Posts Tagged ‘Bonnie Bronson’

Jaipur cover_bogHello, everyone, I’m not dead. I’ve been… well, that’s a long story for another post. Right now I want to tell you that The Theory and I have put together three new books about Oregon sculptor Lee Kelly. Who is, coincidentally, my father.

Observatory at Jaipur
Catalog accompanying Lee’s show in October 2015 at the Elizabeth Leach Gallery in Portland, Oregon. Full color, 86 pages. Get it here: Observatory at Jaipur

One through Nine_cover_blogLee Kelly: One through Nine
In 2013, Lee Kelly created a significant body of new work, a series of paintings entitled “One through Nine.” These nine paintings are oil on canvas, a medium the artist had largely abandoned in 1963. However, these new paintings do not represent a return to Kelly’s Abstract Expressionist past but emerged from his sculptural work of the last ten to 15 years. Full color, 68 pages. Get it here: Lee Kelly: One through Nine

A bog cover_blogBook of Gardens
A Book of Gardens was first published by Lee Kelly and Bonnie Bronson in 1987 as a study of garden designs from India, ancient Egypt and Japan. Hand-printed and illustrated by Lee Kelly, designed and spiral bound by Bonnie Bronson, this small book had a single release of fewer than fifty copies. This 2015 edition includes a facsimile reproduction of the original book and photographs from Lee’s sculptures as installed at his home in Oregon City. Get it here: A Book of Gardens

For the next week or so, I’ll send free pdfs to anyone interested in taking a look at the books. Leave me comment below and I’ll get back to you.

What’s next?
With these books in mind, I’m considering doing some posts about the process of putting together print-on-demand books for artists. In a world where exhibition catalogs can be expensive to produce, print-on-demand might be something for artists to consider. So more on that later. And hopefully another year doesn’t pass before I do these posts!

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I hate blog posts that start with excuses for why I haven’t been in the studio or haven’t blogged. It either sounds like I can’t manage my time very well (true dat) or have vastly more Important Things To Do. To prove that isn’t so, here’s a sampling of my activities for yesterday that prevented me from getting out to the studio:

  • I slept late every day for the last MONTH and it felt great. I may never get up early again.
  • I visited an art resale gallery in Portland that has some of Bonnie Bronson’s (my mother) art for resale. This place is chock full of great Oregon art gems and the owner is very nice. There is so much work on the walls that I couldn’t immediately see if she had any encaustic work. Here’s the link: Resale Art.
  • Then I went to some friends’ very clean house where someone told a story about a cat litter box that was so funny I peed my pants.
  • Then I had to go home and bury my head under a pillow, unable to face the world.

As you can see, no time-wasting there!

Martin Drölling, “L’intérieur d’une cuisine” (1815), believed to have been painted with Mummy Brown (via the Louvre).

Martin Drölling, “L’intérieur d’une cuisine” (1815), believed to have been painted with Mummy Brown (via the Louvre).

Obsolete Pigments

The Theory sent me a link to an art blog called Hyperallergic: Sensitive to Art and its Discontents which I at first thought was a blog about asthma. Anyway, this two-part article talks about the origin, composition, risks and other odd tidbits about such vanished pigments as Dragon’s Blood red, Tyrian purple and white lead. Read the updates and comments because those are good too. Here’s sample about Mummy brown:

The pigment, a favored shade of the Pre-Raphaelites, was first made with Egyptian mummies, both cat and human, that were ground up and mixed with white pitch and myrrh. It had a great fleshy color, but due to the actual fleshy components it would crack over time. [Artist] Martin Drölling reportedly used the mummies of French kings dug up from Saint-Denis in Paris. According to a 1964 Time story, the Mummy Brown pigment didn’t last due to a shortage of its name defining ingredient. Managing director of the London based C. Roberson color maker told the magazine: “We might have a few odd limbs lying around somewhere, but not enough to make any more paint.”

Read part one here and part two here.

And just to prove that we (and by we I mean The Theory) have not been idle, here’s a photo of a lovely seating area that we hacked out of the wilderness and inaugurated with gin and tonic just this weekend:

Charcoal-mica flagstones are the setting for a Lee Kelly outdoor table called "Welder's Table" circa 1975-76. I cleared the underbrush in the background while the The Theory did the actual work.

Charcoal-mica flagstones are the setting for a Lee Kelly outdoor table called “Welder’s Table” circa 1975-76. I cleared the underbrush in the background while the The Theory did the actual work.

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Bonnie’s first show in eighteen years opened last night at everyone’s favorite watering hole, Winestock in Oregon City. Big thanks to Sarrah and Carlos Torres, owners, and to Ben Bright , photographer and occasional wine bar host. The show is modest in size but has a lovely cocktail-napkin sized publication featuring some of the first ever critical writing about Bonnie.

