There’s something about great fashion imagery that spans the ground between reality and the uncanny. Such works, like the photographs of Guy Bourdin and Helmut Newton, take the everyday and transform it into the otherworldly. In his paintings, Pedro Bonnin adds another layer to the history of fashion imagery, highlighting some of the darker side of this iconography.
Bonnin renders chic, contemporary figures in rich oil paints. While the works immediately call to mind glossy fashion photography, his process is much more complex than a simple fashion shoot. The images start with a picture in the artist’s mind: usually a figure or two trapped in a tight spot. From there, he sketches the composition, then calls in friends for a photo shoot. That’s when the collaboration begins, as Bonnin’s models begin to explore within the framework provided by the artist. Finally, Bonnin digitally combines the images to create a blueprint for his painting. Throughout the whole process, Bonnin says he’s in search of a single essence: “A little drama, some tension—some Eros—and a lot of ambiguity wrapped in style. What I look for in a painting is, in Hemingway’s words, some ‘grace under pressure.’”
While fashion is an obvious influence on his work, Bonnin also engages with the history of painting. “With an open mind, it’s not difficult to find affinities between, say, Balthus and Helmut Newton,” the artist explains. There’s a bit of philosophy buried in there too: Bonnin notes that the tormented, twisted figures recall Nietzsche’s urging to struggle to make one’s life a work of art. “We are strange beings suspended between gravity and grace. Always falling, always trying again. This fleeting in-between, this fragile balance is what the contorted poses are meant to represent—the precise point where we don’t know anymore if we’re flying or falling,” Bonnin says. “And just in case we discover it is the latter, what better way to go down than in style.”