“A Monegasque artist.” Note by H. E. M, René Novella, Private Adviser of H. H. Prince Albert II, written at the occasion of the 2010 Monaco show.
Once upon a time, a young couple got married. A wedding is the union of two families, two tribes, each offering their own values, beliefs, traditions and rituals. Monegasque for several generations, the Bergonzi family had maintained a strong tradition in music, from their roots in violin making in 18th century Cremona, Italy. My grandfather Raymond, however, changed course, towards visual arts and philosophy. He experimented with many techniques, such as painting landscapes and portraits, welding metal, carving wood, creating wall collage, shaping clay, and enameling ceramics. As talented as he was, art remained a hobby. At a very young age, he met his wife, a beautiful Italian girl, and they shared a simple “carpe diem” kind of life, in daily admiration of beauty and nature, between sun and sea. Marc, their only child, was discreet and introverted, with an innate talent for mechanisms. Cars were his first passion, and his early dreams were of becoming a pilot. Instead, he dedicated himself to saving people’s lives as a cardiologist, and became a pioneer in the pacemaker industry.
My mother comes from a village in the region of Lozere, France, a very Catholic environment, where reputation was important among the inhabitants of the town. Her father, Louis Michel, was a peaceful, wise, and deeply spiritual man with a close relationship to nature, especially the effects of the phases of the moon on plants. His income, though, was from delicate manual work on jewelry, clocks, and electronics. He raised four children. His youngest, Marguerite-Marie, was all charisma, not to mention a fantastic source of energy and joy. She grew up steeped in the poetry of nature and the magic of churches and their golden treasures. She became a cultured woman with a keen sense of beauty and design, developing a taste for theatre and literature. She dreamt of becoming a theatre director, but instead she earned her degree as a dentist, specializing in aesthetics and transforming people’s lives by giving them a new smile. Her excellence certainly comes from her unique sensitivity to the subtlest shades of color, combined with an appreciation for precise work, learned at her father’s knee.
Marc and Maguy, from similar yet opposite backgrounds, both strong and passionate, shared an intense and exclusive love story. Two years after they married, I was born, soon followed by two siblings.
I spent the first years of my life in Gemenos, Provence, playing with older kids around the small village and establishing myself as a tomboy, a street cat, free and scrappy. At the age of three, moving to Monaco was not good news. It was a busy city: busy roads, busy home with busy parents trying to raise three children while starting their careers. And yet, I was lonely and found it difficult to adjust to my classmates in kindergarten. I felt like I didn’t belong. What excited me was learning new things: crafts, sciences, grammar, and numbers. I longed for dreamy exploration every day. Early inspirations were Japanese cartoons (the adventures of Goldorak, Captain Harlock and Candy Candy), movies (Flash Gordon and Grease) and Catechism, my best access to magic and early philosophy, with its amazing imagery and miraculous stories. My grandfather retired. Finally free to be an artist and philosopher, he became my mentor, introducing me to oil painting, ceramics and chess, while our conversations about life and the mysteries of nature continued.
Socially, the fun came at age 8. I was transferred from Catholic to public school, delighted with the new dynamic and the creativity of the teaching. I asked to have my long hair cut “here, just below the ear,” which led to some fights and being called “young man” a few times by strangers. In school, I voluntarily stayed extra hours in the afternoons to peacefully and efficiently do my homework. This experience of independence was precious to me.
At 11 years old, I began high school with a broken left arm, having fallen from a tree in the playground. Soon after it healed, I started channeling my energy into intense sport activities such as fencing, skiing, dancing, and swimming. Eventually, I developed a passion for martial arts, an activity that I continued to practice for many years, ever increasing my sense of mental peace. My studies were of primary interest, though, as they served as my window to the world. My teenage years were very busy, between home, school, sports, and traveling. During class, I used to sit near the teachers’ desks so that they knew I was paying attention, even while sketching. Again, I chose to spend extra hours at school, working in the entertaining company of the students in detention. I was a nerd who felt a kinship with the outcasts and rebels; I found them particularly independent, authentic, and enthusiastic, usually with great intelligence and sense of humor. As a child, I had read all the fairy tales I could find. Later on, I discovered Bruno Bettelheim’s book “The Uses of Enchantment and Deeper Meanings Beyond Fairy Tales.” This discovery was fundamental to the development of my own psyche. At 13, I lost my mentor, my grandfather, to leukemia. Creative orphan that I was, I closed off, went on autopilot, and took refuge in continuous drawing and studying. This was during the roaring 80’s, an extravaganza of fashion couture, blossoming special effects in music videos, advertising and movies, all with luxurious, materialistic Monte Carlo as a backdrop. My beautiful, stylish mother became my new point of reference. At 16, I needed to choose a direction, and I saw only two options: Political Science or Business School. My IQ tests showed a great aptitude for logic and mathematics, so I picked the latter.
