In her graphic work, the painter Patricia Boulay obsessively pursued the aesthetic concept of making nude drawings based on her own personal experience of erotic and sexual closeness. Being bisexual, both women and men interested her, and her images of naked men are some of the most touching to be created by a female artist.

Patricia Boulay grew up in the small town of Remirement in the Vosges region of eastern France, and in her own words ‘managed to escape’ when she was twenty to the nearest city, Nancy, to study economics. Art was her real passion, however, and from 1980 to 1985 she studied painting and sculpture at the Luminy campus of the École Supérieure d’Art et de Design in Marseille. Her closest friend, Martine, was always very important to her, and after Martine moved to Montpellier, also to study art, their shared travels and experiences formed the basis of her determination to illustrate her lived experience of intimacy and sexuality. In order to finance her painting studies, Patricia worked for a time in a Marseille cabaret, where if the customer wanted and the woman agreed, they arranged to meet in a hotel afterwards. She wrote of this time that it was through these experiences that she learned that sexual desire can sometimes be fulfilled without the protective accompaniment of love.

Her first exhibition was held in the Dinosart Gallery in Marseille in 1987, and after an intensive collaboration as assistant to the artists Jean-Marc Bourry and Alain Goetschy, she took the post of curator and teacher at the Musée de l’Art Moderne in Nîmes.

Patricia and Thomas, 1992

She did not find her chosen artistic path an easy one, often being overwhelmed and disoriented by her desire for self-understanding. In 1990 she started a relationship with the German academic Thomas Wiederspahn, and moved to Frankfurt ‘to start her life again’. It was not easy for her to start again, however, and it was not until 1994 that she found the will to start drawing again, concentrating on studies of the naked human body, made in her trademark bright colours and often explicitly sexual.

In the end, after several periods in a psychiatric hospital, it all became too much for her, and in October 2000 she took her own life, leaving an important legacy of hauntingly honest and thought-provoking art.

Example illustration