April 13, 2011

A Colourful Sense of Freedom

An Interview with Artist Bonnie Coad

Part 1 of 2 (link to Part 2)
Click on any image to embiggenate

I’ll tell you point-blank: Bonnie Coad’s art has had a profound effect on me.

Sure, I could use this moment to raise the classic discussion question – ‘In what way does art affect people?’ An excellent topic after all if we happen to have a few bottles of Cabernet Sauvignon or a case or two of properly chilled Crémant sitting close by. And yes, the safe (sober?) answer would/should include some acknowledgement that the potential responses are as varied as both the types of art ‘forms’ one could identify as well as the individuals viewing said creations (or creating said viewings). That there could be an infinitely wide range of emotions as well as physical or unconscious reactions to the equally immense amount of glorious design, clever or vapid commercialism, stunning and stylish illustration, music that flies as high as a Zeppelin or sinks as low as a Bieber, and all the rest from the world of ‘art’ that we are exposed to every day. That there is no limit to how art does or could affect us at any given moment or even how the same art could affect us later, yada yada yada. Aw heck, let’s leave it as ‘I don’t know much about art, but I know what I like!’ That works for me at least, especially if the wine is starting to run low.

Having said that: how has Bonnie’s work affected me? Well, let’s keep it as simple as possible: she makes me want to start painting again. Now, don’t take that lightly please. Painting has always been for me one of those things that come with a large warning label: ‘DO NOT PUSH THIS BUTTON! YES THIS MEANS YOU!’ I enjoy painting, yes, however there’s just something extra... hm... personal about the process that literally scares the beejeebers out of me. It’s a nagging fear I have that if I got too much into it, well, I’d wind up making someone like Vincent Van Gogh look well-adjusted. And I look weird enough as it is with two ears, so there’s that aspect, too...

Have other guests here at ZN HQ also affected me in such a positive way? Of course, almost without exception. I can’t even begin to count the number of terrific works and fascinating artists I’ve ‘met’ through the blog. So many that have inspired me – successfully in that at least I have more often than not given it the old college try (or intend to as soon as that Lotto ticket finally comes through) – to sketch, illustrate, or even convert my daily thoughts to framed storyboards, fancy meme’s and more. I’ve been thoroughly motivated more times than I can count to invent and convert plus cut up anything recyclable I can get my hands on and sculpt with whatever I can get to stick together!

In this case though... well, it’s a little different, because I’ve been a little bit down this path on my own before. But what is so enticing? Is it Bonnie’s use of such a wide palette of colours, forms and textures? Without a doubt! Is it her interest in experimenting with different bits and bobs that she sometimes throws into her compositions for that extra special flair? Of course! Could it also be her easy-going, down-to-earth approach to the whole crazy process, which I’ve especially enjoyed getting to know via Facebook and other forums? Again, spot on! But there’s more to all of this and I’m not even close to being sure how to sum it up. So instead, I’ll step back and let you enjoy, too. Oh and pass that bottle this way if there’s any left, cheers.


Hi Bonnie, welcome! To start off, can you tell us a little bit about yourself and how your art career began?

Hi Ziggy! Great to have this awesome opportunity to chat with you!

Well, a bit about “me” and my “art career” ... First, let me just say that inside of me is a shy person who hates to talk about herself! I am not a natural in the limelight and I am oddly uncomfortable with praise. In fact, since you ask I have to say that this has probably been the biggest obstacle for me on my journey as a self-taught artist. You see, for years I didn’t even like to admit to people that I AM an artist. I don’t know why, it was only close friends and family with whom I felt comfortable sharing my art; it made me feel uncomfortable to admit to strangers that I was an artist. Perhaps I felt subconsciously that I didn’t really deserve the distinction.

But with constant practice I eventually got over this. I reached a point where I realised if I didn’t control my insecurities I would never achieve any acknowledgement as an artist. And my art had also progressed to a point where recognition was important to me. I am quite happy to admit it these days, though I do occasionally still feel an involuntary shudder, a regression if you like back to my shy ways.

