contemporary art / history of art

Artwork of the month / September 2017

Orchidées sur fond Bleu (Orchids on blue background)
Monique Thibaudin

2,33 m x 1,33 m
Acrylic and graphite pencil on awning fabric

The picture “Orchids on blue background” by Monique Thibaudin is a mixture of printing, painting and drawing, accompanied by letters on an unusual canvas: awning fabric. Mostly central on the blue ground there are white imprints of a human lower body. From the left to the right the traces are getting more transparent since the colour on the skin decreased from the first to the fifth stamp. White orchids seem to grow out of the figures. On the left side and under the pictorial representation there is the sentence “Elle enfouit sa figure dans les grappes blanches et sucrées.” (She buried her face in the sweet white blooms. Translation: Stanley Chapman) in capital letters.

Even though the background did not exactly match the International Klein Blue, the body imprints let think directly of the anthropometries of the French artist, but as white on blue background. It is not surprising that an artist like Monique, living in the Nice area were Yves Klein was born, affiliated with the regional art scene around Fluxus artist Ben Vautier is inspired by this important artist, especially when finding by chance the wonderful awning fabric as background.

Nevertheless, it is not so easy to decipher this artwork. Inter alia, there are two very different approaches to mention: first, we have to consider the artist’s development and further we should go back to the oeuvre and focus on the written sentence.

References in history of art and the artist’s own oeuvres

Influenced by the artistic group “Support-Surface” Monique decided early in her carrier to work with anti-busts – as antitheses of the traditional bust – as point of departure for her artworks. For years, she created her anti-busts in various materials, sizes and postures. Since a while, she returned to two-dimensional supports and experimented with plant and body traces. In consequence, her anti-busts are recognisable as imprints in “Orchids on blue background”, too.

Moreover, the Yves Klein anthropometries seem to levitate on the canvas compared to Monique’s anti-busts. They are succeeding each other and by the composition remind more to Marcel Duchamp’s Nudes Descending a Staircase. Although the anti-bust gives the impression to ascend the stairs to dissipate. With that, the oeuvre could also refer to the photographic motion studies by Eadweard Muybridge like “Woman Walking Downstairs” from 1887or to futurists like Giacomo Balla. His “Dinamismo di un Cane al Guinzaglio” (Dynamism of a Dog on a Leash) dates as well from 1912 like Duchamp’s second version of the descending nude. Could it be a glance to the modernist avant-garde as fundament for the following artist generations?

The origin of the quote

However, we should consider the included text. The sentence “She buried her face in the sweet white blooms.” is a quote from Boris Vian’s novel “L’Écume des jours” (Froth on the Daydream / Foam of the Daze / Mood Indigo, dependent on the translator) from 1946, published in 1947. The main plot is the love story between the first wealthy Colin and the beautiful Chloé. Besides there are subplots about their friends and easily recognizable contemporaries. Beyond the human actors, the surroundings are playing an important role, since they change dependent on the storyline. In consequence, the whole novel has a strong surrealist touch.

When Colin and Chloé met, they fell immediately in love and marry. During the honeymoon, Chloé catches a strange illness – a water lily in the lung. She is cured by surrounding flowers, but loses one lobe of the lung and is soon infected again. The formerly bright and huge apartment is now dark and small. At the same time, Colin’s fortune melted down by diverse circumstances and especially by the enduring purchase of flowers.

In chapter L., where the quote is taken from, a friend visits the couple, finding them in a desolate state. The staircase is shrunk, the floor wet and the sleeping room is blue, in the corners almost green. Colin takes the occasion not to need leave Chloé alone, to buy new flowers for her: a bouquet of lilacs, which she places on the second pillow, turns on her side and buries her face in it. A few days later she dies.

Monique didn’t chose the lilacs as flower growing out of the anti-busts, perhaps because lilacs, especially whites are standing for a young awaking love. This doesn’t fit the context of the quote, whereas the orchid stands for a value, which Colin is losing in the double sense of his fortune and his beloved Chloé. If we might identify the imprinted anti-busts in the picture as the vanishing Chloé, she takes all of Colin’s happiness with her symbolised by the orchids.

