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 John Stringer ‹ Norma Bessouet
 Essays  John Stringer  

John Stringer

Bessouet's work deals with tradition: she not only belongs to the ancient lineage of representation in which the human figure is the central motif, but also expresses herself within the conventional limitations prescribed by painting, drawing and sculpture. Drawn both from a fertile imagination and close observation, her images are persistently executed by hand without recourse to photomechanical technology or any other modern instantaneous imaging processes. Though frequently her three-dimensional pieces employ synthetic plastics and resins, this is simply a concession to the superior durability of such recent materials, for bronze and stone would merely inhibit and stifle the naturalistic and imitative aims of her program. Her sculptures, quite obviously, are a legacy of polychrome and stucco religious :images or even doll-making, for like both of these forms, they are regularly garbed garbed in specially made costumes and furnished with other lifelike props from the real world to increase their illusionist appearance. Admiration of antique craftsmanship is even more apparent in her two-dimensional works: both in the use of silverpoint for drawing, and in the predominately somber tonality of her oils attained through skillful application if transparent color glazes. Laborious years of apprenticeship and practice have led to -a distinctive delicate touch, and now at mid-career, Bessouet is continuing to evolve towards ever greater mastery in design and technique.

In fiction, the exquisite Selvaggia dies of neglect. She becomes ignored by her lover, Paolo Uccello, whose ardor is quenched by the act of possession. Uccello comes to regard her just as a beautiful piece of property, because his true and enduring infatuation is with the perfection of his craft. Bessouet's admiration of Uccello's painting adds to her enjoyment of Marcel Schowb's story, but she is neither a literary nor historic artist, so her imaginary tableaux do not describe or replicate any specific narrative. Her work is not epic and has more pronounced affinities with the intimate and reflective style of poetry, since it is so deliberately evocative by exploiting ambiguity and multiple meaning.

Uccello, for instance, is not only the name of a great Florentine fifteenth-century master, but also the Italian word for bird. Such clues provide access to an understanding and enjoyment of Bessouet's work in general, for punning and language games (no less than a deep curiosity about the psyche and subconscious) are a legacy of the surrealist movement.

Yet, at heart, Bessouet is a classicist, for her vision is involved with the development of an ideal. Her art, however, is not regressive and dois nor retreat into the past, for her it is an eternal phenomenon like the ever-present and enduring mysterious of attraction, desire, love and eroticism motivating human behavior, that provide her true inspiration. Selvaggia and Uccello is a series pervaded by calm and pensivive sensuality. There is an air of expectancy, and virtually all of the images are a parabola of sexual encounter. Both paintings- and drawings are striking in their pure simplicity. They evince a spartan neo-classic frugality, with virtually no distracting supplementary motifs to detract from the central theme of engagement. Symbolism is obvious in the personification of male and female roles. Unlike the gentle dove, so familiar in art and legend as a carrier of peace and good sill, Bessouet's dark, raven-like bird is no intermediary, but an incarnation of the lover himself. His rich dark plumage and rapier beak are threatening and sinister in contrast with the smooth, pale, passive, porcelain perfection of the woman. Protected by neither clothes nor coiffuere, she is stark, submissive, bewitching and vulnerable. Aloof? Expectant? Resigned? She seems distracted and remote, her attention is elsewhere. Time and action are suspended. Enigmatically, the paintings seem to refer to something distant and outside themselves.