“Artist” is not an acceptable profession to a family who puts creativity second and a “real job,” family, and wealth first. In addition, I couldn’t bear the thought of submitting myself to the subjectivity of teachers in disciplines such as literature or arts. Hence I chose the path of science and reason. While studying in Paris, my creativity kept breaking out, like a mental illness. A drawing would pop up uncontrollably while doing my homework, and I would throw it in a drawer, quickly slamming it shut. I also felt a strong tug toward sci-fi and other fields of imagination, however I worried they, too, would lead to a slippery slope from which I might never return. In the end I spent seven years in Paris, comprising two years of “boot camp” preparation for top business schools, three years at the Institut Superieur du Commerce (ISC), and a year and a half at the Institut Francais de la Mode (IFM), as well as various internships and jobs. Yet whenever I visited Monaco, my friends and family would ask, “How are you doing in art school? Fashion school?” and the viability of my academic existence would crumble like a house of cards. If we are what people see in us, I was clearly an artist, even when I couldn’t see it myself.
Several unavoidable opportunities presented themselves: First, the school authorities canceled the “Portfolio Management Association” for which I was supposed to serve as president in my second year. In a show of revenge, I joined the “Media Association,” making drawings, graphic designs for posters, and other visuals. Secondly, Benjamin R., a fellow student, challenged me: “I like your drawings a lot. Could you make costumes?” which led to my first costume fashion catwalk show, featuring the most beautiful young women of the school. Thirdly, I met Xavier B., a school alumni, who welcomed me into the creative world of video games and basic symbolic logic. Finally, because every Monday I answered my Japanese teacher, in her native language, “Last weekend- me-costumes-made,” she introduced me to Monika, director of accessories at the Christian Lacroix Couture Studio. I went there to meet her, happily, with portfolios of drawings and photos of my costumes, unaware that it was a recruitment interview. Imagine how shocked I was to learn that I had been selected for a summer internship with the designer himself ! As part of my curriculum, I needed to work for six months in an internship with a company. I consulted a teacher regarding my two options: a promising offer from Credit Agricole (building original finance investment products from mathematical formulas), or assisting Mr. Lacroix himself. He said, “You need to choose between your heart and your wallet.”
Transition to New York
On my path to rationality, I quickly understood that all the techniques that I studied in business school would be useless without substantial content. I committed to fashion for two important reasons. Firstly, in my opinion, this field is a perfect intersection of marketing and the arts. Secondly, fashion is a complex maze, a system of multiple processes, from the textile fiber seed to the store. “Process” was, and always will be, a key interest to me. That decision led me to my thesis topic, “Finance in Couture and Avant-Garde Fashion Design.” With a rich and authentic background in couture, jewelry and textile, plus my own personal creative portfolios, I enrolled and ultimately graduated from the renowned French fashion marketing and management postgraduate school, IFM. This second degree gave me a deep specialization in each aspect of the industry, supported by my international field experience in China and Italy for companies such as Casio and John Galliano. After all that, I still felt empty and paralyzed in the face of my life-to-come The fantastic enthusiasm I felt upon leaving business school was gone, and all the professional knowledge and experience I’d gained had chipped away at my entrepreneurial spirit. It seemed as if my options were now limited to the textile industry in rainy areas, designer and brand worship in couture companies, or distribution of predictable “readyto- wear.” While sharing my feelings of being at a deadend with my American friend Steven D., he said “New York is easyyy...” A dear mutual friend of ours had been consulting psychoanalysts for over a decade, so for my 25th birthday I treated myself to a session. Back then, in spite of a strong reluctance, I had sent my resume to a long list of fashion headhunters, but the only activities to which I could seemingly dedicate myself were reorganizing and streamlining my apartment and planning my birthday party. The therapist was right about this two-week trip to New York I had scheduled: this birthday celebration would also be my goodbye party. I came to New York to find an internship in fashion, prepared with my laptop, my resume, and a couple of professional outfits. New York is known for its transformative impact on people, like the typical example of the banker turned musician and vice versa. Beyond my official, clear and noble mission, I had a secret hope that New York would reveal my true nature. As soon as I took my first steps in this new city, I experienced a fantastic sense of bliss. It felt so right being there that I did not question it for the next few years.
