Rhapsody in cobalt blue
Avant-garde Swiss artist Manon Wertenbroek initiates a dialogue with the late iconoclastic French-American artist Niki de Saint Phalle in cobalt blue.
The La Prairie connection
Three exclusive artworks by Wertenbroek, who graduated from the Lausanne University of Art and Design with a Bachelor of Arts in Photography degree in 2014, were unveiled at “The Masterpiece Remastered” exhibition in H Queen's, Hong Kong recently that paid homage to cobalt blue. This sublime hue is omnipresent throughout the body of work of de Saint Phalle and served as the key artistic inspiration for the translucent cobalt blue jars of Swiss luxury skincare brand La Prairie’s iconic Skin Caviar Collection more than 30 years ago.
Wertenbroek first came into La Prairie’s orbit in 2017 when she was invited by the brand to show a piece inspired by light on its Instagram account in a temporary digital exhibition together with five other Swiss artists. Shortly after, she was given the Swiss Art Award in Basel by the Federal Office of Culture.
So when La Prairie remastered its masterpiece Skin Caviar Luxe Cream with Caviar Premier this year, the brand invited Wertenbroek to create a series of artworks to celebrate the launch and to honour de Saint Phalle’s work.
The three artworks were first presented alongside de Saint Phalle’s iconic Pouf serpent bleu, executed in painted polyester in 1991, the same year Wertenbroek was born, at the La Prairie pavilion at Art Basel in June.
A unique art form
Wertenbroek’s strong visual works flirt with the borders of photography, sculpture and painting, using an unconventional method to bring forms and colours together.
On a flying visit to Hong Kong, the Paris-based artist explains her experimental style and the inspiration behind the artworks
“My work is about identity, how you can create self-image and interact with people. I thought about how we can use beauty to define our personal identity, and how we can use these tools to create a social identity. I also want to express indulgence, science and aesthetics represented by La Prairie and skin caviar as well,” says Wertenbroek.
From conception to realisation, the artworks took about three months to complete. “The biggest challenge was the cobalt blue colour. It’s such a strong colour, but it’s also a deep colour, a symbol of introspection, of nostalgia, and very inspiring,” she says. “I work on the theme of mirrors because it’s linked with introspection. There are many different layers in my work process. I started by engraving metallic mirror foil with carving tools, creating a mirrored flat sculpture. Then I put this installation in front of my computer screen with the blue colour as lighting and as a colour reflection into the metallic surface. Finally, I take a picture with a very high-resolution camera to capture the image and give it a sense of detail. The sort of glow that you can get from the lighting of the computer screen is also emphasised by the printing method, which for this project I decided to print on Lambda metallic paper that gives a sort of iridescent aspect to each colour,” says Wertenbroek.
In Mirrors, Wertenbroek explores the infinite relationship between two reflective surfaces rising to the eye. “This is the bluest piece, and you can get lost in the deepness of the colour and the emotions that come with it. It also has more of a scientific look, about the object in the mirror. In the background are reflections of faces and hands, representing an interaction with others. It evokes an introspective mood like you are between reality and a dreamy kind of stage.”
Window Glimpse is more about abstract landscape rendered in organic forms. “I was inspired by the Swiss landscape – the mountains, lakes, rivers and flowers. With the title, I want to speak about looking at yourself in the window, imagining different windows and looking at your reflection in a moment of self-indulgence.”
Blue Portrait shows a portrait without a face. “What defines this piece is the haircut. It’s about the search for identity and how you define yourself through your aesthetics. It’s dynamic and beautiful but scary at the same time as you have this sort of tension between phantom and portrait. At the same time, the piece is also poetic, and linked with dreams and introspection.”
At the exhibition, Wertenbroek is thrilled that her works serve as a perfect background for de Saint Phalle’s Pouf serpent bleu. “I didn’t know until the end that this is the piece that would be presented. I was super surprised that my works communicated so well with it. I am inspired by Niki who was such a strong woman, so instinctive and never afraid to say what she was thinking. Sometimes I can be very Swiss and rigid in my work and have trouble letting go. By taking a page from Niki, I am learning to be more confident. I would use this blue in a crazy way, use it a lot and not be afraid to do so.”