Bathers: Louise Bonnet @ Max Hetzler, Paris
Max Hetzler gallery is currently running the final couple of days of Louise Bonnet's first solo show in France, which, as expected, turned out to be one of our favorite shows we caught while in the city recently. Comprising seven new paintings, Bathers are focused on the interaction between the water and the figures, the constraint imposed by the beachside environment, and are exploring how water changes and distorts the scene, playing hide and seek with the viewer.
Through her oeuvre, which we kept a close eye on over the years, Bonnet has been highly interested in the figure and naked body. Starting off with fairly cartoonesque aesthetics a few years back and moving towards working in a much more painterly manner, she has been interested in the idea of shame, the lack of control, and the exposure that comes with nudity. This approach directly clashes with the instinctive connection with sexuality as her subjects, while being naked, are actually exceptionally vulnerable and fragile. This puts the viewer in an awkward moral position, but also informs the accentuated anatomical disparities which are meant to convey the weight and the pressure of that shame rather than caricature her protagonists. And by including water into that mix, the Geneva-born and LA-based artist adds a whole new dimension to her work, which allows breaking her figures further, while playing with light, or the underwater and overwater effects. But most importantly, it allows for comparison of our internal fluids with the one around us, and presentation of the more fragile, thin, and frail bodies, as they're getting invaded by the transparent liquid matter.
One of the signature elements of Bonnet's work since early on is the lack of faces. As a purposeful choice, this decision was made in order to direct the attention to the figures in their entirety and what their bodies, postures, or particular exaggerated features might be suggesting and conveying. This idea is obvious in Floating Gorgon, 2021, where the group of characters on the bottom left are actually having facial features. But instead of suggesting anything with their faces, they are expressionless and in dialogue with the rest of the image solely with their postures, placement, and suggestive perspective. On another hand, this entire body of work marks a shift towards a more loosened approach to mark making, permeating the entire exhibition with a strong painterly quality. Almost as if calling the work done after the first initial pass, there is an abundance of decisive brush marks noticeable throughout each image. These are also utilized to create the heat shimmer of the scorching beach sun, which is another element from which these figures are recoiling. With special attention put to hands and feet, especially fingers and toes, there is a great sense of tension and torsion created with a sfumato-like effect that sculpts the clenched muscles, knuckles, joints, and wrinkles. So, when compared with older, smoothly rendered, and more polished images, Bathers, and in particular Pissing Gorgon or Treasure Hunter, both 2021, certainly feel stronger, more grotesque, yet somehow anatomically truer and therefore more convincing than some of Bonnet's earlier works. —Sasha Bogojev