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Margaux Bonnardot: An illustration practice built upon inward exploration

French Artist Margaux Bonnardot discusses a practice that builds upon poetries of pain, memory and reclamation.

by Manu SharmaPublished on : Jan 19, 2023

The French artist Margaux Bonnardot, better known as ‘Mowgo’, hails from Brittany, France and pursues a fascinating illustration practice. She is currently a student of Microbiology and will soon be beginning her PhD in the field. Meanwhile, her creative pursuits are currently an avenue she explores outside of her studies whenever she has the time. She discusses her practice, telling STIR “I started drawing in late 2019 after a very dark period for me. It began with very abstract stories, deformed creatures, broken dolls, and decomposed bodies. Recurrent themes and symbolisms also included sceneries in deep water and the presence of grotesque chimaeras. Slowly, what I depicted changed as I realized that the characters I had drawn for a year corresponded to me and some of the people I knew. I began to draw myself in my pieces in early 2021, and the more I drew, the clearer the messages behind my own art were for me.’ The artist’s practice helped her discover a lot about herself and her life, and to explore the recesses of her mind. Perhaps that, more than her growing reputation as an exceptional illustrator, is what has kept her practising and expanding her already a formidable skill.

Les failles, 2021, Uni PIN fine line, black on paper, Mowgo | Les failles | Margaux Bonnardot | STIRworld
Les failles, 2021, Uni PIN fine line, black on paper Image: Margaux Bonnardot

Bonnardot was inspired by several artists and drew influence from the likes of Melf Illustration, Orphiccs, La Satanée, Pits Illustration and Joanna Foliveli, to name a few. She expands on this, saying “I found inspiration in the works of the masters Kentarō Miura, Jungi Ito, Gustave Doré, and Hieronymus Bosch. All those factors, artists, and influences along with my own sensibilities and my own story came together to create my style. I also started creating art dolls and I am currently working to create a shop where I want to sell prints along with stickers and other goodies.” Of these, it is perhaps the art dolls one may have trouble placing within her visual framework, but that will undoubtedly make them all the more interesting, perhaps becoming collectibles too somewhere down the line.

Midnight family picture, 2022, Uni PIN fine line, black on paper, Mowgo | Midnight family picture | Margaux Bonnardot | STIRworld
Midnight family picture, 2022, Uni PIN fine line, black on paper Image: Margaux Bonnardot; courtesy of the artist

The visual artist’s deeply introspective work has been an outlet for her emotions, but more precisely, for her traumas. She recounts, what is perhaps the bedrock underneath her art practice, telling STIR “The one I draw the most from happened in my early teens, in my holiday home where I spent all my summers with my family. This is why I feature myself, sometimes family members, and this childhood home. The things that happened in that house scarred me for life, and ever since I’ve been longing for a breath of fresh air.” Seeking juridical and medical aid has helped the artist tremendously, and the art that she produces has been liberating. She admits that she is not the most conversant, but drawing remains an easy and instinctual way to express her deepest and darkest thoughts and feelings. Being able to be vulnerable in her drawing is deeply comforting for Bonnardot as she has found other like-minded artists and creatives that work similarly to her.

Piece of cake, 2022, Uni PIN fine line, black on paper, Mowgo | Piece of Cake | Margaux Bonnardot | STIRworld
Piece of cake, 2022, Uni PIN fine line, black on paper Image: Margaux Bonnardot; courtesy of the artist

One may view her work and believe that her biological studies have influenced it. However, the artist refutes this, saying “I don’t think biology plays a role in my work as an artist, or at least not directly. Both being a biologist and an artist require similar qualities in my experience but it ends there. There were only a few instances at the beginning of my artistic journey in 2019 and early 2020 where I depicted myself as a bacteriophage in some drawings. To put it very simply, bacteriophages are viruses that infect bacteria and kill them. I used that imagery because I felt like a parasite at that time, almost like my pain was infecting and killing the people around me.” The artist found comfort in this representation of herself at the time because bacteriophages don’t infect human cells but rather bacteria, thus she couldn’t possibly be harmful to the people she loved. However, she adds that this is no longer the case and that her art is no longer linked to her microbiology studies.

Surrounded, 2022, Uni PIN fine line, black on paper, Mowgo| Surrounded | Margaux Bonnardot | STIRworld
Surrounded, 2022, Uni PIN fine line, black on paper Image: Margaux Bonnardot; courtesy of the artist

Bonnardot believes that the symbolism and iconography of her work come naturally to her. When the image pops into her mind at first, she only has a rudimentary composition to work with, and as the days go by, or sometimes even months, the more and more detailed and clear it becomes. She also refrains from consciously deciding the symbolism in her work, but there are recurring elements such as skeletons, corpses, swords, snakes, nature, and crows. She expands on this, telling STIR “The snakes are an allegory for sexual violence and are phallic symbols, while the crows symbolize the memories of my traumas. The dead, decomposed or deformed bodies present in my work reflect the impact of the traumas on my self-image, and my relationship with my own body. I also draw most of my drawings in night scenery. This is both because it looks good, and also because the subject I depict through my body of work is linked to the night. There is a lot of nudity in my work, however, my intent is certainly not to create erotic pieces. The nudity in my drawings serves two purposes: firstly, I draw myself and my emotions, so to the viewer, I am already “mise à nu”, a French expression to signify that I lay myself bare, and vulnerable from an emotional angle. I represent myself in my purest form on paper, without any artifice. The second aspect is more specific to the subject I depict with my art which reflects my traumas that are linked to nudity.”

Stitches, 2021, Uni PIN fine line, black on paper, Mowgo| Stitches | Margaux Bonnardot | STIRworld
Stitches, 2021, Uni PIN fine line, black on paper Image: Margaux Bonnardot; courtesy of the artist

Bonnardot’s story could be read as one of art as a mechanism for facilitating healing and release, however, one wonders if that is what she wants. The artist seems more content to be an inward explorer, rather than a champion of arts as therapy. Her work speaks for itself, evidenced by her desire to say little else about herself. And perhaps that is how we should contextualize her practice.

What do you think?

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