Looking at Virginie Bocaert’s canvases is like breathlessly diving into figures that emerge from forms and moods. In the end, these constructed, destroyed and reconstructed figures are all about emotion.
The 36-year-old painter was born in France and has worked in Montreal since 2002. She became interested in oil painting at the age of 10, coming from a family of great art lovers. Her parents helped to instigate her cultural awareness by bringing her to visit artist’s studios, museums and art galleries. In 1997, she graduated with honours from the École supérieure de mode in Paris, and began a career as a fashion designer. She later returned to painting after taking a few workshops with artists like Anne Van Mierlo, Jennifer Hornyak and Marilyn Rubenstein, and decided to get a studio and work on her style.
Evidently, Virginie Bocaert’s stint in the fashion industry was very trying for her. In many of her works, she utilizes elements and materials from the fashion industry to communicate her own sensations, memories, and emotions. For example, in Bocaert’s Si tu savais (If you knew), we see a woman with her upper body slightly bent over. Several grey threads burst forth from her eyes and evoke tears. We also notice that the edge of the fabric at the bottom of the clothing worn by the figure is frayed, giving the impression of a gradual coming apart at the seams.
This type of emotive imagery is the artist’s way of expressing her anguish around the stereotypes imposed by her profession. In a world where things go so fast, we have to be strong to make our own place in society. Bocaert also uses her artwork to express the extent to which models are treated like objects. When she was painting these figures, she was feeling hurt and her melancholy came through in them.
Today, Bocaert has reached a more serene space, but she continues to live with the characters that she has constructed. She believes they are like friends and companions for her as they are silent and they do not judge her. The human being is a very strong subject and is quite present in all her work. Bocaert reflects on her work and influences, claiming that "Indeed, because of his complexity and diversity, man puts us in situations or states that can be constructive or destructive. Like Jean-Paul Sartre said, "Hell is other people", and Thomas Hobbes said, "Man is a wolf to man". We must live and struggle with certain states that others impose on us. For a long time, the influence, prejudices, and scrutiny of others were for me a battle in which to grow, to learn to know myself and to acquire self-confidence."