“FORCES OF NATURE”
Movement is inherent to all forms of life. The pictures of Michele Bohbot present us with a record of movement across layers of space, and thus with allegories of the very forces of life.
Michele Bohbot, who is passionate about yoga, aims to convey the energies that flow in nature through her art, for painting constitutes a meditative act for this artist. Significantly, Bohbot recently wrote about the abstract picture “Profoundness of Nature” (2008): “The lines in this painting represent the different layers of obstacles that one encounters during the inner quest”. It is worth noting that Michele Bohbot has a full life outside of the art world. She is a highly successful fashion designer and businesswoman, in addition to being a wife and mother of seven. I highlight these facts merely to underscore that Bohbot does not need to prove herself as a painter. Unlike so many other artists, Bohbot is free to act as she well pleases, independently of prevailing standards of taste. This painter may jump into the fray without knowing or even caring about the licks and tricks that are in today and will be declared passé tomorrow. Bohbot’s options are wide open. She may either play a time-tested card, or try to establish herself on the cutting edge. Significantly, Bohbot chooses the middle road. Her most compelling compositions have deep roots both in early modernist as well as much later artistic practice. Whether by accident or not, this is exactly what any artist building a solid body of work would want to achieve.
Michele Bohbot paints ribbons that fill most or all of the space in her compositions. The ribbons may be made to float, as in “Garden of the Seas” (2006), or they may be clustered together to form leafs or petals, as in “The Pool” (2008). “Garden of the Seas” offers an interesting take both on the figurative spaghetti paintings of James Rosenquist of the Sixties, and the fluid abstract linear designs of Karin Davie of the Nineties up to the present day. However, the quality of the light flowing from behind and through the ribbons, which is also found in Davie’s paintings, brings the transparency of foliage in Henri “Le Douanier” Rousseau’s jungle scenes to mind –another artist who happened to paint on the side. This parallel becomes all the more interesting when the ribbons are interpreted as teeming plant life, which reading is reinforced by this picture’s title and by so much of Bohbot’s figurative work. The yellow, grey and olive brown ribbons whip around as they pursue their search, like plants reaching with their stems, branches and leaves up towards light, and with their roots down into the soil towards water and nutrients. Significantly perhaps, Gerhard Richter and Sol Lewitt -two of our chief artistes philosophes- used ribbons as vehicles of expression, the former in his Seventies Grey paintings and the latter in work carried on into the new millennium. Bohbot’s all-over ribbon pictures embrace these art historical references while holding their own.
Pictures like “Illusion” (2007) or “The Pool”, with their contracting and expanding rhythms, also tackle quite a lineage, ranging from Georgia O’Keeffe to Judy Chicago and Pat Steir. Although Bohbot may be familiar with some or all of the sources I have listed so far, this does not make a difference, as her work automatically takes on the weight of meaning the traditions her works inscribe themselves within have accrued. In fact, Bohbot’s flows of energy -as she describes the vectors of movement that pervade her compositions- take on the nature of universal images. The artist, an avid practitioner of yoga, expresses metaphysics through her painting.
Bohbot embraces pattern and pronounced decorative effects. In “Two Souls Dancing” (2009) -as in “Garden of the Seas”, or its lovely sibling “Arteries of Wisdom” (2008) - the ribbons run continuously and without tapering from one edge to another edge of the composition, so that the picture continues theoretically on all four sides, into infinity. The preliminary idea for this painting, executed with oil directly on the canvas and consisting of two ovoids perched on top of long stems, is almost completely hidden beneath a dense network of ribbons intimating at growth and passage. Although all the ribbons that are depicted in this picture are of roughly equal width, it is not always clear if they are flat or tubular, thereby throwing additional ambiguity into the mix. It is worth noting that a dense network of ribbons was deployed in certain Early Medieval Hiberno-Saxon book-illuminations –like the carpet page of the Lindisfarne Gospels, of circa 700- fraught with spiritual resonance.
In “Arteries of the Passion” (2007), with its different shades of red, Bohbot uses transparent glazes in certain areas, thereby giving rise to vapor or fogginess in those places. Additionally, thin ribbons in the bottom left corner of the composition create a pocket of depth there, which introduces interesting tensions between foreground and middle-ground. The eye focuses upon a ribbon as if it were an avenue leading the eye across the painting until it disappears beneath another ribbon or beyond the edge of the painting. In “Strength and Tenderness” (2009), most ribbons veer at mid height towards the right or the left, and usually across two ribbons, before continuing their ascent to the top of this wide composition. Both the systematic organization of the ribbons and the way in which they seem to fulfill a weight-bearing function, bring architecture to mind. The mood of “Arteries of Wisdom” is so very different.
“Green Leaves” (2008) offers us a partly blurry close-up of leaves or petals against a soft yellow ground. The lines running through the forms articulate both warps in the planar surfaces of the plant and great speed, though these shapes are presumably still. However, everything is in a state of flux. In “The African” (2006), a female figure standing on one leg bends back completely to seize her ankle with both hands. Her other leg rises perfectly straight, from the hip to the top of the composition, so that the whole appears like a stem springing forth from a large pod. The browns in this composition are the color of earth. In ‘The Woman Fish” (2006), of the same year, the front side of a white female nude with chin raised high adheres to the underside of a huge red fish, the color of fire. Woman and fish become one under water, from which element all life emerged. Above the green waterline, rhythmically arranged feathers and shoots caress the breeze. Together, these two pictures present us –poetically- with the four elements, which are at the core of Michele Bohbot’s philosophy of life.
Dr. Michaël Amy Ph.D.