A self-taught artist, Jean-Francois Debongnie (Belgian, b. 1968) first came to Asia in 1989 and after traveling in Thailand and Malaysia decided to make Singapore his home. Debongnie fell in love with Eastern cultural and aesthetic traditions. Working exclusively in water-based acrylic and Chinese ink, his paintings have explored visual representations of navigation between the West where he was born and the East he called home for over two decades.
Debongnie’s canvases are the beneficiaries of a rich heritage of history transplanted into the modern world where they thrive. His canvases seamlessly straddle seemingly disparate elements—old and new; organic and synthetic; vibrant ochre, blue, and red against muted shades of gray and black. Debongnie’s harmonizing touch gives his works their enduring beauty, allowing him to paint traditional botanical scenes with traditional materials in a contemporary style.
Debongnie’s canvases typically consist of a background constructed out of seven to ten layers of acrylic paint in varying shades, which he tops with impasto flower heads suspended atop delicate Chinese ink stems. The stems—mesmerizing, winding, and ethereal—are an ideal contrast with the solid texture and color of the flower heads they support. Debongnie understands each flower as both an iconographic floral signature that expresses essential qualities rather than a precise botanical representation and as one character in the landscape, he invites the viewer to explore. This ability to move between the undeniably solid and the whimsically effervescent as well as the individual and the greater world evokes the comfortable dualism that is always at play in Debongnie’s works.
Debongnie’s works have been exhibited in Belgium, Germany, France, Singapore, and Malaysia and shown in private collections and luxury buildings including the Sotheby’s Institute of Art, Singapore Airlines, and the Westin Hotels. In addition, Debongnie’s work has been featured in Vogue Living and Elle Decor.