Yannick Ballif

Yannick BALLIF (1927-2009)

As often seems to be the case, the time following an artist’s death is a time not to remember, but to forget.  The work of Yannick Ballif is a textbook example of that phenomenon.  She was seemingly a well-known printmaker during her lifetime, presenting her work with well-established and respected galleries such as Galerie Bernier, Jacqueline de Champvallins, and even at the Eric Locke Gallery in San Francisco.  Yet today, her work is barely noticed by collectors.  Her work deserves to be rediscovered.

From an early age Ballif seems to have been fascinated by color.  Contemplating her large selection of pastels, she recalls how as a child she would collect the color “leads” breaking off her colored pencils. and she would put them in a box.  Seeing these little colored pegs rolling around, and create bright color dynamics, was pure joy.  A few days before Saint Nicholas she would put out her box for the patron saint of children to collect and reassemble.  What a joy, she remembers, to find a brand new box of colored pencils on Saint Nic’s morning!

These saturated colors are used throughout Ballif’s printed work, generally in juxtaposition with the white of the paper or with black lines.  At times she used color inks throughout most of her composition, and sometimes black dominates.

Thanks to her work alongside Paul Collin and Johnny Friedlaender, both accomplished printmakers, she became extremely skilled.  While Collin must have mostly helped her become a better draughtsman, Friedlander surely thought her most of the basics of working with intaglio techniques in copper.  And learn she did.  Her prints are drawn with exacting care, and the printing is precise and immaculate.  Using embossing techniques, she also added dimensionality to her prints.  The juxtaposition of saturated colors, which are often embossed, with black ink, lends her prints a particularly vibrant presence.

Her subject matters focus on flora, water and rocky outcrops.  While she did, at times, become almost abstract, she decidedly excelled at delineating the shapes of her subjects.  Colors dominate, but the line in her prints is also very fine.  Inspired by Japanese drawings, her work exudes peace and quiet.  She presents very contemporary adaptations of an esthetic which goes back centuries in Asian arts.  She did so seemingly without effort.

Beyond the biographical facts listed at the top, and this brief evocation of her oeuvre, little more is known about her.  Yannick Ballif was born Mariannick Swinnen and took her husband’s name.  She had four children; to girls and two boys.  She must have had a full life.  And she left us something to show for it.

Born Mariannick Swinnen (Longwy, August 7th 1927 – Paris, July 4th 2009, French)

- Drawing lessons as of 1944
- Ecole des Métiers d'Art, Paris
- Atelier Paul Collin (1892-1985)
- Studied printmaking at the Académie Julian and at the shop of Johnny Friedlaender (1912-1992)
- Ecole Nationale Supérieur des Beaux Arts, Paris
- Taught printmaking from 1977 to 1984 at the Ecole Supérieure des Arts Appliqués

Previous article James TISSOT
Next article Jean-François Raffaëlli