Marie Paule Benoit-Basset

Chaine d'union
(78k GIF image)

La nuit
(82k GIF image)

Marie-Paule Benoit's Creatures have no eyes, no ears and no mouths but they are not speechless, lifeless bodies. They communicate through their fused limbs, intertwined bodies, and antennas reminiscent of umbilical cords.

The communion implicit in the physical exchange, together with the translucent, almost vulnerable aspect of the characters, are some of the features that make the art of Mrs Benoit an enigmatic, yet far from threatening proposition.

Born in Innsbruck, Austria, in 1946 and now living in Vichy, Auvergne, Mrs Benoit claims to have been painting as long ago as she can remember. Her art, however, and the media she employs, have evolved considerably over time.

The Creatures, part of the artist's most recent series of oil canvases, are closer to the surrealistic inventions of her student youth, spent in the Auvergne's metropolis, Clermont-Ferrand, than to the subdued watercolour landscapes of a decade ago.

Through the changes in techniques and subject matters - the ubiquitous dead tree is the only remnant of her watercolour days - Mrs Benoit bas nonetheless retained a distinctive style. All of her paintings are permeated with a subtle, quiet, sense of mystery.

"I use a lot of brown and what I call 'dirty' white, because nothing is ever really black or white," says Mrs Benoit, whose art, featuring such recurrent themes as the sun, the moon, stars, and wheat fields, is brimming with symbolism. Although she declines to provide "keys" to interpret her images, letting observers decipher them at their own pace, she does describe herself as a painter of the "fragile and the transient".

Vulnerability is a thread that runs across her art, old and new. The women in the eponymous series are timid, almost reluctant, nudes while her nocturnal Cities, with their thousands of illuminated windows, are a celebration of humanity's smallness.

"The women in my paintings are expressionless, often even faceless, which some people may find oppressive. I think they are the opposite. They may appear silent on the surface but they reach out with their tentacles and antennas. They seek contact with one another and with us."

The art of Mrs Benoit is not of the kind that needs to scream at the viewer or shock to grab his attention. Instead, it gently hums beside its strangely serene facade, rewarding the patient and unhurried observer.

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