Artist Spotlight: Willie J. Bonner
“My artwork intends to engage the viewer and create an extended dialogue regarding the culture of African American people both historically and in contemporary society,” reads Willie J. Bonner’s artist statement. “However, in its essence, its objective is to transcend language.”
Bonner’s artistic practice is not about gaining social acceptance in the larger American society but rather an allegory of what it means to be Black in postmodern America. Through a variety of media, including painting, assemblage and sculpture, the multi-layered and multi-cultural works seek to engage audiences through the content of social applicability and the intricate rhythmic patterns that exist in the work itself.
Willie J. Bonner, Cotton, 2018, mixed media on canvas, 36 x 36 in. On view October 1, 2020 – January 10, 2021 in Arizona Biennial 2020.
Cotton (2018) was Bonner’s contribution to Arizona Biennial 2020, which closed on January 10, 2021. His work was also featured in Arizona Biennial 2018 at TMA: a multimedia work called Black Gold made entirely of tar and feathers on cotton canvas. Margaret Regan of Tucson Local Media wrote extensively about Bonner’s work in her review of that exhibition. “It looks like he pressed the soft material onto the cotton with his thumb, an arduous task that mirrors the monotonous work his ancestors did picking cotton,” wrote Regan. “But here and there the black tar is smudged or scraped off. These imperfections, you begin to realize, represent scars created by the sting of the whip. The whole painting evokes black flesh that’s been tortured and abused.”
Bonner is one of four artists in the upcoming feature exhibition 4×4: Willie J. Bonner, Nazafarin Lotfi, Alejandro Macias and Anh-Thuy Nguyen. 4×4 will present four solo shows, making up one large exhibition, by four preeminent Southern Arizona artists selected by four TMA curators. Bonner’s work creates an extended dialogue regarding the culture of African American people both historically and in contemporary society
This exhibition will be on view May 22-October 3 on the main level of the museum in the James J. and Louise R. Glasser Galleries, Earl Kai Chann Gallery and Lois C. Green Gallery.
Willie J. Bonner, American DNA, 2019, tar and feathers on canvas, 48 x 48 in.
See Willie Bonner at work in this video profile created For KUAT’s Arizona Illustrated. Producer: Sooyeon Lee; Videographer: Jacob Sutton.
Willie J. Bonner (American, b. 1952) Was born and raised in Cleveland, Ohio. He holds a BFA from Cleveland Institute of Art and an MFA from the University of Arizona. After an extensive teaching career in the Northwest, Bonner returned to Tucson. His work has been exhibited at the Joseph Gross Gallery at the University of Arizona, the former Davis and Dominguez Gallery in Tucson, and the Seattle Art Museum, among others.