In Conversation with
In Conversation with François Bonnel
We spoke to the abstact artist on his creative process, what inspires him,
on finding your own style as an artist and his jump from an
advertising executive to an illustrious painter.
A couple of months ago I was looking through Abstract Mag’s online gallery when a particular painting caught my eye. The painting had curves that were precise, circles that weren’t symmetrical and colors that popped as soon as you looked at them. This is how I discovered François Bonnel. As I entered his profile on Abstract, I couldn’t help but be impressed by his work. Every painting was beautiful, but they were all different. He used different shapes, different colors and different compositions. Nonetheless, his style was so particular and recognizable. It was almost as if he had created a sort of new reality through his paintings, and I was immediately hooked.
François is an abstract painter based in Toulouse, France. He wasn’t always strictly a painter, however. For over 25 years, François worked as a commercial executive in the advertising industry. Even though he’d been painting for most of his life, François didn’t dedicate himself to painting full-time until 2018. Ever since then, his particular style has caught the eye of many art enthusiasts around the world. François’ paintings carry a sense of honesty and simplicity that merges perfectly with the precise shapes and intense colors that he uses, which makes his pieces truly unique. His ever-changing style makes every new piece a wonder to look at, and we can’t help but be excited by what yet to come from his work.
After closely following François’ work for some time, we finally got the chance to interview the illustrious contemporary artist. We got to pick his brain on his inspirations, his creative process, his beginnings in painting, and much more. This is what he had to say:
First off, I’d like to talk about your beginnings in painting. When did you first start painting, and when did you decide to dedicate to it full-time? What led you to make the decision to devote yourself to painting full-time?
I started painting when I was a small child. My mother was a drawing teacher. I have always loved drawing, painting, photographing... However, I never thought of making it my profession. So, I took a more conventional route and for 25 years I worked in the advertising field. I painted during the weekend to decompress! Then one day, I realized that I wanted to do only that, as a vital need!
“I painted during the weekend to decompress! Then one day, I realized that I wanted to do only that, as a vital need!“
I know that you worked in the advertising business for a long time. While the advertising industry is still a creative one, I imagine that your creativity can be somewhat hindered by working in such a structured environment, where you work for specific clients. I was wondering, did your time in the advertising industry somehow affect your style of painting in any way? In other words, are your paintings related in some way to your work as an advertising creative, or are the two aspects of your work completely separate?
My activity in advertising was much more commercial than creative... It is probably also for this reason that it no longer suited me. Today I paint without having to convince a customer! It is a much more emotional human relationship. A painting cannot be sold... it can be bought!
“Something you can’t see” (Acrylic on Canvas)
It is my understanding that music is a big part of your creative process. In what I’ve read about you, you’ve said that the music you listen to while painting ends up inspiring certain aspects of the paintings themselves. In which ways does the music merge with the paintings? Does it inspire you in terms of color palettes, shapes, overall style, or some other way entirely?
Music has a fairly important role in my creative process. When I start my day, I put on music to "dress" the studio!
Music conditions me a lot. I have very eclectic musical tastes (Soul, Folk, Rap, Brazil, Rock ...) it gives me a different and varied energy which must certainly influence my work. Often I give my paintings the name of a song I listened to during the day and it's funny to see that a title can influence the vision of a painting ... like the preamble of a book.
“Music conditions me a lot. I have very eclectic musical tastes (Soul, Folk, Rap, Brazil, Rock ...) it gives me a different and varied energy which must certainly influence my work.“
Now that you’ve been painting full-time for a couple of years, have you noticed that you prefer a particular style of music while painting? Are there any artists or genres that you keep going back to while you paint? If not, are there any other criteria that you may take into account while picking the music that will play while you paint?
I like to start my day smoothly and often I start with a Soul playlist... I love Amy Winehouse, Lizz Wright Nina Simone, Marvin Gaye, etc... it's like a big cup of hot coffee. Later, I can continue with more Folk songs like Bon Iver, Nadia Reid, Leonard Cohen. Then in the afternoon I will appreciate the energy of songs by Jonathan Jeremiah, Beck, Phoenix, Tame Impala, Anderson Paak, Dr Dre...
Something that I really love about your paintings is that you have a certain mastery over the elements of shape and color. Your paintings always seem so precise, but they manage to feel very casual as well. Do you believe that painting abstract paintings gives you more freedom over these elements of shape and color, or is there any other reason why you prefer to paint abstract pieces?
