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Bona de Mandiargues (1926-2000)

La Clef des Champs, 1970

Catalogue essay by Blanche Llewellyn

« Je suis une autodidacte et une ignorante, mais mon savoir est celui d’une magicienne »

Bona de Mandiargues was a Surrealist Italian-French artist, writer, and translator. In Paris, she met the poet André Pieyre de Mandiargues whom she married in 1950, who introduced her to Breton, Ponge, and Paulhan. After a formative phase stylistically influenced by the example of her uncle, Filippo de Pisis, Bona developed a figurative painting style nourished by collecting numerous aquatic, mineral and plant objects, conducted by the surrealist research of the wonderful and the disturbing. In 1958, Bona developed a technique that would come to characterize her work in the following years; it was during a trip to Mexico that she discovered by chance the suggestive power of the linings of her husband’s jackets. Employing a sewing machine for the assembly of felt and fabric, she introduced a novel dimension to her artistic expression, that she found gave her work a more surrealist edge than the more classic medium of oil paint.

La clef des Champs represents a surreal universe, composed of sewn-on buttons, textiles and paint. This oeuvre depicts three strange figures with vagina like features, emerging from the shadows, surrounding a mysterious keyhole, hinting at a hidden mystery to be uncovered, a perverse seclusion on the other side of the door. The image of both the lock and the key were often used by the surrealists to express their own desire for an intuitive knowledge of the universe and their aspiration to liberate the mind. In Bona’s output, the key seems to equally serve as the portal to assist us in unraveling the canvas’s untold secret. The scale of the artwork, aligning with the mystical ambience, is distorted. The figure looking through the keyhole appears again, to the left, on the other side of the door, teasing or inviting the viewer to partake in the magical scene.

Bona’s picture was possibly inspired by Composition (figure féminine sur une plage) by Pablo Picasso, 1927.


x W146cm
Bona de Mandiargues

Bona de Mandiargues (1926-2000)

Bona de Mandiargues (1926-2000) studied at the Beaux-Arts in Modena and then at the Beaux-Arts in Venice where her uncle Filippo de Pisis lived. Her career as a painter began after her marriage to André Pieyre de Mandiargues in 1950 where upon her arrival in France, she met the surrealist group. She exhibited in Paris at Berggruen Gallery, in 1952, with Francis Ponge writing the preface to the catalogue; Octavio Paz, a Mexican poet and diplomat was a big supporter of her work, especially of the group she exhibited in Mexico City in 1959. She also participated in various surrealist exhibitions including "E.R.O.S." at Galerie Daniel Cordier, Paris (1959). "Bona paints in a state of distraction conducive to lucidity, and it is undoubtedly through painting that she finds the long-forgotten path. She paints without knowing exactly what, or why, not as one breathes, but as one walks around blindly in an apartment where darkness falls, after sundown.... She looks at the present time with a certain mocking smile, in which one can guess her secret admiration for all that is inexplicable."
Alain Jouffroy, extract from the catalogue of the exhibition "Bona - Colimaçonneries", Galerie de Seine, Paris, 1974

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