Talking with Denver-based abstract artist Tonia Bonnell about clouds, one can begin to look at them differently.
Clouds have long fascinated Bonnell, who noticed during her undergrad years studying printmaking at Illinois State University that from the ground a cloud looks solid, but from an airplane, its makeup of millions of tiny water droplets is evident. She later realized that the concept applied to a multitude of phenomena. “A snowflake isn’t anything,” she says, “but a blizzard can really affect things.” There is weight and power in even the smallest ephemera, if it is multiplied enough.
Bonnell creates minimal, abstract drawings and prints that echo the movement of natural phenomena, from dust storms and blizzards to galaxies and dark matter. Her visual vocabulary is reductive, simplified to a single hard-edged, small mark, which is almost particle-like. Building up these innumerable marks in a piece, she fills the composition with animation, weight and bearing, like a dust devil picking up on a clear day. “I want to make the simplest marks possible in a cloud-like form,” she says, and the result is striking.
Like the printmaking process in which she trained in graduate school at the University of Alberta, her pieces require planning and layers. Working out of a studio in her Denver bungalow, she begins a piece with studies on miniature sheets of vellum, where she layers her staccato-like marks into dynamic designs. She allows the marks to play against the edge of the paper, which gives the negative space more presence and volume. Once she has completed several of these smaller studies, she starts on a larger work of graphite on vellum, or creates etchings and woodblock prints. Her final compositions oftentimes incorporate layers of vellum on top of one another, adding weight to an otherwise spare surface.
Represented by Space Gallery in Denver, Bonnell’s work was featured in 2016’s noted exhibition Colorado Women in Abstraction, a group show of acclaimed artists curated by Westword art critic Michael Paglia for the Center for Visual Arts in Denver. A former adjunct professor of drawing at Metropolitan State University, she was a resident artist at the Denver Art Museum in 2014 . See more of her work here, and in the upcoming group show Contemporary Abstraction at Room & Board Denver, from April 17-24, 2017.
Embracing limitation, Bonnell’s work is elegant, powerful and intimate. Whether from a distance or up close, her dynamic designs and intricate details captivate the viewer.