Artist Kate Bonner is drawn to distance, to expressing herself in works that create layers of separation between the viewer and the images and objects she employs, “maybe it’s something personal… from having moved around so much,” she muses. Choosing to obscure the content, she combines fragments of photographs or paintings, meticulously-crafted wooden supports and deconstructed frames in formal and elegant compositions. These works entice the viewer, attracting one’s gaze, yet ultimately withholding entry.
Currently, the artist maintains a studio in West Oakland near Magnolia Editions press-a rather gritty, industrial neighborhood. Preparing for her upcoming show at Luis De Jesus Gallery in Los Angeles, all available flat surfaces in Bonner’s workspace are covered with large pieces of wood cut in lyrical abstract shapes, awaiting combination with photographic elements and additional sculptural components. Her process is both playful and intuitive, yet simultaneously highly formal. Working with images, her reductive impulse involves cutting away recognizable sections. “For me, it’s important not to have any attachment to the photographs.” she explains. “I’m just treating them as objects.”
Bonner’s interest in photography was sparked by the gift of “a manual camera” from her grandparents when she was 12. One might say photography is in her blood; her great-grandmother, along with both her great-great-grandparents, were in fact photographers. Although Bonner took endless photos with her camera, “I would take my film in to Walmart or Target, and it always came back as glossy 3-by-5 prints,” which were inevitably disappointing. “I would be inspired by some distant landscape… but couldn’t remember my attachment to it when I saw the photographs.”
As a child, Bonner and her family moved from Texas to Michigan, where she eventually attended Calvin College. “That’s where I really learned about contemporary art-about installation, performance and conceptual art. I was lucky to study with Conrad Bakker, who was there at the time.” Her focus at Calvin was highly conceptual, including the creation of installations done using images projected through windows onto walls and reflective surfaces. After college, she spent four years living in New York “in deep Brooklyn,” doing free-lance illustration work and fitting in her artwork, and visits to galleries and museums, on the side. Eventually deciding to devote herself to pursuing her own work, Bonner moved to San Francisco to attend graduate school at California College of the Arts. While there, she worked with and drew guidance from numerous faculty, among them in particular, Richard Walker, Rebeca Bollinger, and John Zurier, and in 2012, she obtained her MFA. A pivotal series undertaken while at CCA consisted of photographs of drawings, shot at an angle, their distortion giving the images a jarring feel.
Bonner is “fascinated by the things I see, structural things… like window storefronts, or construction sites-when they’re redoing the facade of a building.” Along with gleaning imagery from photos, she may incorporate paintings, either obtained from thrift stores or “done myself, really quickly… I might fold them around and scan them, or photograph them.” With substantial technical savvy, she translates her ideas into vector-based drawings that she may then execute using a CNC router, which enables her to cut grooves in the surface of her MDF (medium density fiberboard) material. The depressions she can create with this tool reflect an elemental impulse; “I’m thinking about the depth of mark that you would make tracing with your finger,” she notes-if the mark of the hand itself is notably absent, she nonetheless may interject its virtual surrogate. Diagonal Space (2015) reveals precisely this concern, a photo with splattered markings suggesting Jackson Pollock or the cosmos is juxtaposed with a multi-faceted polygon in pale blue, while concentric grooves carve out a labyrinthine pattern across all surfaces. Dividing Lines (2016) offers a looping gesture of shaped wood, like an oversized cursive letter in ultramarine, dipping below the lower edge of the frame, and mounted on a ground of white, marked with a mist of icy blue. The gesture, traced with a mouse, once again reflects the action of the human body. Snippets of an unidentifiable landscape, along with textural marks, meet white bands as incisions cut gashes into the image, and figure and ground may suddenly flip.
As hybrid media and new genres become increasingly prevalent in galleries, museums and art schools, our definition of what it means to be a photographer, painter or sculptor must evolve as well. If Bonner has chosen to work with the digital stone of vector-based drawings and her chisels are sophisticated electronic gadgets, it’s surprising to realize, ultimately, that the creative process involved is on one level much the same as that of artists from antiquity; seeing, and responding-to the world outside, and the world inside-and the deep satisfaction of immersion in one’s craft. Ultimately, Bonner states “the work is not about the image itself, but more about the act of looking.”
“Kate Bonner: The Other Side Is This Side,” can be seen at Luis De Jesus Los Angeles, from April 23 – May 28, 2016. www.luisdejesus.com