Why Artist Norma Bessieres is Reimagining Zebras?

Gallery Karin Carton
Nov 23, 2018 9:58PM

Vibration by Norma Bessieres

Some artists only paint one subject. It is the case of French Artsist Norma Bessieres. But why only Zebras?

Norma Bessieres was born in 1964. She studied literature, and at first was not inclined towards a career in painting and contemporary arts.She learned on her own and she is completely autodidact. She started to display at exhibitions and in galleries back in 2001. She began her career at the Cour Roland in Jouy en Josas, then moved to the Galerie Courand'Art Meudon near Paris, France. In 2007, she lead an exposition in the prestigious Grand - Palais in Paris, France. She also exposed at the Gallery Gaudi in Madrid, Spain in 2008. The Gallery Bonhomme in Liège, Belgium in 2010. The gallery Galerie Michel Ange in Montréal ,Canada in 2012. As well as G&O Art New York city, New York in 2014, among many others. She has been featured on the public French television channel, France 3, during the Salon Contemporain Nature et Animaux in Cannes, France in 2009. Norma Bessieres is very optimistic. She says that the Zebra still contains plenty of inspiration for the future. She now exposes full time at the Gallery Karin Carton in Laguna Beach, CA.

Norma Bessieres

Norma also adds colors in some of her paintings.

Zebras: a symbol of freedom and Comfort

Stripe patterns are unique for each and every Zebra. Just like fingerprints for humans. Zebras prefer to stay in large groups. The bigger the better. This way, they have more chances of escaping predators such as river crocodiles or lions. Unity is also a sort of camouflage. Computing all the stripes together, it creates a mirage. Very different from the rest of other animals. It is not a coincidence that artists such as Victor Vasarely used the Zebra to create visual effects. Zebras unite for an overall masking, mirage effect that can only be achieved by grouping. This shows us a lot: the Zebra teaches us to assemble with our own group for comfort and safety. With the black and white stripes, the Zebra also conveys an image of true or false, right or wronga strong contrast. Something the artist Norma Bessieres ponders in some of her arts by adding additional colors.

Image Courtesy of the San Diego Zoo

The Zebra is also a wild animal by essence. Numerous attempts have been made to domesticate it. Just like the horse was domesticated by human for various usages. All attempts have failed. The Zebra remains wild. A free spirit,constantly on the move. But on the other side, the Zebra needs to stay with a large group of like-minded zebras. This is mainly for protection. In Africa, where the Zebra originates, predators are an existential burden. Sometimes including humans themselves. They illegally hunt them. The Zebra is an endangered specie. Not due to natural predators, such as crocodiles and lions. But mainly due to human hunting and trafficking. This occurs mainly because of the Zebra’s distinctive skin. It is considered as a premium choice for clothing and fashion accessories.

If you want to learn about what you can do to help protect them, please read this page. Or consider giving to an organisation that protects zebras. You can do it here.

Zebras in Contemporary Arts

The most famous contemporary artist that used Zebras in his art painting is probably Victor Vasarely. Born in 1905 in Hungary, Vasarely quickly moved to Paris to become a graphic designer. One of his first famous paintings is an acrylic on canvas simply called Zebra, painted in 1937. It depicts two zebras wining around each other. By overlapping, the two zebra create a subtle pattern of black and white, highly contrasted. They are painted over a black background. And only defined by the stripes. No outline defines the boundary of the background or the zebras. Simply the stripes. There is a sense of movement. A rotation. That you can feel when looking at the painting. This gives a sense of energy. A synergy of the two zebras. The line suggests very well the curve of the two animals. Thus suggesting a three dimensional aspect to his painting. This aspect, as well as the rotation, gives an optical illusion .

This piece of art by Victor Vasarely effectively creates the movement of Opt art. Short for optical art. Many artists will try and love the style. Artist such a Bridget Riley and Frank Stella will be part of the art movement. Even though the term only appears in New York in 1964 at the Martha Jackson gallery, the origin can be traced more than 20 years before, in Vasarely’s first painting of Zebras. Vasarely himself had been exposed to the Zebras ‘ pattern- as well as of the tigers’- during his studies at the Mühely art-school in Budapest in 1920s.

Vasarely will return many times throughout his career to Zebras. One of the most noticeable correlation to his early work with Zebras is Vega III, in 1957-59. In this oil on canvas, Vasarely offers the viewer an iconic visual effect. The black and white colors create a checkerboard-like pattern.The form is voluntary distorted in chosen areas. Giving, again, a three dimensional effect to the viewer. It creates the illusion of convex and concaves shapes, within the painting. Once again,it creates a dynamic and a movement for the viewer.

This artwork definitely establishes a key element of the Opt Art movement in the XXth century: depth and movement are essential part the movement. In the 1960’s and 70’s, where Opt Art was at its peak, there was often the use of high contrast. And what better colors than black and white. And what a better subject than the Zebra for black and white colors.