I always thought Oregon City was too small to generate much of an artistic community. But since Winestock opened, I’ve met more local artists than I thought possible. They’re here, struggling along with the rest of us. So this show of Bonnie’s work feels to me like a celebration of this odd, impossible little mill town on a forgotten bend of the Willamette River where we’ve all chosen (or in my case, been drafted) to barely eek out our tiny lives. Oh, I don’t mean it like that! (Except, yeah, I kinda do)

Anyway, this show is a testament to The Theory’s firm belief that Bonnie’s work deserves another—serious—look. I’ll post excerpts from the publication soon. But in the meantime, here’s a piece I wrote for the show that turned out too long for the space provided. Probably too long here too but I’m posting it anyway:

Bonnie Bronson in 1965. Painted metal collage in the background. This image was probably taken for her show at Mt. Angel College.

In 1991, seven months after Bonnie’s death, I began cataloging Bonnie’s art work. Her friends and family were in the middle of an ambitious project which included the creation of the Bonnie Bronson Fund and a retrospective exhibition of Bonnie’s art. It was my job to examine her remaining studio work and make some recommendations to the curator about which pieces were in good enough condition to be shown.

Bonnie’s death at age fifty was a shattering event to her family, especially after my brother Jason’s death eleven years earlier from leukemia. With my children, Agamemnon and the Baron Lucy-Lee, newly arrived in the family, it seemed as if we had left the hard business of death and dying behind, at least until it was timely and expected.

We weren’t ready for her to fall to her death on Mt. Adams, and, as it became very clear seven months later, there was a lot about her I did not know.

Bonnie made her art within and around and despite the demands of family life. For all that her time must have been very limited—I never arrived home from school to an empty house, and for years we sat down to dinner at six o’clock—she pioneered the use of industrial porcelain enamel as an art medium, and later became technically proficient at the application of automobile lacquers.

After Jason’s death in 1978, Bonnie created the first of her monumental wall reliefs. Jas was shown at the Portland Art Museum in 1979, and fortunately two of these 12′ long wall sculptures sold. In 1980, she created Kassandra, a cardboard construction that was twenty-four feet long. A few years later, she did another series of acid-etched steel wall reliefs called Leland which were exhibited at the Blackfish Gallery. Later, she painted these sculptures for a show at the Fountain Gallery.

New series followed, many referencing her travels to Nepal and Central America. Her interest in rock and mountain climbing provided much of the momentum and fierce dedication she brought to the last years of her life. The two final series, Serpent Feathers and Chac, were in some ways an integration of her travels and her absolute control over materials and color.

When I ventured out to her studio in 1991, I expected to find all Bonnie’s remaining unsold art. There was a full record in slides of everything she’d made, including Jas, Kassandra and Leland. Kassandra, I knew, was gone. She’d burned the cardboard panels after the show closed. Storing something as fragile yet bulky as a twenty-four foot cardboard sculpture was nearly impossible. When I asked whether it bothered her to burn something she spent weeks constructing, she said the piece was never meant to last. It was temporary.

At first it didn’t alarm me that I couldn’t find the Leland series in the storage area. My father’s studio, a refitted dairy barn, was full of art I hadn’t explored. But when Lee went looking for the Leland pieces, he couldn’t find them either. The art hadn’t sold, I knew that. They hadn’t been cut down to make other sculptures. And they were too big for anyone to move around without help. So where were these four or five significant wall sculptures?

A family friend named Ron Theod was working as a studio assistant at that time. Though he mostly worked for Lee, I asked him if he remembered these sculptures of Bonnie’s. And he did—he remembered very clearly helping her load them into the back of the truck and later unload them at the Oregon City landfill. He thought it maybe happened a few months before her death.

Twenty years later, I still wonder how she felt that day as she drove away with the Leland pieces in the back of the truck. She couldn’t know how profoundly this loss would be felt by others, when the world finally caught up to what she saw when she first created them. I hope she decided that they, like Kassandra, were only temporary.

When I look at her work now, like the Grid series, I feel her loss very deeply, the subtle intensity of the color, the clean and patient sweep of the pencil across the page. And I miss the art, like Leland and Kassandra, that she chose not to keep. But I am amazed and humbled by what remains.

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My wireless card seems to be limping along. The Theory reasoned with it, but as I told him the real test of reason comes at 7:00 in the a.m. when I’m trying to post a blog.

On December 1st, 2010 Bonnie Bronson’s first exhibition in over fifteen years opens at Winestock in Oregon City. Over the next nine months, there will be other Bonnie-related activities, culminating in a retrospective and publication, location and content of which are to be determined.

Grid V (untitled) by Bonnie Bronson. Created sometime during the 1980's. Mixed media on paper, 6" x6". One of ten from the Grid series to be shown at Winestock.

