Friday, October 12, 2007

Tonia Bonnell + Print Conference Reunion

This past weekend my wife and I went back to Bloomington-Normal for the tail end of "Frontiers in Printmaking" - Illinois State University & Normal Editions Workshop's first attempt at an internation print conference that I know of. I was part of an alumni exhibition, so we hit that first. Damn... tons of old friends from even up to 10 years ago... it rocked. Very fun. And my friend Tonia Bonnell , who lives in Denver now, and I traded art. I got hooked up with this very nice piece:

Syncopated Movements (var. 5)
engraving, chine colle

I had to adjust the levels of the image in Photoshop to make things stand out more online (the actual piece looks more nuanced and subtle). it's pretty damn nice. like her work? here's a really good write-up from a few years back that explains where she's coming from, figuratively and literally:


Artist Tonia Bonnell’s rural upbringing makes its voice heard in Enunciated Murmurs

It was two years ago that I first met Tonia Bonnell; she was assigned to be my teaching assistant in a fine arts course. I immediately sensed that there was a sense of a different culture about her—yet she had no accent besides a slight American twang from her home state of Illinois. She looked like every other fine arts graduate student in her uniform of blue jeans and baggy T-shirts. And yet, I could not get over the feeling that there was something exotic about her, as if she had come from a different world. “Perhaps she dropped into Edmonton on a tornado, like Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz,” I mused. “After all, Illinois and Kansas are not that far apart.” But despite my subtle prodding, I could not discover anything in her background that would stand out as unusual—nothing, that is, until we met again to speak about her graduating exhibition Enunciated Murmurs, currently on display in the Fine Arts Building Gallery, a show that is her final visual presentation for her Master of Fine Arts degree.

It was only then that I realized that the mystery of her background had been right in front of my eyes all along. It was simple: unlike most of us who were bred, born and raised among the cement walls of urban centres, Bonnell grew up on the open prairie. “I have always been surrounded by open fields and sky,” Bonnell says. “The town I lived in had 250 people. I knew everybody.” That was it! I thought. Bonnell radiates that same mysterious composure that I’ve often observed in farmers and other rural people who are used to treating others like human beings and not life support systems for wallets. These are people who are used to working themselves to the bone and then waiting and unwearyingly watching for clouds of rain to form across the horizon.

Only for Bonnell’s community, those clouds took a particularly ominous turn. “Where I am from, you always get tornado warnings,” she recalls stoically. “We aren’t afraid of them; we look for funnels in the sky. They seldom happen.” Bonnell spent a lot of time out on those fields looking at the sky. Her grandparents, who were farmers on both sides of the family, often took her along when they worked. “Driving up and down these roads takes so long, but you do it all day, dawn to dusk,” she recalls. “Depending on the weather, they have to get it done.”

Growing up in that rural community taught Bonnell a different way of looking at the world. “[In farming] there is no sense of building up to a climax and ending,” she explains. “There is just continuous repetition.” This was a lesson she incorporated right into her art; Bonnell’s prints are built up out of thousands of repeated marks that take her days, hours and sometimes months to accomplish. “It strains certain parts of the body,” she says without a trace of complaint. “I think that the repetitive mark-making allows me to block out some of the information-loaded society.”

Out of this myriad of abstracted marks emerge atmospheric images that drift across a white page like grey rain drifting against the wide expanse of a clear sky. But viewed from another angle, they seem more like gusts of wind, drifts of snow or quickly approaching clouds. Bonnell’s images are gentle, ethereal, but their delicacy seems to disguise a hidden power—like sunny days that either warm seeds into sprouting or slowly, relentlessly desiccate fields. “You know clouds are intangible, yet they can visually cover a big mountain,” Bonnell explains. In some of the prints, Bonnell’s gently billowing “clouds” take on clear signs of their supreme power: they form the foreboding shape of a grey funnel.

Although Bonnell has come far from her rural, mostly blue-collar community into the intellectual ferment of one of North America’s best printmaking departments, she hasn’t lost the sense of her roots. “Eventually I would love to return to a rural community,” she says. But that may not be possible now that she is a few days short of getting her MVA degree, which will allow her to teach at a university. Whatever happens, she says, she will always return to nature. But wherever she ends up, I doubt she will ever forget the lesson she learned on her grandparents’ farm as she watched the sky for signs of funnel clouds and felt part of something larger than herself. “As a human being, you can’t always control it,” she explains with the composure of a seasoned farmer. “We don’t always know it’s coming.” V

taken from


Chad said...

I like Tonia's pieces. Understated, but they still "say something". I'm corny today.

Matt said...

mmmmmmmm... jumbo corn dog....