Hans Theys is een twintigste-eeuws filosoof en kunsthistoricus. Hij schreef en ontwierp tientallen boeken over het werk van hedendaagse kunstenaars en publiceerde honderden essays, interviews en recensies in boeken, catalogi en tijdschriften. Al deze publicaties zijn gebaseerd op samenwerkingen of gesprekken met de kunstenaars in kwestie.

Dit platform werd samengesteld door Evi Bert (M HKA / Centrum Kunstarchieven Vlaanderen). Het kwam tot stand in samenwerking met de Koninklijke Academie voor Schone Kunsten in Antwerpen (Onderzoeksgroep ArchiVolt), M HKA, Antwerpen en Koen Van der Auwera. Met dank aan Idris Sevenans (HOR) en Marc Ruyters (Hart Magazine).


Manon Bara - 2018 - Blond Painting [EN, interview]
, 4 p.




Hans Theys


Blond Painting

A few words on Manon Bara’s work


Manon Bara was born in France in 1985. I met her for the first time in 2010. Her freedom in her choice of subjects and the precision of her forms struck me at first glance. Bara is an artist. Not because she produces beautiful drawings and superb paintings, but because hers is a rich, direct, passionate, committed relationship to the world. Her commitment is both poetic and political, in the full sense of this word: she loves people, animals and vegetables. How lovely that such a free, committed woman should also be able to paint! That way, we are able to discover an art which is part of a whole and isn’t suspended in mid-air, one that is not manneristic, or hollow, or pompous.

And in addition, her paintings are very well painted. Bara uses several techniques and employs different supports, but up to this day she always uses lacquer, seeking unexpected effects of colour and texture. Her use of colour is astounding. I have in front of me a splendid painting representing a water melon cut in two. To render the volume (the play of light and shadow) of the half which shows itself to the spectator with its yellow peel, she used a warm yellow, some red and some green. On the left, a warm yellow spot represents the part of the peel on which light is cast. In the middle and to the right, to create the shadowy area, she has covered some red with fine layers of green, allowing more red to show through in the middle. And this is all done with paint which swims, gets mixed together, disperses in an uncontrolled manner… Where it represents the inside part of the cut melon, the painting is chiefly white and red. The two colours meet freely, creating beautiful shapes and a beautiful texture. You can see that this is a painting. The technique and the colours both tell you this.

Manon Bara: Oh, paintings evoking blond hair! I do like blondness. It’s part of the persona. It’s a wig. You can change roles. It also works with African masks, which are a bit angular. My current paintings explore the animal side of man and the human side of animals. What makes animals human is first of al the sparkle in their eyes. What turns a man, a woman or a non-binary person into an animal is fur. Have you seen my painting with the woman covered in hair? Nature is not what interests me, but rather nature in human beings, as it appears in old age, at birth… Even my gesture in painting is a bit wild. I like emotion, there has to be some emotion.   

          When I went to Germany, I had become disillusioned with France, as it exalted a painting of ideas, of concepts. I studied in the hotbed of expressionism, in Dresden. My work takes its inspiration from a fantasised Africa, the Africa of hybridised art which we have inherited from Picasso. I try to produce a full-blooded painting. I adore Goya. As I’ve said already: ‘I am romantic, but I’m undergoing treatment.’

          I don’t like control. It is important to lose your grip, to accept that your materials will lose their clear edges. It’s hard to accept that colour should flow. And yet fluids are very much present. Painting is something between life and death. It flows, it tends to drip. My painting goes on living without me. It goes its own way. I produce some type of water colour with lacquer. I love bright colours like nail polish or lipstick. I also use matte, low-gloss paint, as the need arises. In the past I used lots of primary colours, now I’m adding shades of green and pink. When lacquer dries, it retracts. The definite outline becomes blurred, it gets into something of a muddle. I never know at once what I’ve done. I have to wait till the next day. Sometimes there is too much liquid and it withers. I love to get up in the morning and to go and see what has transpired during the night, what it has yielded. It’s an adventure.

          One day, I painted my family in the guise of animals. My mother was represented as a goose. She was not amused. And yet she had a very pretty neck, a splendid fur-like skin, and nice little dots on her feathers. My brother was painted as a rabbit, my sister as a giraffe, my father as a dog and my grandmother as an old monkey.

          I have just finished the portrait of a pigeon and a few still lifes: a lemon, a dead fish… I have also done the portrait of a red tuna. I love tunas. I can see them in front of me, large tunas and swordfish, lying on stalls under a sparkling sun. They are hot. They are sweating, giving off a strong smell.

          I come from the Loire region, but I had a grandmother who lived close to Marseilles. I adored her... She is present everywhere in my paintings: the South, tastes, the sun... those still lifes are memories of her kitchen garden. Both my grandmothers wanted to become painters. Sometimes I get the impression that I also paint for them.

          Last summer I painted portraits of my grandparents. My grandmother died recently. When I go to the South of France, she is very much there. Absent people can be intensely present.

          (She shows me a photograph of herself as a child, with her grandmother, who is wearing a flowery dress from the sixties)

          She loved flowery dresses. So do I.

          To draw is not the same as painting. When you draw you think more. Drawing is akin to writing. Producing large woodcuts has a calming effect on me. It calms me because you are removing material. In painting you add material. It’s different. It is also an exhausting, regular work, an exercise in meditation.       

          Among the Japanese, if a person is too fragile, they tattoo a tiger on their back; if the person is over-aggressive, they put something very soft. They play with hot and cold. I find tattoos interesting They are stories on people’s skin. It’s also fun to paint, since you can paint on the painting, you can ‘paint the painting’, as if you were adding some make-up to the painted portrait of a woman. War paint is also a form of make-up. In this painting (she points to a woman’s portrait, partly covered with coloured surfaces) I pushed that idea, in order to get to something new.

          Painting is the embodiment of the skin. I love the work of Lucian Freud, that of Cecily Brown (I recently saw some works of hers at Gagosian’s), that of Jenny Saville. Painting like flesh. It is like the incarnation of the body of Christ in the Roman Catholic religion. There is always something sacral about painting.  

          The more you talk about an autobiographical subject, the more universal it becomes. That pigeon is really all of us. I like the shadow under its leg. If you put side by side the old portrait of the rabbit and the new one, you can see that my paintings used to be flatter. Drips of barley sugar. In these days I was thinking of pastry, even though it looked like bleeding wounds. That’s over now. What I’m looking for today is light and volume.

          What is also important is scale. Take the portrait of that bear. It has become something of a member of my family, thanks to the scale. I don’t think that my painting is essentially feminine. I like strength: the bear and the gorilla. The cats are just for fun. I made large-scale copies of posters of lost cats and exhibited them on the street. What I really like is what people write about their cats on those posters. I like those traces of their human relations.


Montagne de Miel, 3 September 2018