The application of the references

Despite this sinister interpretation, “Orchids on blue background” not exudes a depressing atmosphere. The background is a radiant blue and not greenish like the room where Chloé is suffering. This impression is underlined by the bright white of the pictorial representation. Only the written letters have some grey shadows, which might be a hint to the origin. Nevertheless, the sentence loses its horror by the decontextualisation. The white and sweet bunches might be the orchids growing out of the anti-busts, hiding the upper body and the face. Thinking of the making of the imprints, one can imagine the sound could be similar to walking on wet ground like the steps in Colin’s wet apartment.

Might all these references be an homage to the two inventive and vibrant artists, Boris Vian and Yves Klein both defunct to early? Could it also be a tribute to the other creatives mentioned above? Or is the oeuvre a collection of associations, assembled via different techniques on a found blue ground into a balanced composition?


Monique Thibaudin

Born 1952 in Chalon-sur-Saône (France) Monique lives and works in Vallauris (France). Due to her father, who was painter, she got early in contact with art. After a diploma at the Ecole Municipale de Dessin, Art et Technique (Municipal school of drawing, arts and techniques) in her hometown and studies of sculpture at the Ecole Nationale des Beaux Arts de Lyon (National School of Fine Arts in Lyon) she entered the Ecole d’Art et d’Architecture de Marseille Luminy (School or Fine Arts and Architecture of Marseille Luminy). Here she obtained her national diploma under Claude Viallat, followed by a specialisation in the section of Statuary at the same school. During the time at Luminy she as well got interested in art history encouraged by the lectures of Ben Vautier. In the artistic outcome, this source of inspiration became visible in references to other artists.


Her decision to use the anti-bust – an antithesis of the traditional bust – as her canvas is due to the influence of her teacher in Marseille. Claude Viallat was co-founder of the artistic group “Support-Surface”, which questioned the traditional painting support. The “deconstruction” of the painting in its constituting elements led to new artistic practices: instead of using the classical canvas on chassis they dissociated the picture surface from the stretcher. They used different textiles, recycled found objects or worked on wood and strings. The traditional subject got less important and the materials, the creative motion and the final artwork shifted into the centre of their work.

Monique worked as well with diverse supports, but the base-subject is always the same. She created anti-busts inter alia from resin, tissues or on paper. When she settled after the end of her studies 1977 in Vallauris, she as well introduced ceramics in her canon of materials. Her sculptures are in all possible sizes. The anti-busts might be little statuettes or larger than life size and they might be composed of various materials. The results are sitting, standing or walking.

A few years ago, Monique introduced found or created objects to her sculptures, starting with animal skulls. These Hybrid Forms have their contact to earth by the feet and legs of the anti-bust, but refer also to the sky. It was as well her way to handle her anxiety of death, since the opposition earth and sky or heaven incarnates for her life and death.

Drawings and collages

Besides her sculptural activities, Monique always made drawings, which she never exposed. The drawings and collages are an add-on to the anti-busts and were not preparative to them. At one point of her career, she left the three-dimensional work in benefit to the two-dimensional. Nevertheless, her drawings are often on paper of different strength and pasted on other supports. Therefore, they have an aspect of relief.

Additionally Monique introduced imprints in her oeuvre. There might be vegetal or – like in our Artwork of the month of September 2017 – human traces. On the other hand, she stamps with her relief drawings on other materials like clay.

Further activities

During her carrier, she has formed a rich and varied artistic work, which was shown in numerous personal and group exhibitions in France, Monaco, Germany and Italy. A film by Renaud Maridet “La trace de l’invisible” (The track of the invisible), where Monique elucidates her artistic background illustrates well her approach. 

Supplementary to her personal creations she cooperated with several different artists and institutions. Monique created and creates with Ben Vautier performances and joint sculptures. With him, Max Charvolen and Jean Jacques Laurent she conceived exhibitions. For Giorgio Laveri she has done scenography and film decors. Raphaël Monticelli wrote texts for her publications. Since 2015, she manages with Jean Jacques Laurent the Galerie Itinaire in Vallauris. Moreover, she is represented by several galleries in France and Italy.