Since 2014・Volume 7
All artwork © respective artists.
The Ballpointer's coverage of The Bic Collection ballpoint art expo came three months after the fact
—the Paris show had ended in May, 2018; Son of a Bich, Part I was published that August—but seeing as few news outlets in France (and none outside of the country, to our knowledge) bothered to report the exhibition before, during or after, our old news was still news. To date, in fact, most of what's been written about it (other than my two-cents) was written by Bic. The Bic Collection as an exhibition was, more than anything, a clever publicity ploy for The Bic Company, but perhaps it was ignored by mass media for seeming to be just that. Hitching its wagon to targeted consumers of their product, consumers who happen to be attracting attention themselves via artwork they've created using not only Bics but all brands of ballpoints, raises conflicts of interest and muddles Bic's motives.
Now Bic has added YouTube to their self-promotion strategies. This means my better-late-than-never Part II to Son of a Bich can double as a video review while allowing me to expand upon the exhibition review begun in Part I, which I still have plenty to say about (and now that I've been unofficially placed on Bic Watch you can expect these Son of a Bich entries to become a recurring rant). During a periodic session of 'ballpoint art' Googling at the start of 2019 The Ballpointer came across a video promoting The Bic Collection exhibition posted September 20, 2018, on what Bic is touting as its official YouTube channel (although, as of this writing, the video is the only post on the channel). The exhibition itself and related video make for a solid one-two promotional punch. The video is as much an infomercial for Bic as any genuine documentation of the artwork shown, half an hour extolling the greatness of Bic ®, the company, and the art altruism of Bruno Bich, the man (and company CEO), with the art collection as proof of his benevolence.
Upon hearing about The Bic Collection, as reported in Son of a Bich Part I, inquiries were submitted to every Bic contact we could find, offering a platform to explain and clarify their interests in ballpoint pen art. We hoped for and expected straightforward answers to simple questions, but Bic opted to cut out the middle man. Out comes their video; direct-to-audience DIY social media hyperbole produced and packaged to make the company, the man and the event shine. No pesky commentary or criticism which might misdirect or detract from any intended message, the message in this case obviously being: 'Bic is great '! The narrative of this video is also after the fact, so there's lots of bombast about how many people came to see the exhibition, how much praise was heaped, and what a wonderful world it could be if we all have Bic pens in our hands.
Screen-grab stills from Bic's The Bic Collection promotional YouTube video. From top : Lucio Fontana's 'barely there' nude sketch, showing unfortunate signs of age. Above : 'The Kid' in front of his own work.
Below : Jisoo Yoo and her 2018 Bic Award-winning Metamorphosis. Bottom : Visitors get to show the pros how it's done in an interactive area.
All artwork © respective artists.
Hervé Mikaeloff and Ingrid Pux (both pictured above, In screen-grab video stills), who co-curated the exhibition, also handle boasting—excuse me, hosting—duties in the video (in French with English subtitles), which is presented in a polished ready-for-prime-time package, but their respective backgrounds or credentials for curating an exhibition of ballpoint art, or exhibition of any kind, go unmentioned. Curators-for-hire? Curators at all or just on Bic's payroll? Early in the video Pux explains that it was the curators' job to ''find the common thread that runs through the artwork'', but what more of a 'common thread' is necessary beyond use of that certain writing implement made by a certain company? Both go the way of curatorial colloquialisms to describe the company, the exhibition and the artwork, offering the kind of consumer-friendly views that insure people pick Bic when shopping for pens, artist or not. As for the venue, rental event space Centquarte-Paris, Mikaeloff explains ''We chose this location because it is accessible to a wide and varied audience.'' The venue also hosts dance and theatre performances which, he adds, ''seemed consistent with Bic's values.'' Hopefully disposability is not one of the 'Bic values' to which he is referring.
The exhibition was divided into four themes: Historic Artists of the Collection, Portrait Gallery, Design and Fashion Items, and Imaginary Architectures. More than 150 works of art are said to have been displayed, ''bringing together artists from all over the world who have been inspired by Bic''. Pux informs us the artwork on display constituted only part of Bic's collection, ''highlighting the skeleton of the collection,'' adding that most of the artwork in the exhibition normally decorates the company's offices, meeting rooms and lunch spaces.
Ballpoint pen drawings constitute the majority of artwork, but Bic inks and the pens themselves were also utilized, adding dimension to the display in the form of objects, sculpture and installations. Upon entering the exhibition, visitors pass an installation by Austrian artist Herbert Hinteregger made up of 15,000 Bic Cristal pens (pictured). Paolo Ulian created a chandelier called Anemone made up of red Bic ballpoints minus interior components, allowing light to shine through the pens' clear plastic bodies. Pux says this object was Bruno Bich's first ballpoint art acquisition and the start of what would become The Collection, which now includes several similar works by Ulian.
