Originally from Philadelphia, PA. where she studied at Temple University's Tyler College of Art, Bonny has been an active participant of the Dallas art community since her arrival. Recent one person exhibitions include "Suspended Beliefs" at Art Cube Gallery in Laguna Beach, CA, "Plight of the Pleasure Pods" at Cohn Drennan Contemporary in Dallas, and "Symbiosis" at The Museum of Art, Wichita Falls, TX. Notable group exhibitions include "Going Big" at Central Booking in New York, NY, "Last Grexit to Bushwick" at Centotto in Bushwick, NY, "Self Organized" at Guest Spot with Transmitter of Bushwick in Baltimore, MD, "Off the Wall" at Karl Bielik in London, England and "Arte Internazionale" in Matera, Italy. She has been the subject of numerous reviews and interviews including Valerie Brennan’s Studio Critical, Philip J. Mellen’s Mixed Media Tapes, Stephen B. MacInnis’s Have you met.., Lynette Haggrd’s Artist Interviews and Todd Camplin in ModernDallas.net. Leibowitz recently co-curated the “Family Ties” exhibition with Julie Torres of Bushwick, NY.
The “New Artifacts” works grew out of my interest in hand woven and printed textiles with cultural and historical significance and their somehow humorous counterparts, readily accessible materials of today, such as vinyl and acrylic. Some works present on boards I’ve shaped while others originate as antique objects from India and France along with vintage American pieces to become unrecognizable from their original identities. By adding my hand to the history of each piece, I’m referencing the larger picture of how we shape the future and impart legacy.
Q&A with Bonny Leibowitz
by Emily Burns
Hi Bonny! Can you give us some insight into your process? How do you begin and how do you create your compositions? Does drawing play a part in your work?
First, let me say thank you for these thoughtful questions Emily. I can see you’ve taken a very careful look at the work.
I’m utilizing a number of processes and materials in my practice. I find each combination builds upon itself becoming a new iteration in successive works and bodies of work. Textiles and textile related objects, paper and paint are important elements in this series. I’m fascinated by textiles from around the world and what they say about us. I’ve been collecting and using some great vintage sarees from India. I often paint on these textiles and incorporate painted vinyl and oil cloth as well. I like the unexpected mix; old and new, handmade and manufactured. I have, in some cases been using some old wooden handmade printing blocks from India which I add my hand to by sometimes cutting up, collaging with textiles and painting.
When I walk into the studio; my world is gigantic; I might hold an object next to some paint and a few textiles to see how they work together. From there I might decide to paint on the textile, stuff it and sew it into a form, wrap it with strips of vinyl, all the while maintaining a connection with the concept.
What are some of the challenges to mixing more traditional materials with 'plastic' materials in your current series New Artifacts?
Mixing more traditional materials with 'plastic' materials is challenging. I think that’s a big part of what I love to do. I don’t do well with repetition, which I love in the work of others, patterns etc. but I’m intrigued with engaging a big variety of materials and process that keep things exciting for me so problem solving is a big part of the mix. I am willing to buy materials and tools that can make the joining of objects secure. If I’m adhering textiles to vinyl, often acrylic gel medium works. If I’m joining oil cloth to my foam substrate; I may need to sew it on. If I want an object to hang on the wall with no visible hanging mechanism, I may have to drill from behind and hang on a screw. I’m going to do whatever it takes, so if that means consulting a friend who works with wood for advice and needing to purchase a power tool, well, there I go.
Can you describe your thought process when naming the series? I am specifically interested in the term ‘artifact’ and your relationship to the creation of artifacts.
I like the idea of adding my hand to an object, especially one with a distinct cultural history, thereby creating a new identity for it, a new artifact. I like too, that someone, someday might do the same to my piece. The idea of a continuum seems right.
What piqued your interest in the relationship between the 2d and the 3D as a theme in your work?
I did several bronzes years ago but worked mostly 2-D since then. More recently, after the completion of my Symbiosis series in 2012, in which I used, in part, “pod” imagery; milkweed pods in particular and pod like shapes, the lingering affinity for these shapes made me know there was more to be said moving forward. I envisioned these pods becoming dimensional somehow. That spark took me first to plaster, then to large foam pieces. For some works, I bought a bunch of mattress foam, cut it up, sealed and joined it into pod shapes then poured acrylic on them.
I had decided sometime back that I would listen to my gut, to my authentic self. That if a piece or an entire body of work called for the exploration of a new material or a powerful direction presented itself growing out of the series before it, that I should trust my instincts and explore it. After all, I might ask, “Whose life is this anyway?” With the time I have, I’m going to make my best work possible; pushing and taking the necessary risks to engage and grow.
I love to work dimensionally, of course, but I love painting on paper, vinyl and textiles which hang on the wall as well, so I’m back and forth as long as there’s a relationship in concept or context.
