A Bonney homage to Picasso

Geoff Bonney is exhibiting a series of paintings and sculptures which pays tribute to the influence and genius of Pablo Picasso, one of the most revered artists of the 20th century. Here I give thanks to Picasso is now showing at Salt Contemporary Art in Queenscliff and features fifteen boldly colourful paintings, and five sculptures assembled from found objects.

Enquiry Ongoing One
Enquiry Ongoing One, Geoff Bonney. Image courtesy the artist and Salt Contemporary Art.

“This exhibition is a homage to the spirit of Picasso, thanking him for being what he was,” Bonney says. “Picasso has always been an idol of mine. For me no one even gets close to him.”

The Ballarat artist developed an “arsenal” of about 40 rubber stamps to create the paintings, using an experimental approach in which accidents are a considered part of the process. Appropriating images from Picasso’s oeuvre such as the foot from Guernica, and referencing other major works including Las Meninas after Velasquez and Les Demoiselles d’Avignon, Bonney employs a similar approach that Picasso himself took in reinterpreting iconic images from art history.

Artin Geelong
Las Meninas after Velasquez after Picasso, Geoff Bonney.   Image courtesy the artist and Salt Contemporary Art.

The stamp paintings also suggest the Warholian idea of “the artist as machine” in the repetition of the stamping: 20 Laughing Picassos depicts the head of Picasso stamped twenty times in a grid, just as Warhol screen printed recurring soup cans and coke bottles. Warhol is one of many artists who have been directly influenced by Picasso.

But you don’t have to be an art scholar to appreciate this show. Bonney hopes that even those unfamiliar with Picasso’s work will enjoy it too. “I hope people come with an open mind to the exhibition. It is a very happy show, very colourful and a celebration of the artist.”

Geoff Bonney Twenty Laughing Picassos
20 Laughing Picassos, Geoff Bonney.   Image courtesy the artist and Salt Contemporary Art.

Picasso created his art from whatever materials were available, and so too does Bonney in his use of found objects. Bonney’s three metre high sculptures, constructed from discarded items, are inspired by Picasso’s three dimensional assemblages. He has used recycled materials since the early seventies after a trip to the Museum of Modern Art, where he saw several Picasso sculptures that exemplify this approach, including Baboon and Young and She-Goat.

Bonney’s artistic career has been experimental and varied. For the past 17 years, Bonney has worked with Peter Widmer in a collaboration known as ‘Ratartat’ specialising in public artwork and community projects and together they helped initiate Budburra Books, a not-for-profit organisation which publishes the stories and artworks of indigenous students at Cherbourg Primary School, Queensland. Several books have featured on the Notables List by the Children’s Book Council of Australia.

If you’re in Queenscliff over the next few weeks check out Bonney’s show at Salt Contemporary Art. It’s on until 3 March 2013 and he is giving an artist talk this Sunday 17 February at 2:30 pm followed by opening drinks. Thanks to Geoff Bonney who gave up his time to answer some questions about his art practice.

Geoff Bonney sculptures
From left to right: Studio Queen, Studio King, Studio Princess, Geoff Bonney.   Image courtesy the artist and Salt Contemporary Art.
How would you describe your work in this exhibition? What sort of process did you use to create your stamps paintings, i.e. what is involved in making your stamp paintings?

I’ll answer this technically. The paintings are works on canvas. They are worked in acrylic paint and I use a brush and stamps to apply the paint. The brush work is self-explanatory, the stamps I make out of a compressed rubber which I cut to the shapes I want. I mount the rubber shapes onto a solid backing board and then apply the paint to the rubber and stamp onto the canvas. I build up the layers of drawing painting and stamping on a dark ground.

How has Picasso inspired you?

I was first introduced to Picasso when I was about 14 by my art teacher and I was knocked out then and continue to be knocked out. He pointed out a direction that has continued to draw me to this day. He offers a license through his work to explore and experiment. I love the way he isn’t limited to painting – how he sculpted, made ceramics, printed, made stage sets, collage, costumes, etc. He was so wide ranging in his use of materials – that is very exciting.

Can you tell us about how you developed the idea for this exhibition?

Previous to starting this body of work, I had been experimenting with the stamps and using a grid as a basic compositional tool. I had spent many hours looking through my books of Picassos’ late works, the pieces everyone had dismissed, and studying these images. I found in them almost a revelation in how different they were to his earlier work.  At 90 years old, he was still experimenting, pushing himself out of a comfort zone of familiarity. In a lot of these paintings he was looking at the old masters and appropriating their motifs. Yet again I found he was leading the way for me.

Feral Cat Geoff BonneyFeral Cat, Geoff Bonney.   Image courtesy the artist and Salt Contemporary Art.
You appropriate images and use recycled materials in this recent work. Why do you do that, i.e. what is it that you like about reusing materials and images?

I notice things everywhere and collect bits and pieces wherever I go. My studio is filled with all kinds of stuff. It all comes together in my studio and in my mind and the art work is a consequence. I love painting in oils and have done so a lot but my creative journey involves more than simply one medium. There’s an example in the bits and pieces I find, there’s an example in the images in other people’s work apart from Picasso’s. Everything comes together in my subconscious and I make something of my own with them.

Does your work have social, political, cultural or personal messages?

I’d say there is personal, social and cultural metaphor and mystery. Politics is said to invade every action and thought we have so I guess that’s in there too!

What sort of research and or reference materials did you do use for this body of work?

I read and look at art all the time. ‘Research’ is a way of life.

All artists experience challenges in their practice. Can you tell us about any you have had for this exhibition?

Life’s a challenge every day in every way and my art work is no exception. Doubts are never far away and are always waiting in the wings ready to pounce.

What has been the highlight of your art career?

The highlight of my art career is that art is still the most potent part of my life. I love sharing art with my artist friends, I love discussing it long and hard, there is nothing as difficult nor as satisfying as making art.

Chilly Start Geoff Bonney
Chilly Start, Geoff Bonney.   Image courtesy the artist and Salt Contemporary Art.
Have you ever made an artistic pilgrimage? If so, where did you go and why?

I have travelled quite widely and always to places of artistic relevance from The Museum of Modern Art in New York, to the Cerne Abbas Giant in Dorset, England, and many, many places in between. There are all kinds of pilgrimages but for me there’s no other real reason to go anywhere.

If there was one piece of artwork you could have in your collection, what would it be and why?

Picasso’s Les Demoiselles d’Avignon would be a wonderful piece to have in my living room. It brings together the ancient and the modern, it was a revolutionary art work that changed the course of art and l love it.

Brief Bio: Bonney studied graphic design and printing before completing a Bachelor of Fine Arts (Painting) at the University of Ballarat. During the 1980s, he lived and painted in Morocco, Spain and the UK. He returned to Australia in 1990, starting Ratartat in 1993. Over the years he has lectured at Ballarat University teaching painting, public art, sculpture and drawing. In 2010 Bonney gained an MA from The Queensland University of Technology (Research). Throughout his career, Bonney has participated in over 25 exhibitions (including 8 solo exhibitions), in Australia, Morocco, Spain and Russia. He won the national painting competition, ‘Robbery Under Arms’ (1985) and the Swan Hill Drawing Prize (1987). His work has been acquired for private and corporate collections throughout Australia and overseas.

Here I give thanks to Picasso by Geoff Bonney
11 February – 3 March
‘In conversation’ with Geoff Bonney, Sunday 17 February, 2:30 pm
Salt Contemporary Art
33-35 Hesse St, Queenscliff.


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