Since 2014・Volume 6

Original content © The Ballpointer / Mahozawari Unlimited

Screen-grab stills from Bic's  The Bic Collection  promotional  YouTube  video.  From top : Lucio Fontana's 'barely therenude 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.

Continuing fromHEADLINES 1... 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

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. 

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. 

​​​thINK  by B. Neufeld  posted July 2, 2019

Son of a Bich  PART lIvideo review:  The BIC CollectionYouTube