Written by Lybra Olbrantz.
Bonnie de Arteaga is currently showing her work at the Frank Juarez Gallery. It is part of the Wisconsin Visual Artists Juried Abstract Show. Ends March 21, 2015.
Lybra Olbrantz: Please introduce yourself and tell us about the piece on display in the Frank Juarez Gallery today and what inspires you.
Photo by Ashley Wilson
Bonnie De Arteaga: Hi, my name is Bonnie de Arteaga. My piece is called Tangencies. It’s a mixed media piece based on three wood cuts, mixed media, collage and pastel. This piece is fairly, purely abstract, non-objective. What inspires me is the sky phenomenon and the cosmos, things that swirl, circles and arcs in the sky, so that’s where some of my imagery comes from. Ever since I was little, before I was even in high school, I was always fascinated with everything Japanese. I had little sumi ink sticks and Japanese brushes that I practiced making bamboo leaves, so I’ve always worked with brush and ink, and that’s the basis for a lot of my wood cuts. I’ll make brush shapes for a lot of my patterns and then scan them into the computer, blow them up and then transfer them to the blocks of wood and then carve them in their finest detail and print them from there. I never know how the work is going to come out, I make several blocks and then I print them on top of each other in different ways until I find a combination that I like.
LO: I like the format that you use. When you were introducing your piece in the gallery, you said, “I know I’m not supposed to do this, but I wanted to see how it turns out!”
BDA: Oh yeah, I like to print light colors over dark colors because it gives you a completely different feel. It’s against the rules, but it works out.
LO: You said that the title of your piece is ‘Tangencies’, how did you come up with that title?
BDA: Well, I’m very influenced by the Asian abstractionists from the 70’s and so there’s a lot of white space, a lot of tension, a lot of negative spaces. That’s the kind of thing that I like to work with so that forms are just touching or intersecting in ways that have subtle relationships and that’s why I called it Tangencies because a tangent means something that’s barely in conjunction with something else.
LO: I like the way that you described it, my favorite part of the piece are the blue arcs you created with the pastel, I thought it just added to the aesthetic of the piece overall.
BDA: Thank you!
LO: You’re welcome! So, how did you first get involved with art?
BDA: Oh man, I once did a print about this and wrote a poem about it. When I was a kid I was compelled at age four. I know I was only four years old and I had to draw. I had to even get a broken pencil and dig into the watercolors and scratch onto some short cardboard or something and draw. So I always knew that was what I wanted to do. My undergraduate degree is in Art Education, but I didn’t teach, I went into graphic design, public relations, marketing, all of the creative sides of business and then when I had a chance to retire and do art work full time I took advantage of that and started my studio.
Image courtesy of the artist. Tangencies, 32×40″.
LO: Do you have a studio? Or your own space?
BDA: I don’t have a studio right now, but I work in Green Bay. I take advantage of opportunities to use the facilities at UW-Green Bay and at the Northeast Wisconsin Technical College Artisan and Business Center; that’s a big mouth-full for a nice place where they have open studios where you can do jewelry making, clay, fiber arts, and now printmaking.
LO: Are most of your pieces similar to ‘Tangencies’? I was talking to Sara Willadsen before you and I contrasted your two pieces to each other because both pieces have a certain geometric feel. This seems to be very popular right now, the geometry or mathematical art, I would say.
BDA: Like working from a grid?
BDA: I’m taking a class right now where the teacher is having us organize our page in the form of a grid and it doesn’t have to be where you draw squares on the page, although we started out that way. Actually, if you’re a graphic artist you do this all the time, often unconsciously, where you have a page format, where it’s a grid of a page and you put the text in columns and the pictures within these boundaries and you don’t see the boundaries, but you know they’re there from page to page and that you’re going to have consistency. So anyone that’s worked with graphic design of any kind is going to bring some of that to their art work.
LO: Two things that interested me from what you said earlier, you said you’re inspired by the cosmos and that’s what inspires you to do the spirals and that you’re also inspired by Japanese art, how did you discover that those two things are what inspired you most and how did you decide to combine the two?