The bodies of work on your website are quite different from each other—can you describe your particular interests and your decision-making process in organizing them in your mind/presenting them to an audience? Has this ever posed a difficult challenge for you?
At some point, perhaps several years ago, I started noticing upon return to my studio after an exhibition of my work, that I’d go through what many artists experience; a time of feeling lost after what seems to be a monumental undertaking, a completion of sorts. For me, bringing forth only the parts which continue to need further exploration, in a new way, to see where these nuances will lead me seems a thoughtful and engaging approach moving forward.
For instance, you’ll find the Subsurface series on my site to be atmospheric abstractions with gritty textural elements breaking through. After that series, I brought the compositional qualities forth into the Symbiosis series but pushed the concept of a continuum in a more obvious manner with the inclusion of collaged and transferred photography. The photographic elements consist of pieces of nature, biology and history. In it you’ll find milkweed pods, wings, mountains, banyan trees, Da Vinci’s drawing of the heart, Peter Paul Rubens’s “Massacre of the Innocents”, Bouguereau’s “The Birth of Venus”, oceans, fur and more, all engaged with my hand, the paint and surface quality.
From there, again, the pod elements were the spark that inspired the Plight of the Pleasure Pod series which became an exploration into archetypes as the work became dimensional and took on human characteristics. From there, I brought forth the elements which intrigued me most; the oppositional comparisons of Peter Paul Rubens’s “Massacre of the Innocents” and Bouguereau’s “The Birth of Venus”, one revealing great agony, the other; glamour and hope. This juxtaposition pulled me to consider issues of justice and injustice, riches and poverty, gluttony and survival in the Suspended Beliefs series. In that series I used a material new to me; Tyvek fabric which I steamed and painted into shapes that then led me on my path to textiles in the New Artifacts series. We shall see where the New Artifacts series leads me. It’s so rich and dense I feel I could utilize the materials, processes and concepts forever, but we shall see.
The Symbiosis series was exhibited at Cohn Drennan Contemporary, Dallas and the Museum of Art at Midwestern State University, Wichita Falls, TX. The Plight of the Pleasure Pods series was exhibited at Cohn Drennan Contemporary, the following year, accompanied by a performance piece in which a performer coveted and gave away “pleasure pods;” foam pieces I created for the performance. Pics are on the site. During that exhibition I gave a gallery talk with Donna Cozort, Ph.D, C.G. Jung Institute. It was an incredibly lively discussion on the work and its archetypal qualities. The Suspended Beliefs series was shown at Art Cube gallery in Laguna Beach, CA. The gallery was a participating partner for this exhibition with the Laguna Art Museum in its Arts and Nature exhibition and events. The New Artifacts series will exhibit at Liliana Bloch Gallery in Dallas in June of 2016 and I’ll continue the series in an exhibition at No. 4 Studio in Bushwick, NY this fall.
Working this way does pose challenges. Most often, inventory challenges. As works sell and I am left with only a few works from each series while building a new body of work, I may be asked for an exhibition. The next body of work, being in progress, takes time to prepare and I can’t rely on the remaining works from previous series to be part of the mix so I’m constantly in the studio; every available moment to be ready. It’s a good problem but a challenge for sure. I also love being in group exhibitions with so many great artists out there I admire. While building a body of work, it’s great to have a piece or two or three out and about in exhibitions.
What is your relationship with color? How do you go about creating the color palette for each of your pieces?
I have a deep affinity for some colors and combinations of colors which tends to change and evolve over time. After some years of despising the idea of pink, I fell in love with pink, but only particular pinks and in particular context. Pink can now stop me in my tracks. I can really love it when it’s all mashed up or paired with the right dirty grey. For a long time I hated green; grass green; especially when used to paint grass. But, I had an experience going to an exhibition where the artist used green in a gigantic way; almost all the work was variations of green in abstractions and I fell in love and use it now in my own work. I find yellow, a nice pure cad, to be super appealing right now as well. You’ll see, looking through the work that color plays an important role in carrying the concept and setting a unified tone. In the New Artifacts series I am using quite a bit of pattern and muted color in the textiles along with some intense paint or vinyl in yellow, green or pink.
What is a typical day like for you?
I own two teaching studios. I have two great teachers and myself handling the teaching but I do all of the organizing and luckily have a part time helper who can run errands and help around the studios. I also arrange for and host guest artist workshops so that takes a good deal of time. I get in the studio about 2 to 3 days a week or so and steal an hour here and there where possible.
What are some of the biggest challenges that you have overcome as an artist so far in your career?
