Brigitte Bardot: Redefining Sexuality - Artist Jeremy Penn

Brigitte Bardot | The Inspiration

I get asked, on a fairly regular basis, why I choose to paint Brigitte Bardot with such regularity. “Just what is it about Bardot that draws you to her repeatedly in your art?” To which I generally reply; “People say God created women. However, that’s impossible, because Bardot proves that God is actually a woman herself.” This may, as a first impression, appear as a mere glib comment, a humorous statement of my admiration for a woman of obvious physical beauty. However, as with all my work, and with my artistic muses, there is often a far deeper meaning beyond the superficial.

Bardot has always captured my imagination, as well as my aesthetic appreciation. In our modern era, a woman in charge of her own sexuality is nothing new. We’ve seen it all before, with iconic female figures in the spotlight, from the striking, seductive androgyny of Grace Jones to the aggressive self-assertion of Madonna. Yet rewind 60 years, and the world, at least for females, was a very different place. In the post-war years, women were encouraged to be demure, lady-like, refined, and ultimately, non-sexual. Women who celebrated their sexuality were frowned upon, regarded as somehow debased and ‘unnatural’.

Then, in 1957, Bardot, a young French woman, was launched from relative obscurity to worldwide stardom with the release of the film, ‘And God Created Women’. The film was highly controversial, not least for the fact that here, for the first time, was a woman not only utilizing her sexuality, but actively revelling in it. For the first time, attitudes towards female sexuality were challenged; a whirlwind of conflicting opinions were raised and Bardot sat within it all; the calm, beautiful eye of the storm.

She went on to feature in nearly 50 films; and was the inspiration and muse for many artistic figures. What was quite remarkable though, was her ability to appeal to females, as well as males. Her appeal for a masculine audience is obvious. With those heavy-lidded, sultry eyes and abundant blonde locks, she is a beauty of almost unnatural proportions. But to appeal equally to a female audience is no mean feat. Simone De Beauvoir, a celebrated female powerhouse herself, referred to Bardot as a ‘locomotive’ and held her in high regard as one of the most liberated and unrepressed females in the country at the time.

It is precisely this that inspires me so much, and drives me to depict her, again and again. Her ripe, almost sulky pout, her fantastic bone structure (I particularly love the often challenging tilt of her chin, as though daring her audience to not adore her!) and her expressive eyes are of obvious appeal, on an aesthetic level.

Jeremy Penn Brigitte Bardot Painting
Jeremy Penn Brigitte Bardot Painting

But it goes beyond that. I revel in the strength, the clarity of her gaze, the appraising, almost confrontational depth that her eyes seem to have. Her face speaks volumes about the way she lived (and continues to live) her life; a life lived to the full, a life of personal liberty and of being true to herself. In this chameleonic world where people, like leopards, do continually seem to ‘change their spots’, it is wondrous indeed to witness an individual relishing her true nature as the Queen of sex kittens.

Brigitte Bardot | The Process

Over the past 5 years, I have become known for my extensive blue scales. When representing Brigitte Bardot, it was a natural choice for me to once again, return to my favored palette of blues. Blue, for me, is a color that often highlights depth, which creates mystery and challenges the viewer to perceive something past the expected. For a figure such as Bardot, who continually challenged her audiences and had such apparent depth, it was the perfect color scheme.

Before 50 Shades of Grey came along, I was very much using 50 shades of blue in my works. This painting, however, focuses on just 5 (all shades of Prussian blue). I wanted the contrast between light and shade, the contours of her face, to be fiercely juxtaposed; linear, clear and powerful, to give full justice to her force of personality. The only real darkness in the painting is of course, her eyes. That iconic, kohl-rimmed gaze had to be the focal point of the work; otherwise I simply wouldn’t be capturing the true essence of Bardot.

Like much of my work, there are strong reverberations of pop art; which seems apt for a truly 60s goddess. And, as with much of my work, I chose to use a somewhat different canvas for this piece of art; in this instance, brushed copper. It creates a density and substance to the image as a whole; a sense of permanence and solidity that defies the ‘throwaway’ culture of pop art.

I like working with juxtapositions and contrasts, and this painting is no exception.