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Artist Spotlight: Francois Bonnefoi

French artist’s world travels inspire his paintings
By: Krissi Khokhobashvili, Journal Features Editor
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A retired chef who has traveled the world picked up a paintbrush 10 years ago and is now a full-time artist, creating colorful, textured paintings.

Francois Bonnefoi, 60, was born in the south of France, where he attended culinary arts school in Toulouse. He came to the United States in 1973 as a chef for Hyatt Regency in Atlanta. His cooking skills were soon “discovered,” and Bonnefoi began cooking aboard luxury yachts, traveling the world and building an extensive recipe collection as he traveled. He later worked as a chef on the East Coast, in Arizona, Alaska and Seattle, Wash., eventually being hired at The Ridge Golf Club in Auburn, where he worked for a year before retiring and deciding to focus on his art.

“Being a chef is a form of art,” Bonnefoi said. “You create dishes, you make things look pretty – buffets, ice carvings, sculptures. So now that’s what I do, but on canvas. It’s just a good way of expressing yourself.”

From plates to canvas

Bonnefoi had painted casually as a teenager and sketched throughout his career, but has no formal art training. His first palettes, in fact, were the inside walls of homes in Auburn, on which he painted faux finishes, using textures and varnishes to create the illusion of wood, marble or other styles.

As word of his work spread, he was hired for more complex jobs, including spending a year painting a marble finish for the Carmelite monastery in Georgetown.

Imagining new ways to create faux paintings inspired Bonnefoi to start working on canvas, creating large, colorful works using layers of paint and varnish for a textured finish. 

Bonnefoi’s art, combined with his culinary talents and the peaceful, landscaped home he shares with wife Karen Stamm, has drawn artists and friends to spend time and create with the artist. Auburn painter Nancy Hakala said she enjoys spending the day with Bonnefoi, painting outside in the sunshine.

“He’s so deeply serious about his artwork,” Hakala said. “I find it a joy to work with him. ... He may have some light music from the ’60s, or some Native American music playing, and we speak not a word. We’re just working so intensely and silently, the hours just fly by.”

Hakala said she appreciates Bonnefoi’s critical eye and constant encouragement for his fellow artists to keep working at what they love.

“He says, ‘Don’t waste your time doing anything else – you should be painting all the time. You don’t have time to be doing anything but painting,’” Hakala said. “He’s completely serious, and I’m so hardheaded it has taken me all this time to figure out how right he is.”

Foothill life

Bonnefoi has lived in Auburn for 14 years, where he spends his retirement painting, cooking and engaging in another of his passions – gardening.

“I paint every day,” he said. “It relaxes me. And every day I work in my garden.”

The expansive raised-bed garden includes hundreds of vegetables, from garlic and onions to a variety of lettuces Bonnefoi calls his “salad bowl.” He enjoys having friends to dinner, including best friend and winemaker Charlie Green. A conversation about Green’s desire to visit the Rhone Valley ended up as a month-long journey in France, where the two friends explored the food and wine of the region.

“He’s very French,” Green laughed. “He has had an interesting life – he has traveled a lot.”

While he still does consulting work for faux paintings, and is available for hanging art in galleries and other venues, these days Bonnefoi can be found gardening, cooking and painting, along with collecting Old West and Native American memorabilia and hundreds of vintage lunchboxes.

And, every day, he paints.

“I listen to my heart and follow my own visions,” Bonnefoi said. “I love my work.”

Reach Krissi Khokhobashvili at krissik@goldcountrymedia.com. Follow her on Twitter, @AuburnJournalAE.

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See for yourself

More of Francois Bonnefoi’s paintings can be viewed in the PlacerArts Artist Registry at www.placerarts.org.