Time is the number one challenge. I would love to spend more time in the studio. In addition to studio time, like many, I am updating my site, editing photos, sending emails, submitting work, using social media, reading art related articles and blogs, looking at art related opportunities, updating the resume and statement, checking out what new work is out there, going to openings and studio visits and more. I would say time. And then that of course relates to being able to afford more time. Art materials, studio space, shipping; it all adds up. I don’t know that I have overcome this challenge but I have learned to manage more efficiently.
Can you describe your studio space? What are your most important workspace essentials
Yes, I love my studio space. When I started working 3-D I expanded to a space behind my teaching studios. It’s about 700 square feet and well lit. I had some shelves and large tables built. I use a lot of flat surfaces. Sometimes I use a large table as a palette by covering it with palette paper so I can really spread out. I’ve acquired a lot of tools for the work; jig saw, rivet gun. grommet maker, scroll saw etc.
What do you listen to while you work? Is this an important part of your practice?
I listen to podcasts mostly, sometimes books. Here’s my podcast list:
Modern Art Notes
Bad at Sports
This American Life
Has there ever been a book/essay/poem/film/etc. that totally changed or influenced you? What are you reading right now?
There have been so many faves. Matthew Collings writings on art are great. Invisible Lines of Connection by Lawrence Kushner, was impactful at the time; opening my mind to a more fluid reality. I’ve read a lot of Kurt Vonnegut, Dr. Oliver Sacks and Jonathan Franzen. I really have not had time to watch movies in a very long time so sorry for the dated material but Julian Schnabel’s The Diving Bell and The Butterfly, Pulp Fiction and American Beauty were impactful.
I’m currently reading Painting Now by Suzanne Hudson. Other than that, I’ve been mostly been reading art magazines, articles, interviews and blogs.
What are some of the artists that you look at feel that your work is in dialogue with?
Charlene Von Heyl
Diana Al Hadid
James W. Sullivan
Jessica Jackson Hutchins
Do you have any advice for recent grads that are looking for teaching jobs, transitioning out of graduate school, or looking to begin their career as studio artists?
I would say to stay open to opportunities and to create opportunities. Be passionate and driven. Don’t wait for opportunities to come to you. Get involved with other artists and your community and see what develops out of those relationships. Invite artists, gallery people and curators to your studio on occasion. Keep the dialogue going. And above all; stay focused on your work and make your best work possible, always. Don’t settle. Oh, and afford yourself. Find something at least fulfilling and challenging which will give you the time and money to develop your personal work and career.
You live in Texas (is this correct?) but you often exhibit in NYC. How do you navigate the connection to New York and how do you stay connected to other artists/galleries/etc. that share your interests? How do you stay involved and get your work out there?
Yes, I’m in Texas, originally from Philadelphia. My childhood dream was to live in New York, as a starving artist, in a warehouse loft drinking nothing but coffee, smoking cigarettes and painting with a giant broom on unstretched canvas on the floor. The only words that remain a dream out of that vision are New York and loft…well, I wouldn’t mind pushing a bunch of paint around with a giant broom either. So, I visit when I can. My connections have stemmed out of social media. For some time I’ve admired art via fb from all over the world. Several years back I started seeing a good bit of work that piqued my interest in Bushwick. Of particular interest were some of the shows artist and curator Julie Torres was organizing there. I noticed a lot of artists whose work I was attracted to, were also friends of Julie’s and began to see the connection. I love the whole scene, which I am just now realizing how vast and incredibly rich it truly is. One day I woke up with what you might call a light bulb moment. I reached out to Julie to bring some of the many artists she’s curated into shows, here to Dallas for an exhibition. We spent the next 10 months working out all the particulars and made it happen. I curated in about 40 artists myself from Dallas and beyond and we called the exhibition Family Ties. Since then, I’ve spent some time up in Bushwick visiting artists and galleries and have been included in several great group exhibitions there, LES, Baltimore and Miami / Art Basel. Recently I was invited to have a solo at No. 4 Studio. I sometimes submit work to group exhibitions I find intriguing. There’s so much out there, and not just in New York, of course. There are great artists everywhere along with museums, galleries and non-profits.
As an artist, what is your relationship with social media? Do you have a favorite or least-favorite platform?
For social media, I’m using Facebook, mostly. I do use Instagram and Tumblr but not as much. I really can’t say enough about the amazing connections and friendships I’ve made. Exhibition opportunities, exhibition announcements, invitations, gallery sites, calls for entry, great art work shared, posted articles I might not have read otherwise, and interviews have all been a big plus.
Do you have any exciting news or shows coming up?
Yes, I have a solo exhibition coming up in Dallas at Liliana Bloch Gallery on June 25th, 2016 and one at No. 4 Studio in Bushwick, NY this fall.
Thanks so much for sharing your work and talking with us!
Thank you so much Emily, I greatly appreciate you asking, Bonny
To find out more about Bonny and her work, check out her website.