Written by Bonny Hill

Featured artist series – Bonny Hill

From Marcel Duchamp’s Fountain to Banksy’s street art, to the recent establishment of NFTs (non-fungible tokens), contemporary artists have been exploring postmodern issues of elitism, originality, and authenticity. Some of my recent work and much of my work going forward delves into an exploration of art consumerism and marketing in a rapidly changing environment. Folks are buying ‘art’ in big box stores and on Amazon and Wayfair. Public and private galleries are shifting to digital sales and virtual exhibitions. The global pandemic that is COVID-19 is presenting new virtual spaces such as Zoom and other video conferencing platforms that present fresh possibilities for showing and monetizing artists’ work and boosting gallery sales.

I love art that is accessible. I use humor, irony, parody, and paradox to engage a wide-ranging audience on some level.

Grouping of several S.C.A.M. pieces, Acrylic latex on canvas.

I Don’t Know Anything about Art. I Just Want Something Nice to Hang Over My Sofa to Match My Living Room

artsnb Creation Grant – Category B, 2010

The idea for this work came to me when my mom made the statement that has become the title of this show. I started by painting an image of her sofa which I then hung over it and painted a painting of that and so on until the paintings of the paintings got so tiny that I couldn’t see them anymore. I loved the paradox presented by using the Drost effect: impossibly, the image continues infinitely. The rest of the work grew from there and is intended to engage the viewing audience in a dialogue about the idea of being a consumer of art.

Sofa Studies – a view of I Don’t Know Anything About Art. I Just want Something Nice to Hang Over my Sofa to Match my Living Room, at Sunbury Shores, 2015

Much postmodern art reacts against elitist, avant-garde art that is accessible to a very small, entitled audience, and that makes the rest of us feel left out when we don’t ‘get it’. In pieces like This is a painting. This is a pillow, I wanted the viewer to realize they really are the same thing  ̶  some paint on a piece of cloth  ̶   so why is the painting all precious and mysterious while the pillow is just a common, mundane object? In another pairing, two identical canvases proclaim, “This is Art” and “This is Craft”. The first piece has painted text and the second is embroidered.

Some of this work also raises issues about originality, authenticity, and elitism. For the Real Winners series, I put real paint over big box store giclee prints purchased at yard sales to turn them into real art: whatever that is. I try to be non-judgmental about artists who sell their ‘one of a kind’ pieces to be printed in huge numbers. I do hope that the artist is fairly compensated, and I suspect that much of the art is made on assembly lines by people or machines applying various gel mediums and selective brush strokes over mass produced prints. Buying art at the same place you buy mattresses or dish soap certainly establishes a democratization of art. We clearly want to have art in our homes, and if we settle for a copy of something that we value and if the original artist has made the choice to sell copyright, who are we to judge?

Several smaller pieces painted with common latex house paint on cheaply made canvas provoke introspection about issues of preciousness (This Canvas was Made in China, but the Painting is Real; If You Like This One, You Should See the Next One!; or, You Can’t Get This at Walmart).

Quiet on the Set series all 12″x16″, acrylic on canvas
My Little Sister Could Paint This
This Matches the Drapes Perfectly
This Piece is Very Affordable
This Painting is Really Good
You Can’t Get This at Walmart
I Get This
This Piece Would Look Perfect in Your Hallway
You Get This (No really! You get this! Take it off the wall and take it home with you!)

The most recent pieces in this series have been made over fabric stretchers and come with a matching pillow. Many have the commercial paint colours listed on the back so the consumer can match the paint colours to their space. In fact, customized spin paintings made on a pottery wheel are available to be created in commercial house paint colours selected by the consumer or their designers. Contemporary Toille uses classic French toile fabric re-interpreted with more contemporary themes (golden arches in the background, infants using iPads, etc). Instead of trying hard to make art that matters in this series, I really enjoyed making S.C.A.M. ̶ Shamelessly Creating Art that Matches.

