Yannick Vu

“A work of art is a way of defying death”

Even as a young child, Yannick Vu (Montfort-l’Amaury, France, 1942) knew she wanted to be an artist. Her father was a painter and her mother a pianist, and she grew up surrounded by art and culture on all sides. Later on, life struck her with two blows that took time to heal: first the death of her husband, the painter Domenico Gnoli, and then that of her daughter Maima. She now lives six months a year in Morocco, and six in Sa Bassa Blanca, in the north of Mallorca, where she enjoys art with her second husband, Ben Jakober.

Yannick Vu y Ben Jakober, Mortitx 1971.
Autoportrait nº3, 1986.
Fotografía: Íñigo Vega
Domenico Gnoli y Yannick Vu, Formentor 1965.

Being born on the outskirts of Paris at the height of World War II has to have a defining effect on one’s life. “Yes, the beginning was difficult”, Yannick Vu acknowledges; she remembers how back then her father, the Vietnamese painter Vu Cao Dam, would cycle home every night and enter the house in the dark so the Nazis wouldn’t find him.

A few years later, the family moved to Vence, near Nice, the place where Yannick fell in love with the Matisse chapel, named in honour of its creator, the painter Henri Matisse, one of the artistic giants of the 20th century.

When she was a child, every time her father received guests at home she created her own exhibition, consisting of drawings which she laid out on the floor and sold for five cents each. She used the money she earned to buy pistachio ice creams.

Despite growing up in Vence surrounded by artists and film directors like François Truffaut, a precursor of the Nouvelle Vague, when she turned 20 Yannick felt the need to return to Paris to find her identity.

Back in the capital, one morning in the early hours her friend Sophie Bollack called her: “Yannick, I just found the love of your life!”, she said excitedly. To which Yannick replied that if he really was the love of her life, he could wait until next day.

And that was how the next morning, she came to meet Domenico Gnoli, “the love of my life”, just as her friend had predicted. A short while later, after an invitation from the psychedelic painter Mati Klarwein, the couple made the decision that would change their lives: on 2nd April 1963, they came to live on Mallorca.

On the island, they settled in Deià, “a very beautiful place, with extraordinary light in summer and slightly depressing in winter”, says Yannick. In Deià, Domenico Gnoli was able to completely fulfil himself, a few years before dying in s’Estaca, the house that currently belongs to the actor Michael Douglas, and which in its day the Archduke Ludwig Salvator of Austria had built by the sea.

“I was widowed at the age of 27; I felt that my identity had been torn away from me and I had to start reconstructing myself. To accomplish this, I had to do it with someone who understood the human experience I had been through. And that person was Ben Jakober, a friend of both Domenico and me”, she recalls.

At the end of the 1970s Yannick Vu exhibited a series of paintings in Paris – close-ups posing questions about identity, a new figuration inspired by classical culture. It was followed by exhibitions in New York, Brussels and other countries.

In the 1980s she and her husband Ben decided to sell their property in Mortitx and buy a piece of land in Alcanada - an estate called Sa Bassa Blanca, where years later they created a museum with pieces by artists such as Francis Bacon, Miquel Barceló and Domenico Gnoli himself, among others.

Everything was going well, until tragedy struck again in 1992. Their daughter Maima died in a motorcycle accident in Tahiti, “an unnatural death which, instead of driving us apart, brought Ben and I closer in a personal and artistic sense. It gave us a common language and helped us keep moving forward until today”.

Yannick Vu admits that she works in spurts. “There are times when I create many, many works, and there are periods when I suddenly stop; like all artists I need to find myself, the search is constant”.

She says that as the years have passed, she has learned to [...]


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Yannick Vu y Ben Jakober, Mortitx 1971.
Autoportrait nº3, 1986.
Fotografía: Íñigo Vega
Domenico Gnoli y Yannick Vu, Formentor 1965.
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