So having said that, a little about me: I was born in London while my “hippie” Australian parents were enjoying their long honeymoon trip around the world. My mother once told me I was conceived on a beach in Morocco (or is that too much information?). It all sounded very romantic when I first learned that... until she went on to say she could distinctly remember dropping her birth control pill in the sand outside their tent and couldn’t find it. So I guess I was a happy accident – which is ironically also how I often describe my art!

My parents came to New Zealand in 1978. We settled on the West Coast of the South Island in a relatively isolated spot with no power or phone service. We lived basically in the middle of nowhere, near a rain forest and close to the beach, with a river on the doorstep. Still, it’s this environment to which I credit my creativity! You see, when you’re stuck in a small shack and it rains for weeks without a break, you have to find ways to keep yourself sane. In my case, I would draw for hours on end! And when the rain did finally let up, I would go out and find all kinds of treasures on the beach, which I would use to build driftwood huts and more. It was a great, idealistic childhood!

Funny enough though, I never wanted to be an artist growing up; I wanted to be an archaeologist! I was always very good at art in school; however, I never liked sticking to the lesson plan. I’d go off on my own crazy tangent and not apply myself to my given tasks. Plus, I made the very silly decision – though it seemed like a good idea at the time! – to leave school at age fifteen, move away from home and get a job.

In fact, it wasn’t until my son was born in 1996 that I took up painting! It took me a few years of experimentation to develop my style. At first, I played with portraiture and landscapes but found them far less than satisfying. However, through constant trial-and-error I developed a love of texture, colour and experimental paint application. Now I can’t imagine living without painting! I am constantly thinking of my next project.

I apologise for my naiveté, but I know very little about New Zealand other than it’s a fantastically beautiful land with very nice people and that it tends to sport very good Rugby teams. Besides the great folks like yourself and all this wonderful nature around you, what is the art scene like there?
Ah yes! New Zealand: the land of flightless birds, countless sheep and epic movie trilogies about small people with hairy feet looking for magic rings!

Well, now that those clichés are out of the way, I can assure you that New Zealand has much more to offer than just great Rugby teams. We have a diverse and dynamic art scene and there are some very well known New Zealand artists to boast of, such as Colin McCahon, Rita Angus, Frances Hodgkins and Ralph Hotere to name a few. Plus, in every corner of our lovely green Island Nation you will find local art societies, theatres, all sorts of beautiful Galleries full of wonderful art and people with a hands-on passion for creating. There are plenty of vibrant art ventures embracing every sort of creative medium you can imagine with lots of annual festivals and awards to celebrate the arts, such as the Wallace Awards and The Auckland Fringe Festival.

Getting back to your journey as a ‘self-taught’ artist: do you come from an artistic family?
Yes, my family is both very musical and also quite artistic. My great grandfather was a musician in the Australian Army Band in the First World War. My Great grandmother played the piano and taught her daughter who in turn taught my mother who then passed the love of music on to her children. I did learn to play by ear and by what I picked up over the years being around my musical family. But, as with school in general, I lacked the drive to study music. I can still fudge and slur my way through a piece of sheet music but it takes me a few days to learn it!

My two youngest sisters have learned how to play several instruments and have even studied operatic singing. They apparently got some ‘talent’ genes that I missed out on! My mother does dabble in painting and creates beautiful water-colours, so I have that connection to her talents! My father is also a jack of many trades: he is a builder, even creating his own house plans. He is always making something, from furniture to even wine, and constantly has a project on the go!

How about your influences from the art world? Did you have a favourite artist or art outlet as a younger person that most swayed you?
Not really, I can’t say I have any favourites; I love so many different artists’ work and enjoy so many different art genres. I’ve even dabbled in poetry, plus I love literature and have incorporated this into my art at times. I’ve done a little carving, as well as sculpture. I did Modern Dance as girl and I play a little piano as I’ve mentioned already. Still, like my taste in music – which ranges from classical to heavy metal and everything in between – my love of art is extremely varied.

It’s just that I’ve always believed that there isn’t anything to be gained from limiting your experiences in life. Even if a piece of art doesn’t personally appeal to me in the sense of ‘would I hang this on my wall at home?’ I still like to challenge myself to find some aspect of it that I can admire.

Continued in Part 2

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