 I Don’t Know Anything About Art. I Just Want Something Nice to Hang on My Wall for Video Conferencing.               

artsnb Creation Grant-Category B, 2018

Meta, at the Saint John Arts Center, 2021

In January of 2021, I was preparing to hang my most recent work, Meta, at the Saint John Arts Centre (SJAC). Meta consists of a series of large canvases that, from a distance, “read” as photo-realistic studies of close-up views of paint, and from up close appear to be painterly, non-objective arrangements of paint with lots of surface interest: work that invites the viewer to look both at and through the surface of the canvas. I was very interested in exploring the self-referential aspect of using the material to depict the thing being depicted.

In the midst of the second wave of COVID-19 and the real possibility of a return to galleries closing to the public in my area, I was thinking a lot about the explosion of Zoom and other video conferencing platforms and the impact of this movement on private art acquisition. To address this interest, I included an interactive, conceptual piece in the exhibition. I Don’t Know Anything About Art. I Just Want Something Nice to Hang on My Wall for Video Conferencing was essentially a list of instructions inviting the viewer to ‘shop’ for a Zoom background and to post using hashtags, #superniceartforzoom and #snaz. SJAC created a video to introduce the idea of supporting visual artists and galleries by featuring art on Zoom calls and broadcasting.

(Photo: #SNAZ with Jared Bett’s work: Honolulu Escapism 2)

Shutdowns, NFTs, Home Deliveries

The extent to which our lives have been affected by rapid social, technological, and environmental shifts this past year may not yet be clearly defined. My work going forward will attempt to address the impact of COVID-19 on online shopping, communication, and home delivery, and especially of the emergence of block chain and Non-Fungible Tokens.

NFTs have allowed for Beeple to sell a piece of Crypto Art at an important auction house for $69.4 million, having sold no work at all six months prior to the transaction. NFTs are a way of monetizing and valuing digital art, but at a huge cost. Each transaction requires massive blasts of computer processing power which will, if predictions hold, contribute to the climate crisis in a major way. Also, the physical art object loses value when digitized to the extent that some Crypto traders are destroying originals to make money (a Banksy screenprint bought for $95,000 was burned and livestreamed in March 2021). Does this not seem counterintuitive?

I remember attending an important symposium at NSCAD in the early 1980s about the fate of painting as a valid medium in the context of conceptual art. The panel concluded that painting was finished. Done. Checkmate. I wasn’t willing to accept the end of painting, because social and technological shifts were providing ever-interesting intersections with the traditions and conventions of painting.

It is this intersection that has guided my work these past twelve years, and that continues to spark ideas for future projects. It took me 30 years to begin making serious work and it is due to the support of artsnb that I found the confidence to start.

Post- pandemic art making? Bring it on!

Photo credit: Brock Jorgensen

Bonny Hill is a contemporary artist who was selected for the 2017 Surveillance Studio Watch at the Beaverbrook Art Gallery for her series, I Don’t Know Anything About Art. I Just Want Something Nice to Hang Over My Sofa to Match My Living Room.

Bonny completed a Bachelor of Art in Art Education at Nova Scotia College of Art and Design (NSCAD) in 1984 and has recently retired from a 31-year career teaching art in public schools. In 2011, she was recognized by the Canadian Society for Education Through the Arts with the Canadian Art Educator of the Year award. Her teaching was also recognized nationally in 2013 with a first-place finish in DC21YCC Youth Creativity Challenge sponsored by Canadian Heritage and provincially with the NBTA Credit Union Award for Excellence in Teaching.

Bonny Hill sits on the board of directors at AX: the Arts and Culture Centre of Sussex where she chairs the exhibitions committee and actively volunteers. She also is a member of the NB Department of Education Curriculum Advisory Committee for Visual Arts.

Bonny has been successful in receiving three artsnbCreation Grants and is debuting her new series, Meta and My Little Sister Could Paint That, an exploration of Realism in the context of representational painting, photography, and non-objective arrangements of paint.

Bonny began exhibiting her work in 2006 and has since been awarded seven solo and several group shows in public galleries. Her Meta series was exhibited in the Frazee Gallery at the Saint John Arts Centre until March 2021.

Stay up to date with Bonny’s practice:

Website: http://www.bonnyhillart.com/