Painting offers infinite freedom of composition... and even more with abstraction! What I seek, above all, is to make myself happy. I paint for myself! It's very selfish. I want the painting to do me good, by painting it and then looking at it. In all areas, I find it fascinating to provide a positive emotion with almost nothing... I find it magnificent; a pebble on the sand, a cloud in the sky, a child's laughter, a melody of a few notes, a painting of Ellsworth Kelly, sharing bread, cheese and wine with friends... Less is more!!!
“What I seek above all, is to make myself happy. I paint for myself! It's very selfish.“
“Cellular” (Acrylic on Canvas)
In some of your paintings, like “Get Behind Me #3”, “Eup” and “Don’t Lose Yourself” you paint curves that, to me, are very recognizable in terms of your style. Same thing happens in more recent paintings like “Wake up in New York”, “No Surprises” and “No one knows me” with the multi-colored lines. In my opinion, it’s not an easy thing to develop a style or aesthetic becomes recognizable. Is there any advice you would give young, developing artists in terms of finding a style they can call their own?
Absolutely! The objective is to be able to define oneself... "You must not say who I look like, you must say who I am". In the field of minimalist abstraction everything has already been done! The Monochromes by Soulages, the lines by Buren, the squares by Josef Albers...
In the beginning, I did like all artists. I was inspired by the work of others then I tried to respect my identity thanks to certain shapes, certain colors while continuing to make myself happy. It is extremely rewarding. Today I have only been painting full time for 2 years. During this period, I was afraid of not being legitimate, I was not always trusting, but the pleasure I had in painting was greater than my fears. Then some galleries and collectors contacted me and encouraged me to continue my path.
“In the beginning, I did like all artists. I was inspired by the work of others then I tried to respect my identity thanks to certain shapes, certain colors while continuing to make me happy.“
We live in a time in which we are all exposed to a lot of content. With the internet and a more connected world, an artist has much more availability and exposure to inspiration. I was wondering; what are your thoughts on being an artist in the internet-era? More specifically, do you feel this exposure to content has somehow affected the way modern artists and creatives work?
We are indeed living in a pivotal period.
For years, "physical" galleries have led the art market. It must have been very difficult for a beginner artist to get a little visibility. I think that if I had tried to live from my painting 5 years ago, I would have failed. Many Galleries are traders who try to survive by offering works "Neo Pop Art - Pseudo Basquiat - Warhol - Lichtenstein - Bling / Bling -" ... (!) There is a demand for it (but also a lot of poor quality offer).
“For years, "physical" galleries have led the art market. It must have been very difficult for a beginner artist to get a little visibility. I think that if I had tried to live from my painting 5 years ago, I would have failed.“
Fortunately, online galleries began to exist and proceeded to impose themselves. Some like AbstractMag, Artsy, Artsper or Amelie Maison d'Art really allowed me to get immediate and worldwide visibility. There are more borders, and social networks like Instagram have made it possible to make this known... it's a win / win.
But certain "Physical" galleries remain essential to increase the legitimacy of an artist. You have to be able to work with these different partners.
“Inside my Love” (Minnie Riperton tribute)
I’ve been following your work for a couple of months now, and I feel that your paintings are amazing. You’ve become one of the contemporary artists that I can easily recognize whenever I see your work. Now that you’ve had a degree of success with painting, are there any other art mediums that you’re be interested in exploring in the future?
Thank you very much for your encouragement! To date I am only at the beginning of my history as a painter. I have a lot of ideas in mind that I have not yet been able to transpose! This requires a lot of time especially since I also take care of the administrative part (Expeditions, ordering of materials, accounting, media, etc...) However, the day I have a larger workshop, I would like to be able to get started in sculpture!
“Neon Moon” (Acrylic on Canvas)
Finally, is there any artist, from any medium, that you feel everyone should know? If so, who would that be and why?
On my site, I publish interviews that I’ve had with different painters. They are great and their journeys prove that in the field of painting there are many beautiful stories and possible ways...
But at the "Legend" level, I find Carmen Herrera incredible... Carmen Herrera, born May 31, 1915 in Havana, Cuba, is a Cuban-American painter who has lived in New York since the mid-1950s. She paints abstract and minimalist works and was a late success, she sold her first painting in 2004 at the age of 89…
Carmen Herrera alongside some of her work
We’d like to give a special thanks to François for taking the time to answer our questions. For more on him and his work, you can visit his website, his Abstract Mag profile, and follow his Instagram at @francois_bonnel_artwork.