration and design in Geneva, and early on in her career created mostly traditionally figurative drawings and paintings. Her decision to one day focus solely on drawing faces for six months proved to be a turning point in her stylistic evolution. This concentrated period led to the discovery of her signature droopy, balloon-like style of painting noses, which later developed into her unique visual language of swollen, contorted, often faceless bodies.


    Captivated by the corporeal manifestation of internal emotions such as guilt and shame, Bonnet blurs the distinction between mind and body by synchronizing depth, volume, and form with the absurd and grotesque. As the artist herself says, her work portrays a deep interest in how “emotions [are] made visible through the body.” Her contorted, uncomfortable bodies evoke psychological anguish, hinting at the innate connection between the physical and inner emotional worlds. She often portrays unguarded moments where her subject is made vulnerable to the viewer’s gaze, however, her decision to omit the face in most of her work allows the viewer to participate without shame or self-consciousness in the subject’s distress.

    “I think the openings in the body are where shame happens, but you always cover it. There are all these rules about all the openings in the body, right? Like, things leaking out—that can’t happen. That’s really interesting to me, just the body out of control, or things happening to the body and how you would react to it.”
    — Louise Bonnet

    The Velour Jumpsuit provides a glimpse into a surreal world where the subject’s absurdly exposed organ reveals their susceptibility to embarrassment and shame. The image is cropped so all that is visible is the jumpsuit from neck to groin, and the focus on this seemingly innocuous article of clothing implies the subject’s metaphorical nakedness and vulnerability. The digestive organ’s unprotected state betrays the subject’s lack of containment or control over their own body, a recurring theme in Bonnet’s oeuvre.



    The Beautiful, the Cartoonish, and the Grotesque


    Bonnet began to use oil paint for the first time in 2013 and found that its flexibility and versatility allowed her to manipulate light and shadow to create volume. This transition from the compositional flatness of acrylics led her to produce canvases with greater depth and dimensionality that call to mind the work of Renaissance Masters such as Lucas Cranach the Elder.



    Lucas Cranach the Elder, Judith with the Head of Holofernes, c. 1530
    Collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York
    Image: © The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Rogers Fund, 1911, 11.15


    Adopting the visual tools of the Renaissance masters, Bonnet uses the magic of beauty as a vehicle to expose the horrible and grotesque in her work. In The Velour Jumpsuit, the viewer is caught off guard by the aesthetic charm of the velvety suit and its luminous backdrop. The fluid rendering of the creases in the fabric, which appears luxuriously soft to the touch, is at odds with the arresting appearance of the internal organ outside the body. The symmetry and elegance of the velour suit belie the gut that hangs bizarrely in the middle of the canvas.



    “The beauty is a tool to get to the real thing. Or maybe it’s an entryway. In a way, it’s a trick. In [Alfred] Hitchcock, for example, everything is really beautiful, right? The hair, and the color, and everyone looks great. And that sort of tricks you into trusting where he’s leading you. And then he just collapses that. It’s kind of like magic. You can be so much more horrified if you’re led into something thinking you can trust it.”
    — Louise Bonnet

    Bonnet approaches the absurd and grotesque through a unique blend of the beauty and stateliness of chiaroscuro and the cartoon-like quality of satirical art. Fascinated with horror films, she masterfully marries beauty and comedy with the frightful. Skillfully mingling beauty, humor, and fear, Bonnet’s Velour Jumpsuit provides a powerful reminder that our corporeality is part of what it means to be alive.



    Collector’s Digest


    • Born in Geneva in 1970, Bonnet studied at Haute école d’art et de design and began her creative career working in graphic design and illustration. In 2008 she launched her painting career with a solo exhibition at Subliminal Projects in Los Angeles. Her recent exhibitions include Onslaught (31 May – 6 August 2022), at Gagosian in Hong Kong in 2022, her first solo show in Asia, Bathers at Galerie Max Heltzer in Paris (11 September – 30 October 2021), marking her French debut, and The Hours at Gagosian in New York City (29 September – 7 November 2020). Bonnet was also included in The Milk of Dreams at the Venice Biennale in 2022.

    • Bonnet’s work can also be found in the permanent collections of Yuz Foundation, Shanghai; Los Angeles County Museum of Art; the San Fransisco Museum of Modern Art; Hammer Museum, Los Angeles, and Brandhorst Museum, Munich, among others.

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    • Provenance

      Gagosian Gallery, Greece
      Acquired from the above by the present owner


The Velour Jumpsuit

oil on canvas
182.9 x 152.4 cm. (72 x 60 in.)
Painted in 2016.

Full Cataloguing

HK$800,000 - 1,200,000 

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20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale

Hong Kong Auction 30 March 2023