Ballpoints are not the only Bic product used to create the art comprising the collection. A chair by Kate Lennard impressively constructed from 1,100 disposable Bic razors (pictured) must have been a highlight of the Design and Fashion category of the exhibition, its glossy white and Bic-yellow plastic gleaming under spotlights. Oscar Carvallo stitched 8,000 disposable Bic lighters to a gown said to weigh 500 pounds requiring six people to carry. Curators don't say whether either are functional but they are at least fun, and, along with figurines sculpted of melted Bic pen plastics and pottery coated with Bic inks, might qualify as the King of Disposability's answer to recycling. Art patronage as penance? Not bad for a start. Bic's footprint on the planet is considerable, due to aforementioned disposable lighter, razor and ballpoint plastics clogging landfills, but I'll leave that investigative report to CNN.
Alighiero Boetti, Lucio Fontana, Alberto Giacometti, Fernand Léger and René Magritte are among the group presented as Historic Artists of the Collection. Giacometti, Léger and Magritte definitely qualify as 'historic' art names but their reputations were forged via traditional art mediums and their ballpoint pen usage was incidental and shows no particular mastery of the pens, an important point which continues to cloud general understanding of ballpoint pen art. Bruno Bich gushes over a self-portrait by Magritte drawn in 1960—presumably using a Bic ballpoint although it is not specifically noted—but the drawing is unremarkable except that it was drawn by Magritte and would not have merited inclusion to a collection of this kind had it been drawn by anyone else. The same can be said of a ''sketch of a painting featuring a dove'' by Léger. Boetti, on the other hand, gained attention specifically for his ballpoint pen work but its 'wow' factor was mostly due to its grand scale. Continues below ...
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Continuing from above ... Meanwhile, a Lucio Fontana 'nude' sketch seems only barely there (pictured), perhaps due to Fontana's carefree application but more likely faded over time by overexposure to light. Fontana's name often appears in lists of artists who've used ballpoint pens but he also made a name for himself using other mediums, and his ballpoint usage (1940s-50s) falls into that gray area of scribbles which could've been achieved using any number of methods or mediums, and used in ways that were either relative to then-perceived confines of the pens as an art medium (i.e. lines) or art trends of the time (i.e. scribbled lines). And exactly how long will those ballpoint pen lines, Bic's or any brand's, last against light, weather or time? It's a topic highly relevant to Bic's new ballpoint BFFs (Bic Collection artists), but ballpoint pen companies gloss over or altogether ignore this dark side of ballpointing because no one can honestly answer. The Ballpointer still seems to be the only entity addressing the subject (see the LAB page).
Bic also uses the video to promote their Bic Award, launched in 2016 with the Paris Cergy National Graduate School of Art ''to distinguish a student from the school every year.'' Co-curator Mikaeloff and Bruno Bich head the jury. Paris-based South Korean art student Jisoo Yoo was Bic's 2018 recipient, and her award-winning Metamorphosis (pictured) was exhibited as part of the collection. Pux (not Yoo) employs her best art-speak to explain the art: ''It is a piece about degradation, about downfall and about femininity. It is a beautiful and very sensitive piece.'' Beautiful, yes, but hauntingly so. And 'sensitive'? Vulnerable might better describe it, but, alas, inquiries to Yoo also went unanswered. Yoo does appear in the video, instead explaining (in French) how her use of three different kinds of Bic pens—the 'original' Cristal, the Intensity Fineliner, and the Roller Glide—and the varying point sizes and tints of black inks between them allowed for varying degrees of detail to suit her desires.
An interactive area enticed visitors to have some ballpoint fun of their own before exiting the exhibition (exiting through the gift shop, perhaps?). Long tubes with bundles of Bics attached to one end (pictured) + large sheets of paper covering the floor = you get the idea. ''Honey, you won't believe it, I went to an exhibition today and they let me make art, too ! I'm gonna go out, buy me some (Bic ®) ballpoints and call myself an artist !'' All in good fun, for sure, but somehow it saps some 'wows' from the artistic process. This could appear to be the extent of Lucio Fontana's ballpoint usage, after all, or it might just be Juan Francisco Casas' next foray in ballpoint.
Monsieur Bich is of course allowed the final word, stating, ''Any medium that encourages creativity of children and young people is very positive for our world.'' Family-friendly, indeed. Pass me a tissue・
Screen-grab stills from Bic's
The Bic Collection promotional YouTube video...
The Portrait Gallery and Imaginary Architectures sections are where the real ballpoint penmanship
is exhibited; I'm talking pen control and the softer touch which gives contemporary ballpointing its
wow factor. Photorealist ballpoint drawings by the likes of Juan Francisco Casas were displayed
in the Portrait Gallery. None of the bare breasted ballpoint beefcake which put Casas on the
ballpoint art map, but perhaps Bich has one of those in his closet collection (the exhibition and
YouTube video are decidedly family-friendly fare). A portrait looking like artist Jan Farbe, himself a curiosity of ballpoint art history, looks to be the work of Casas but the video neither credits the artist nor identifies the subject.