BDA: Well, I work with brush and ink and I like black and white –the sharpness of it, the wonderful marks of the brush and putting those together in different ways. Then some time ago –and this is only one piece from a series of woodcuts that I’ve made and I have maybe 10 or 12 that are the same size and similar formats and I do other things, like sculpture and other kinds of printmaking but this was a dominant series for a long time and how that came about was that I was working on these brush stroke things and it was kind of abstract black things. I found a book called “The Celtic Cross” and Celtic crosses are crosses shown with a circle around the intersection of the cross. This book was printed in the UK and one of the theories that they proposed was that these artists saw phenomena in the sky and sun dogs and what’s called ‘perihelia’ which are circles around the sun that are caused by ice crystals in the atmosphere. I thought that was fascinating! I looked them up and found a program online where you can make perihelia effects by changing the shape of ice crystals and somebody figured this out by the way the light reflects on it. You can make these different arcs and sometimes there are these arcs that go up and down in conjunction with these circles and I was drawing all types of arcs and circles and doing all this stuff, learning about sky phenomena, so that’s where that came from.
LO: That sounds really beautiful! Where did the Japanese influence come in then?
BDA: Well, the Japanese influence comes in that it’s impressionistic, it’s big strokes, it’s bold, a lot of black and white, a lot of organic shapes that float on the page, like the Asian expressionists from the 70’s and just the fact that it always looks like a brush stroke, in fact I’ve had Asian artists who work with brush ink ask me if my prints are actually paintings.
LO: Initially I thought it was a painting! My friend and I thought you painted the background and then collaged your own prints over the top. It mirrors a collage put over a painting and when you said it was wood cut I was like, “WHAT?” I was surprised!
BDA: Well, it started out as a painting and then it was carved very carefully to maintain that fresh brush stroke quality.
LO: How long have you been doing the wood cut then?
BDA: Oh, I always loved printmaking, I loved the smell of new books and the inks. When I was in high school I was very lucky to have a professional artist who was our teacher and he was a printmaker and did etching. He inspired me and I did woodcuts in high school and I always did like that process. I took a lot of printmaking in college.
LO: So do a lot of your pieces incorporate the wood cut or are most of them woodcuts?
BDA: Actually, they do, in fact my encaustic paintings which have collages of some of my prints in them I have a whole series where I’ve incorporated pigeons that kind of have attitudes and each of the pigeons are drawings that I’ve cut into the wood and printed on mulberry paper which is kind of transparent. I cut them out, dip them in wax, actually fix them and then embed them into the encaustic paintings.
LO: That’s a really cool process! I like how you experiment with everything!
BDA: I do! It’s gotta be fun!
LO: Yeah, you don’t go by the normal play-by-the-book, you want to experiment!
BDA: Yeah, just painting is boring. BOR-ING.
LO: Where do you foresee your art going from here?
BDA: Oh man, I was just talking with Larry Basky about how we’re not getting any younger but there’s still lots of art that has to be made. Right now, I’m pushing my encaustic work and trying to work a bit looser. It’s controlled and there are lots of tight little shapes, so I’m trying to let myself loosen up with that. When I started my studio my biggest fear was that I would have all this equipment and I wouldn’t have any ideas and that was the dumbest fear that anyone can have because there are always more ideas!
LO: It’s true!
BDA: And artists never have to retire, they can work forever. They can die with their boots on.
LO: I think the interesting thing with creativity is that it’s always ebbing and flowing. There are moments where you’re completely inspired. You’re living in that moment for a month or two or six months or a year or a couple years and it’s like you just needed something to come out of you and once it comes out of you it’s like, oh wow, I created all this stuff and I didn’t even realize I was doing it because you’re so into it in those moments and then there’s this lull period where you’re finding the next thing.
BDA: Yeah, the ideas are just percolating back there and I do find that I get ideas or I’ll write a poem and it’ll just percolate in the back of my mind for a while and then finally it’ll come out, sometimes years later, but that’s okay.
LO: Yeah, I’ve have ideas too that pop into my head and I think, ‘yeah, maybe in a couple years, if something comes along that has to do with it’. It all comes out at the right time.
BDA: Yeah, some of them come to you full blown and you can just see the whole finished piece and you can just do it and other things you’ve got this image, you know you’ve got this bird and you’re going through it in your mind, you’re kind of redrawing it and it’s just kind of like, ‘well…’, and then there’s the quandary of ‘okay, I have this idea but what’s the best way to express it?’ Is this going to be a print series? Should it be a painting? Is this going to be a charcoal drawing? Am I going to go out and do some photographs of this subject or idea I have? It’s like the more media you work with the more ways you have to choose to express what you have to express.
LO: Exactly! You said you do poetry also?
BDA: Once in awhile.
LO: Do you ever incorporate the poems into the art?
BDA: Absolutely! Sometimes they go right on the print, or they inspire the print and they go along with it, oh definitely.
For more information and to see more works from Bonnie de Arteaga, please click here.