The Haunting Eyes of Marion Bolegnesi

April 14, 2010

Contributor Chris Thomas speaks with New York based artist Marion Bolegnesi, whose evocative watercolor paintings have made a splash in galleries all over the world.


The eyes have it. Are they crying? Are they laughing? These haunting, disembodied eyes stare out at you both flirtily and defiantly from the paintings of Marion Bolognesi, a young New York artist whose work has been exhibited in major galleries from Chelsea to Hong Kong. Her realistically rendered watercolors have also graced magazine covers, t-shirts, and even nightlife flyers. In our lively chat last week, we discussed watercolor’s bad reputation, an Icelandic songbird’s pretty eyes, and how to stay true to yourself in New York City as a struggling young painter.

Chris Thomas: Let’s start with the most fundamental aspect of your paintings, the medium. Why do you work with watercolor?

Marion Bolognesi: What I like about watercolor is that you can really focus in on certain details. You can make something look completely photorealistic if you know how to use watercolor well. You can paint thick with it for a really realistic look, or you can paint loosely with it, really watery, and also get a realistic look. It also can do so many things on its own: blend together and make crazy watermarks and just swirl around.

CT: What about watercolor’s bad reputation?

MB: I don’t know if it has a bad reputation. It’s not as respected as oil.

CT: That’s kind of what I mean, that’s it’s considered a lesser medium.

MB: It’s not as respected of a medium, and it’s not as valuable. For a long time watercolor was considered a preparatory medium. Like, a lot of famous painters used to do quick watercolor sketches to capture time of day or a feeling really quickly, just a gesture. Then they would do an oil painting based on those.

I do understand that oil paintings are a lot more labor intensive. [Watercolor’s lack of respect might be due to the fact that] it can be a lot quicker. You can get a lot of expression out very quickly. [Despite that,] there are fewer people out there who really feel confident with watercolor than feel confident with oil. Artists appreciate it more than collectors do, because they know how difficult it is to work with.

CT: Tell us about your process of painting.

MB: I’m usually sitting on the floor. I don’t have a studio because watercolor is not toxic and it doesn’t smell. I have a really large bedroom and living space so I usually just spread out on the floor or on my big kitchen table. Because I also work in fashion, I oftentimes will be looking at handbag pairs or something like that, and I’ll find either artsy photo shoots or even cosmetics ads, different things that will inspire me. I also do take photographs of my own, and I work from some of my friends’ photographs. So I have this huge pile of photographs and ideas, both on my computer and in stacks in my bedroom, of different images I find inspiring. When I have time to work or have a yearning to work, I’ll sketch from those images and then just take it to paper.


CT: How did the eye series start?

MB: I studied at a really intensive illustration program in college, and when I got out of school I didn’t feel like drawing any more. I worked and sketched, but I didn’t do any finished pieces. Then a friend of mine requested I do an album cover for him, but I felt like I was so out of practice with watercolor that I didn’t even know what I was going to do. I wanted to do some paintings to loosen myself up. His album was a remix of songs of a female Icelandic pop star, so he wanted a painting of her and a painting of himself. I’ve always been really focused on eyes and facial features and not really much else. I have done a lot of figure drawing and life drawing, drawing poses and gestures, but what I really like are facial features. So to loosen up I started drawing these sketches of her from photos I’d found of her, and watering them in. I only focused in on her eyes, and that’s how the eye series started.

CT: She has really cool eyes, as well.

MB: Yeah, she has absolutely gorgeous eyes, and that might have been part of it. I just really loved just painting her eyes, and I took it from there. That’s the first image on my web site and is probably the painting I’ve gotten the most reaction to. And that was just a warm-up to try to do this album cover. I was kind of like, wait, can I get away with this? Can I just do what I want to do and nothing else? I don’t have to do all the stuff I had to do in college?

CT: What do you think about the New York art world?

MB: It’s great that there’s such a community of artists here. You can find any kind of community of artists within New York. You can find artists who are really passionate about their work and live and starve for it, and you can find people who need to work, to create something all the time, but it doesn’t necessarily have to be a fine art. I’m more in that second group. I’m happy creating with handbag design during the day, then expressing what I want to at night and when I have free time painting. Then there are the people who are really using art as a steppingstone and a social maneuver.

One way I differ from a lot of artists is that I need to be creating something all the time, but it doesn’t have to be the same thing. I’m really interested in fashion, too. I sew on my own, I build things. I make flip books and different things. I go on tangents. I always return to painting and drawing, but I go through cycles. As long as I’m creating something I’m happy.

CT: Your parents are both artists, right?

MB: Yes, and my father is a really talented furniture designer. They’ve always been really inspiring and encouraging to me. Whereas a lot of kids’ parents were like, you should definitely work on your art but also study something in the liberal arts, my parents were the opposite. They were like, no you’re absolutely not going to apply to a liberal arts school, you’re only going to go to an arts school, forget about it.

CT: Any words of advice for young people considering moving to New York to become artists?

MB: If people want to become artists and move to New York they should do it and they should keep themselves working all the time. Don’t get so caught up in New York that you forget what you came here for. That can happen pretty easily. Don’t get discouraged or intimidated by it. There are so many amazing things around you all the time that you need to be able to take it in stride and be inspired by the things around you and not be intimidated by them. Sometimes you can start to drown a little in it, but you have to keep working and keep your head above water and keep doing what you want to do. Not what other people want you to do, but what you really want to do, and hopefully people will recognize you for that.

Visit to learn more about Marion’s work.

Comments (2)
  • merouf those are beautiful. Sat Mar 05, 2011
  • Beast Love the watercolor. Mon Apr 19, 2010
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