The Bonnie Bronson Project.
During this time, I hope to post a blog update every month about the process of getting these events together, about her art, and most certainly about her life. Bonnie was my stepmother.

Grid X (untitled) by Bonnie Bronson.

Bonnie had the raising of me after the sudden death of my natural mother, Jeanette. I was a toddler when my father, Lee, married Bonnie and started a new life. It was a complicated, often beautiful time, much of it determined by my parents’ artistic careers as well as by the social foment and upheaval of the 1960’s and ’70’s.

I find it hard to talk about our family because both my brother Jason and Bonnie are gone now. As the years pass and the people who actually knew them diminish and pass away themselves, it’s just Lee and I who remember. And though we could talk about our absent family, we usually pass those remembering moments in silence. Missing them.

Lost artist, lost work.
About a year ago, The Theory was called upon to archive Lee’s press materials and

Grid VI (untitled) by Bonnie Bronson.

to create a database of his work. While sifting through dozens of boxes, he kept seeing photos of a really cute girl who made some fantastic art. “That’s my mom,” I said. He asked, “Where’s her estate? You know, all the art she left behind?” I took him on a little walk out into the brush and vines and showed him the secret studio where all Bonnie’s art has been languishing for the last 22 years. Unseen by mortal eyes.

Next month, I’ll update everyone on Bonnie’s first show in fifteen years. Here is the press release written by The Theory:

Bonnie Bronson: Grids
December 1 – 31, 2010

Opening December 1, the Estate of Bonnie Bronson, in cooperation with the Elizabeth Leach Gallery, presents Bonnie Bronson: Grids, a showing of a series of 10 never-before exhibited works on paper. The exhibition will be on view at Winestock in Oregon City through the month of December.

One of Portland’s best known artists in the 1970s and 1980s, Bonnie Bronson (1940-1990) was recognized for her signature enameled steel relief sculptures and her collaborations on public art projects with husband, Lee Kelly. Her career lasted from 1964 to 1990, when she died in a mountaineering accident on Mt. Adams. Her work was widely exhibited throughout Portland and the Northwest, including exhibitions at Blackfish Gallery, the Fountain Gallery, the Art Gym at Marylhurst College, the Elizabeth Leach Gallery, and the Portland Art Museum.

Grid VIII (untitled) by Bonnie Bronson

For more Bonnie info, view her web site. This site is new, so check back for more.

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What a Week. I’ll start with the stats:

  • Retrospective at Portland Art Museum for Dad
  • Exhibition at Elizabeth Leach Gallery for Dad
  • Sick, me, despite months of faithful vitamin D ingestion
  • Writing time: Not so much. And why?
  • Dead wireless card in my laptop
  • Hive time: One long, embittered afternoon

Lee Kelly banner outside the Portland Art Museum. Photo by The Theory.

Dad, whose actual name is Lee Kelly, has a retrospective at the Portland Art Museum.  Here’s a link to the Elizabeth Leach Gallery which is currently showing a very beautiful series of Lee’s small sculpture from 1966-67.  And another link to a review by DK Row in The Oregonian.

The museum retrospective will be up until January 9, 2011. The Elizabeth Leach Gallery show is up through December 2010.

Lee Kelly
My dad is an amazing guy. There are many reasons to find his art beautiful and challenging, and I will leave that to others to discuss. The lesson I’ve learned from him, the most important lesson, is his work ethic. He is in the studio every day. He faces all the same demons of self doubt that confront most artists (notice I didn’t say all) but doesn’t say much about it. If I mention something about how I don’t like my work of a day, he will nod and agree that he has days like that too. But then, with his actions, he shows what to do about self doubt. Go to work. Every day. For fifty years. This museum retrospective is much deserved. Lee is a hellraiser from way back, long may he strike fire.

For the most in depth look at Lee Kelly’s art work and career on the web, go to Lee Kelly Sculpture.

Nasca lines from Peru. Though the rose is always photographed upside down, it must be right side up from some perspective.

Intarsia Nascarsia
I took another shot at intarsia and I did a little better. I worked a Nasca image, the upside down flower, and found a tool that worked for scraping off the excess wax. It’s a narrow metal tube not much bigger than a pen barrel. I can work the tool almost horizontal to the surface of the painting, which for some reason I couldn’t do with a razor blade (with or without the various cases and holders).
Why am I not posting as often?
My brain is still a few amps light after being ill but the crowning insult is my dead wireless card. A friend suggested the public library, which is where I will probably be until I’m live again. But here’s something better: a link to Angeline Marie’s blog Art Studio Reports Check out Fish with Stars.

Next week…
I’ll post a little about that unsung art supply resource: garage sales. I will also start a monthly series about my mother, Bonnie Bronson.

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