In fact, aside from artists who appear on camera in front of their artwork describing their own involvement in the exhibition, none of the artwork appearing in the video is duly credited. For the photorealists this is problematic; much of that work is interchangeable. Minus any stylistic identifiers, a face drawn photorealistically in black or blue ballpoint could be the work of any number of ballpointers; you could open a factory for it nowadays. One of several vintage Bic advertisements is so haphazardly tucked into the exhibition among the photorealists that, in the video at least, undiscerning viewers might mistake it for full-color ballpoint photorealism (which, by the way, does not seem to be represented in The Collection). A young ballpoint photorealist introduced only as The Kid (pictured) could be a student of Casas, or at least a ballpointing byproduct. The Kid is one of several unfamiliar artists featured explaining the familiar merits of ballpoints-as-art-medium: can be found anywhere, don't cost much and easy to carry around. As with Casas, inquiries sent directly to The Kid went unanswered.
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Let's not forget (Bic won't be the ones to remind people but that's why I'm here), the Bich family and Bic brand are synonymous with ballpoints but they did not invent the pen. Grampa Marcel Bich (the H was dropped perhaps due to obvious misuse, as with the very purposeful titling of this article) was merely shrewd enough to snatch up László Bíró's patent when it lapsed in 1953, introduce Ford-like mass production, and take the pens global, putting the 'Bic' in u-BIC-uity. And while I'm keeping things in perspective (though I'll surely be accused of slinging stones at Goliath), I may as well hammer home the two most important points concerning The Bic Collection exhibition and accompanying YouTube video, the kind of points which are understandably excluded from pre-fab self-promotion. Bic's collection contains some exceptional work, but by no means does it constitute a 'best of' presentation of ballpoint pen art. Neither is it a representation of artists who could be considered the cream of the ballpoint art crop. This is just one pen company CEO's collection, with a decidedly biased criteria for inclusion. Most are artists who've shown conspicuous loyalty to Bic by openly name-dropping the brand in interviews or on social media as their preferred or sole medium. Bic charmingly mimics the art selfie posts of those very social media ballpointers by displaying Bic pens placed on top of some of the drawings they were used to create.
In Imaginary architectures the creative range of ballpoint usage is proven. A piece by renowned ballpointer Il Lee is presented in this grouping. It's common knowledge that Lee uses Bic ballpoints for his so-called 'mark-making', and it's been said that he has gone through buckets of the pens over the years. Jonathan Bréchignac and Rebecca Chamberlain are also among the standouts in this section. Hicham Berrada, another of the three artists commissioned to create work for The Bic Collection, mixed ballpoint inks into chemical concoctions and smeared them into abstract forms more than a little reminiscent to those of top ballpointer Shane McAdams, whose experiments with ballpoint ink apparently did not fall within Bic's acquisitions department's radar. Collection curators credit Berrada with pioneering the mixing of ballpoint inks with other solvents to create effects that couldn't come from the tip of a ball point, but The Ballpointer featured McAdams' work in 2014 and had known about the artist for some time prior to that… time to compare dates! These are exactly the kinds of facts that could've been clarified had Bic's people been in touch with The Ballpointer.
Placing itself at the top of the food chain and deciding the pecking order seems to be the gist of Bic's take on ballpoint art history, leaving the huddled masses thinking Bic (or Bich) is God's gift to the ballpoint art community. Bic may be the most recognizable, but it's not the only ballpoint brand, and not the only brand of merit. Pilot, Zebra, PaperMate and Schaefer are other brands which come up during ballpoint shop talk. Kai & Sunny, the British art duo who are the only in The Bic Collection who have been featured in The Ballpointer, list many ballpoint brands among their mediums, so apparently brand exclusivity isn't criteria for inclusion to Bic's collection. Curators, and Mr. Bich himself, brag about the quality of Bic ballpoints, all but crediting the pens for the quality of the artwork as if Bics were created with artists in mind, but Bics eject blobs of ink just as often as any other pen and any experienced ballpointer will tell you the quality of the pen makes little difference to the quality of the ballpoint art. Bich brags that artists ''consciously choose Bic for its quality''—a ''deliberate choice'', he insists—but most artists will tell you any pen will suffice, and sometimes what might be considered a 'bad' pen might actually be better to produce certain effects.
Click on an image above to read the fully archived article.
thINK by B. Neufeld originally posted July 2, 2019
Son of a Bich PART lI・video review: The BIC Collection・YouTube
thINK by B. Neufeld posted July 2, 2019
Son of a Bich PART lI・video review: The BIC Collection・YouTube