Surreal cartoon like characters with larger than life bodies and no heads line the walls of London’s Galerie Max Hetzler. The new paintings by Louise Bonnet are a corporeal representation of the pressures of being alive, the mental stresses that are all too familiar with 21st century life.
In works like Hollywood 1 (2019) and Hollywood 2 (2019) a half-naked female figure appears to be running away from something within a pitch black, nameless place. As she does so however, a force from behind her seems to be pulling her back, as her arms fling themselves behind her. Perhaps she is being swept up by Hollywood, or maybe it’s something else. In both images, the minimal clothing that she is wearing is so sheer that she might as well not be wearing anything at all. Similar to a painting by Lucas Cranach, Bonnet uses fabric to draw the eye towards bare flesh, instead of concealing it from us.
In other works, the figure seems to hide from us. In Lost At Sea (2019) a character has their head in their hands, seemingly in desperation. Their elongated nose rests on a tissue on the table, covered in droplets of tears. Similarly, in Wailer (2019), a figure lies on a table; hanging their head over the edge, while a glass underneath collects a bucket of tears. And, most dramatically, in Fresh Humiliation Escaping from its Blanket of Lies (2019), the subject covers themselves completely in what looks like a bed sheet, as though whatever has happened is so dreadful, they couldn’t dare expose their face to the viewer.
And yet, despite the subject matter seeming sad, Bonnet’s works are actually quite humorous. Her bulbous figures bring a smile. They might be likened to a George Condo painting, but they are softer, more gentle. The fact that their faces are hidden shows a certain vulnerability, that perhaps they are not quite ready to face the world as it is.
In some paintings, Bonnet’s curvaceous figures appear with their bodies constricted by rope. In Rope Butt (2019) a nude blonde-haired character looks out to sea while their rear is brought into attention by a heavy white chord. In The Patriarchy (2019) meanwhile, a women stands beneath a tree, with her breasts attached to it as they are left suspended from its branches in ropes like a hammock. And, given the way that these characters are restricted, and in light of the titles of the artworks, one can’t help but wonder whether the work is a comment on attitudes towards the objectification and sexualisation of women’s bodies by the media and media industries. Perhaps they are even in reference of the #MeToo movement, which would make sense, since Bonnet lives and works in Los Angeles.
Bonnet’s paintings succeed in highlighting both comedy and tragedy. Blowing up the issues we face in 2019, from mental illness and stress to increasingly more complicated relationships with our bodies, this new body of work couldn’t be more timely.
Louise Bonnet: New Works is on display at Galerie Max Hetzler, First Floor, Dover Street, London W1 4NS until 27 February 2020