Bruno Dufour-Coppolani

Artist

Bruno Dufour-Coppolani, a Painter Who Reveals the Beauty of
Mortality
by Caroline Chavigny

In an era when we look for every possible way to smooth out the wrinkles and fine lines of time, the
work of painter Bruno Dufour-Coppolani is like a healthy jolt of electricity. His art reminds us of
our own mortality. “Since I left Beaux-Arts (the French National School of Fine Arts) I’ve worked
extensively on the question of time: on time as an element of art, on the question of erosion, of
erasure, of superimpositions… Basically, the expression of memory. All of this was what started my
work on aging, and specifically on skin.”
With this incredible beginning, several years ago he had the idea of producing 14 large-scale
portraits of elderly subjects, in the style of the Stations of the Cross – “a sort of Passion of the
Christ for non-believers.” He visited nursing homes for two years, and had a few conditions: “I
wanted to work on the gaze in an expressive way, to be in the encounter, and I wanted the skin to be
unsettling. I wanted it to be inscribed in a length of time, in a future that is troubling by its very
nature.” Bruno Dufour-Coppolani is also a professor of art history, and he’s noticed that skin is
rarely portrayed in painting as it actually is. Instead, it’s painted in a chiaroscuro style that seems to
confer immortality upon its subjects – with the exception of a few masterpieces, like Rembrandt’s
Mother, which is a painting that shows “profound humanity.” As Dufour-Coppolani says, “skin,
with its wrinkles, its imperfections, is the very expression of mortality.” His work has evolved into
canvases that show the grace and beauty of very old people, along with their fragility. “When we
know that something is going to disappear, it becomes something we pay attention to. It’s a sort of
aesthetics of disappearance, full of beauty.”

He paints these portraits from photographs and from his memories of meeting the subject. The goal
is not a perfect resemblance, but rather to recreate a state of mind: the person should exude
something lively, something slightly out of place. The portraits become universal despite
themselves. This is no doubt also because the faces of the very elderly are on their way to becoming
“skullish: flesh sinks down, skin gets closer to the bones, and faces start to look alike. A lot of
people who come into my workshop have the feeling they recognize someone.”
In today’s society, we tend to avoid topics like these. “Are we still capable of humanity these days?”
he asks. Bruno Dufour-Coppolani knows that he is troubled – haunted – by the question of time,
“but not in a painful way. I want to reproduce that turmoil. I’m not religious, but I am fascinated by
texts about the Stations of the Cross. And once I truly got close to these elderly people, I was struck
by the richness of their facial expressions, by their beauty, and by their skin, which is so moving.
It’s better than a thousand landscapes.”
Bruno Dufour-Coppolani has continued his work on the reality of passing time with city-scale
projects. He gives color back to cities destroyed during the war – “the skin of cities and their
memory is really in play” – and paints portraits inspired by historical works. He still feels this pull
towards the beauty of faces, whether they be young or less young, that comes from the vulnerability
each one of us shares: human mortality.

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