Françoise Ben Arous is a French born artist, who currently lives and works in New York City. She has traveled worldwide, delving into different local traditional cultures. Her artistic approach is cross-cultural, filtering through her own influences from Matisse and Paul Klee, from the decorativeness of the Art Nouveau style as reflected in Klimt’s paintings, and from the Japanese masters of the Edo period. Spiritualized and refined, her art is a mix of her Western heritage and Eastern Zen philosophy.
A world traveler by heart, Françoise made a trip to Hanoi, Vietnam, a few years ago, which became a milestone, the turning point of her career. She then began an initiatory journey to find her true self, as a person and as an artist, by exploring profound Asia, whose culture she felt as an integral part of her spiritual identity.
On that occasion, she discovered the origin of joss paper, rectangular sheets of hand-made bamboo paper, covered with a very thin layer of metal in gold or silver hues. Later on it became the favorite medium for the creation of her works through the technique of collage. The artist started splitting her time between New York and Hanoi, in search of the best quality paper for her artistic purpose. According to religious practices related to the veneration of ancestors in some Asian countries, Joss paper is to be burnt on funerals or on special holidays, in order to ensure the wealth in the afterlife. Gold spirit money (jin) is offered to both the deceased and higher gods such as the Jade Emperor, while silver spirit money (yin) is given exclusively to ancestral spirits as well as to local deities.
Despite this common connotation of Joss paper, the works of Françoise convey mostly the message of the joy of living in love and in harmony in a real or in an imaginary world. In this regard, titles like “Zen” or “Solaar” are very meaningful. At the same time, the particular property of these metal sheets to capture and to reflect light in a continuously changing way, depending on the viewpoint of the beholder and on the intensity of the source of light in different moments of the day, confers a sense of fluidity and of precious, fragile and ephemeral beauty. Françoise’s works thus call to mind the aesthetic of the Japanese prints Ukiyo-e (literally images of the floating world) and of Impressionism. The artist’s signature, emulating the seals on Japanese or Chinese traditional paintings, is also significant in terms of her attachment to Asian culture.
The artist was at first attracted by the pictorial quality of the Joss paper. Cut in geometric shapes and attached to the surface of board or canvas, the sheets are re-contextualized in abstract compositions, sometimes evoking urban or geographic structures. The paper is either juxtaposed or superimposed, in the second case creating low reliefs. “I am constantly tempted by 3D work, so I could say that my works are between collages and sculptures”, states the artist. Indeed, in her latest works, Françoise has created a wavy high relief, suggesting the movements of tectonic plates, but also reminiscent of a medieval armor, of a snaking dragon’s body with scales or of dunes in the desert. Other works are more or less explicitly figurative, incorporating the human figure, even if in the guise of mythological or fairytale characters.
While in some compositions the artist prefers to keep the monochrome harmony of gold or silver, yet enhanced by infinitely shimmering nuances and textures (which she often creates herself by thin incisions), in other works she adds colored accents of acrylic or watercolor, which sometimes inspire titles such as “Blue” or “Indigo”. Color offers new keys of interpretation: in “Hamptons”, for example, the gold of the joss paper evokes sunny beaches and golden sands and the blue lines and dots suggest the fluidity of the ocean and of the sky.
A doctor by profession, Françoise Ben Arous is a vibrant artist by choice. Her works emit a positive energy and possess a playful and dreamlike dimension as well as a mysterious and intrinsic musicality.