This article appeared in the Jackson Hole News & Guide, August 2008
What: New Works by Kathy Bonnema-Leslie
When: Opening Reception Saturday, August 23 4-7 pm
Where: Center Street Gallery, 30 Center Street
A first glance at Montana artist Kathy Bonnema-Leslie’s work triggers this response: “Wow, that girl does good woodblock!”
“We hear that a lot,” says Center Street Gallery’s Ryan Wright. “Kathy pays extreme attention to countless, individually defined shapes. Her watercolors and serigraphs are fashioned in an exact manner and easily taken for woodblock. All that detail means time spent on the work increases significantly.”
Bonnema-Leslie wants to deliver details, but she she’s also exhilarated by the air standing between her and the mountains, aspen trees and bodies of water she paints; that air creates atmosphere and space; it also brings energy. Primarily portraits of Montana’s country, her watercolors are often landscape series, visual chapters in a book about favorite locations that more fully explore feelings about place.
Even as the artist invites space, her compositions are flattened by the use of large, geometric color fields. Children’s first art lessons often include cutting up colored construction paper to create design. Bonnema-Leslie’s watercolors ultimately do produce the feel of a Japanese woodblock print; the art form is common and long-standing in Japan, as well as in the west. Painters such as Matisse, Monet and Vincent Van Gogh were some of the most influential western artists to incorporate woodblock; this exhibit wraps its arms around that tradition.
One woodblock style, Ukiyo-e, translates to “scenes of the floating world.”
Let’s talk about the color! To say that these skies are blue is like saying Robert Downey Jr. is cute. This artist’s color palette exaggerates every hue. Her blues! Indigo, sapphire, ultra-marine, and electric blue are right; robin’s egg blue, baby blue and sky-blue are wrong. Bonnema-Leslie’s ‘the water is bluer at the bottom’ blue surrounds foaming, bubbly aspen leaves. They buoyantly crown and surround long, leggy aspen tree trunks.
Regardless of medium, the artist favors using intense glazing or layering techniques to produce rich, saturated colors. Generating Montana’s landscapes sparkling hues and dimensional light are a priority.
Clouds, often rendered amorphously, now resemble flying oyster shells. They’re arced, rippled; shadows are as clearly defined as tree rings. “Piper #11,” an autumn landscape, depicts distant mountain peaks and golden fields pushed down by the sheer pressure of a procession of marching clouds—they come towards us, flying over and past us, an onslaught of nature-friendly UFO’s.
Bonnema-Leslie’s serigraphs are created by hand, as opposed to relying on film and computer imaging to mechanically produce a finished product. This artist lays linen stencils down, applying them with watercolors. In any given work, each stencil represents a single color. When multiple layers of stenciling are completed, a finished image results. Bonnema-Leslie’s serigraphs are all unique, but the artist does produce compact series of her works.
“For some of her smaller serigraphs, Kathy might do 50 editions,” notes Wright. “Larger prints may warrant 15 editions. But all are original. Serigraphs are a more affordable option, with prices ranging from $175 – $800.” Watercolor prices begin at $800. The show includes 25 works now on display; an additional dozen will be added.
In his last decade of life, Matisse found renewal through his bright and playful cutouts. Using paper, he designed stained glass windows for the Chapelle du Rosaire. Bonnema-Leslie could work big; her paintings feel as if she wants to. She should push past her current parameters. If Montana is the church, its mountains the steeple, then her aspens, lakes, clouds and wildflowers are surely the people.