Drawings to graphic design, graphic design to jewelry, jewelry to costumes, costumes to fashion, it was in New York that I surrendered to fine arts and developed my personal body of work; Self taught acrylic paintings on large square canvases at first, figurative oil paint portraits later on, as well as metal sculpture, welded steel and cast bronze. My creativity appears in everything that I do, from thinking to cooking. My creations are physical representations of my inner world, a complex, vivid, and dynamic imagination. The more I create, the easier it is for others (and even for myself) to access this dreamscape and see the unity of my style.
"I believe that art can heal. Imagine a world where you can let go and live really fully, where you can scream, scratch, punch, break, tear, push, pull, burn, play, and anger is not something that makes you “out of your mind,” but something that you tame into creativity. From my earliest memories, drawing has been as essential to me as breathing. Committing myself completely to art gives me a sense of being alive, aligned with the world, serene and complete. I have retained a childlike curiosity and an urge for ongoing renewal. Rather than specializing in one thing, I prefer to remain a “perpetual beginner” and be constantly open to new possibilities and explorations. Mirroring the harmony of my own contrasts, I seek various forms of challenge, from confrontation to liberation, from conversing to dancing or sparring with the elements, from the most direct actions of steel welding, cutting, burning, and bending metal, to completing a portrait from life in a slow and irresistible process, to capturing the spark of life which makes each person distinct. I explore, revisit, and reinvent with complete commitment. I improvise, create “stuff ” in my laboratory in an instinctive, nonverbal, and extremely intimate search for authenticity. I roll up my sleeves and dive into the creative dimension, striving to get maximum results with minimalist methods, in simple and pure renderings. I love to study and sharpen the “how to.” I enjoy and welcome the sense of risk and inner chaos I feel before an artwork appears to me, finished and intimidating. Only then can I play and create and finally clear my mind of unnecessary noise and dare to breathe, feel, play, live, and express. I tried to embrace other paths but without direct involvement in the arts my life has no meaning or essence. I cannot find a more interesting topic than life itself, motions and emotions, or a better subject than human beings and our unlimited collective mind and shared universal symbols."
- CAROLINE BERGONZI, 2012
“Thank you for hailing us this way, and for inviting us to think about our values, and about what makes our humanity. With my best wishes of achievement, joy and success. Warm regards.” Albert de Monaco.
“I met Caroline when she was a child. Sitting on the floor, she smeared a sheet of paper very carefully, which was actually not white anymore, under the amused and proud eyes of my friend Raymond Bergonzi, her grandpa, a government official yet painter and ceramist of talent which, if he had not left too soon, would be the greatest fan of his granddaughter. Since then Caroline has never been far from brushes or colors. After higher education, she entered the field of art via the door of fashion. Also noticed for her productions in design and decoration, she was soon attracted by the great magnet of the art itself. Eager to take on a big life, she crossed the Atlantic to settle in New York, where artists live. Most recently she has entered a new phase of her artistic career, both technically and thematically. In terms of technique, she went from acrylic to oil, and to painting she added metal sculpture. As for themes, she chose the portrait - with an impressive achievement that makes me predict that she will reach the perfection of her undoubted talent - and mystical subjects. (…) centerpiece is composed of twelve paintings of 100 cm wide by 120 cm high, interpreting a monument of Christian thought, the Apocalypse of Saint John, a canonical book, the last of the New Testament, which is the source of strange symbols for many artists of the Middle Ages. Unlike them, Caroline did not, only create new symbols, she wanted to give an echo to these, the correspondences of our time. The four horsemen represent the four human powers; media power, military power, market power, scientific power; Babylon is the arrogance, the throne with the twenty-four kings is the United Nations...”
Caroline Bergonzi 2010
Photo by Jeremie Laurent
In this book, my focus is fine art, not an attempt to define what art is but rather to use it as a window to the core of my imagination, the force guiding everything I create, a map, as it were, to my dreamscape. Beyond displaying paintings and sculptures, I invite you to discover my journey as an artist, which I hope will inspire you to trust and dare life, even when reason and external voices warn you to quit or to conform. The story, if any, is ordinary. What is extraordinary, however, is the context, these distillations of moments of feeling alive, what Joseph Campbell named “the bliss.” From detail to detail, from idea to idea, from artwork to artwork, I open my secret world and take you on the roller coaster of my quest, a simply human exploration… Welcome to my world...