A few years earlier, Victor Vasarely had published The Yellow Manifesto. That called for new visuals using optical illusions. We can clearly see that he uses techniques that he preached a little before, in his own paintings.

Our Own Days

Contemporary artist Norma Bessieres, also uses Zebra in her artwork. In fact, she took it one step further. Because Norma only depicts Zebras in her creations. But why? The Zebra has a natural talent for the artist: it is naturally embed with graphic properties. She explains that zebras have “a natural formal characteristic that makes them a perfect subject for questioning art”. She explains that zebras have infinitely rich motives. A lot of curves, that give the viewer a three dimensional effect. Something Vasarely and the Opt Art movement used to look for in creations. And something artist Norma Bessieres also renders perfectly in hers. Mother nature has always challenged and stimulated tartists to engage with geometrical aspects. As well as three dimensional visuals. Like the effects in Vasarely’s art.

The animal is here. Standing in the painting. But the natural curbs of the zebra create motion. The movement of the paint brush only accentuate it. It gives the impression that the environment was put around the zebra. And not the opposite. Which gives the zebra an importance. That everything is resolving around it. In a very subtle way.

The artist also loves to play with symbols: the wild and free animal, that comes back to its own specie for comfort and protection. This odd combination of free, but always within his own, almost identical, group of zebras, is also what makes the animal fascinating.

Or, as Norma Bessieres goes further in her exploration of the animal. She asks the question: “Does art originate from nature ,or is it a symbolic human invention?”. The zebra being a wild animal. It is completely part of nature. Thus this is a very valid question.

This question could be very similar to what scientists have been asking themselves for generations. What came first, the chicken or the egg? Just an art version of this very interesting question.

Or for the zebra itself, another existential question. Am I white with black stripes? Or black with white stripes? What is important here, is that the lines of the zebra are mesmerizing. Antoni Gaudi, the famous Catalan architect, among others, who started the Gaudi Cathedral in Barcelona, Spain, said that straight lines belong to humans, and curve lines belong to God (s). Perhaps it is also what contributes to the Zebra’s natural charisma: a God like-standing.

Karin was born in 1961 in Togo, Africa. She is the daughter of a French Journalist, and a German Art professor. After returning to France and completing her High school, she decided to study in Paris. After 3 years of studies, she graduated from the prestigious Louvre Museum School in 1982 in Paris, France. She opens her first Gallery in 1986 in Versailles, France. She opened it in an area called “the Geole”. That is the home of 50 French antique and art dealers. It used to be an Old prison under the King Louis XIV. It is now reconverted in an Antique mall. With Karin being one of the main art and antique gallery holder. She specialized in 19th century French paintings. Especially from school of Barbizon. Four years after the opening, she became an antique and art expert with the Compagnie d’expertise en Antiquités, Objets d’ art et Oeuvres Contemporaines. In addition to the year round collection, Karin always presented four contemporary artists throughout the year. The last one is Norma Bessieres. Throughout more than 30 years of career, she has had renowned French 19th century artists. Such as Edouard Louis Henry Baudot, Edouard Michel Lancon, Adolph Potter, Henry Quevremeont, Gaston Hochard, Constantin Font, Charles Escudier, Auguste Ballin, Henri Gaston Darien, Frederic Louis Leve, Charles Maurin, Maurice Moisset, Guillaume Dubuffe and Pierre-Emmanuel D. Once.

She also extended her Gallery collection by offering contemporary sculpture. Artist such as Patrick Brun, Elizabeth Cibot, Sophie Martin, Isabelle Levesque, Guillaume Roche and Sophie Suspulgas.

She is now part of another art community. With more than 100 galleries, Laguna beach is more than a beautiful city. It is also a thriving place for artists and art lovers. She just opened a new gallery in Laguna where she lives with her son and her partner.

Why Norma from Karin

I choose to display Norma’s work when I first saw her exposing in another Gallery in Versailles, called Anagama. This gallery is located very close to my own in Versailles. I was fascinated by the technique, the subject, and the originality of her work. I think she is the only one working so precisely. With such poetry and originality. An exceptional talent.

It is always the same subject. But it is painted in a very different manner. Thus it conveys a very different idea and feeling.What I really like is the design aspect of Norma’s paintings. The design fits perfectly in modern and contemporary interior. She has a minimalist way of treating the subject. It becomes aesthetically beautiful. Almost unique. At the very least extremely rare. It fascinated me. I absolutely wanted to find a animal painter. An original artist, that was distinctive from the mainstream. I think she really makes the difference. Moreover, she is already famous. She has been exposing in very famous art galleries and expositions in many places in the world. She is already a good reference. She had galleries in prestigious places such as Switzerland and Miami. I choose to expose her in California, because she has never exposed here before. I found her artwork to be particularly valuable in California’s interiors. It fits perfectly in California’s modern architecture. I was also born in Togo, Africa. Zebras remind me of my youth. Zebras are unique animals that we must protect from extinction.

Gallery Karin Carton