The Tucson Museum of Art illuminates Willie Bonner during Black History Month Liven up
The Tucson Museum of Art recently highlighted local multimedia artist Willie Bonner, whose work has appeared at the museum multiple times. Bonner’s art, which includes paintings and sculptures, serves as an “allegory of what it means to be black in postmodern America”.
This is achieved in works like “Cotton” (2018), which was Bonner’s contribution to the TMA 2020 Arizona Biennial exhibition. The mixed media on canvas shows a cotton plant made entirely of tar and feathers, a fitting nod to the days of slavery and by Jim Crow, and black and white amalgamation on a wide sheet of cotton itself.
“My work of art should involve the viewer and create an expanded dialogue about the culture of Afro-Americans both historically and in today’s society,” says Bonner’s artist statement. “Essentially, however, its goal is to transcend language.”
Another work, “Black Gold,” was described by Margaret Regan, who works for Tucson Weekly, while reporting on the 2018 Biennale exhibition: Bonner overlays the work with rows and rows of tar, and it looks like it has the soft material with his thumb pressed on the cotton, a laborious task that reflects the monotonous work of his ancestors to pick cotton. But here and there the black tar is smeared or scraped off. You begin to realize that these imperfections represent scars left by the stab of the whip.
“Just as jazz is native to America, specifically Black America, with its roots in African rhythms and dances, my painting is also a reflection of indigenous African-American culture and experience within the larger American culture,” he continues. “The meaning is complex and multicultural and seeks to engage the audience through the content of its social applicability as well as the complex ‘rhythmic’ patterns that exist in the work itself.”
Bonner is from Cleveland, Ohio. He earned his Bachelor of Fine Arts from the Cleveland Institute of Art before moving to Tucson to attend the University of Arizona. After Bonner earned his Masters, he taught art throughout the Northwest and then settled in Tucson. Bonner’s work has been shown across Tucson, including the Davis Dominguez Gallery and the Joseph Gross Gallery at the University of Arizona.
Bonner previously appeared in an episode of Arizona Illustrated for KUAT-TV, Southern Arizona’s PBS partner.
“When I have an exhibition, I am often classified as a black artist rather than an American artist,” said Bonner afterwards. “And I really want people to see the work and the techniques that I do in the work and also pay attention to the pictures.”
Bonner’s art will next be seen in TMA’s 4×4, an exhibition of four solo shows by four outstanding artists from southern Arizona that showcases personal experiences, space politics, and the social problems of our time. Bonner’s work will be on view alongside the Mexican-American artist Alejandro Macias, the Iranian visual artist Nazafarin Lotfi and the Vietnamese-American photographer Anh-Thuy Nguyen.
Bonner’s contribution to 4×4 is entitled “American DNA” and consists of a mass of interwoven chains, which in turn consist of tar and are so closely connected and mixed with one another that the entire canvas turns black.
According to TMA, through these diverse works and media explorations, including painting, sculpture, photography, video and drawing, the 4×4 artists are reminding us that “there is no collective life experience in today’s society. Instead, the spectrum of human conditions is diverse, nuanced and individual. “
Four different works and media, including painting, sculpture, photography, video and drawing, which are intended to remind us that “the different human conditions are diverse, nuanced and individual”.
4×4 will be on view from Saturday, May 22nd to Sunday, October 3rd, in the James J. and Louise R. Glasser Galleries, the Earl Kai Chann Gallery and the Lois C. Green Gallery at TMA. The Tucson Museum of Art is open Thursday through Sunday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. 140 N. Main Ave. More information is available at tucsonmuseumofart.org