“I am looking to in-between places,” states Paris-based Olivia de Bona about her debut solo exhibition, Le Panache, opening this May at BEERS London. “A hidden passage, a doorway, a transition from one state to another where we can peek at what is hidden and what is revealed.” De Bona’s work flourishes when capturing these off-beat moments, where a space is revealed, a shoulder turned, or leaf casts a shadow. She credits her mixed European and Vietnamese as playing a formative role in her meticulously carved marquetry works.
Each meticulously planned work is a testament to craftsmanship but also a snapshot of a Romantic, if bygone era, perhaps something plucked from the literary works of Voltaire or Duras and with a call toward Prussia: the Viennese Art Nouveau, of the early 1900s, namely Mucha, where curving archways and window-frames reveal languid and reclining female figures. But the tradition of inlaid wood tableaux is also distinctly Vietnamese, in which complex scenarios are diligently and painstakingly extracted from wood in high-relief.
De Bona’s interest is in the paradox of showcasing, but also revealing the female form. Her figures – caught unaware and in repose – recall Degas’ bathing beauties, or even nods to Bohemian communal baths popular in the Austro-Hungarian Empire of bygone eras. The works seem to bask in a decadent, fin-de-siècle style of reverie and Romanticism – hyper-stylized, with just the necessary touch of kitsch to let viewers into the private scenarios she’s created. Her newest collection of marquetry works focus on a singular moment, feeling, or fleeting thought. “It is magical,” she states, “revealing the beauty of little nothings, I pay attention to this ambivalence, and I can be moved by a detail, and find grace in a gesture and sublimate it.”