Free First Thursday: Exploring Abstract Art
Abstract paintings by Tucson-based Willie J. Bonner (pictured) are on view at TMA through September 26, 2021 in the exhibition 4×4: Willie J. Bonner, Nazafarin Lotfi, Alejandro Macias and Anh-Thuy Nguyen. Photo by Julius Schlosburg.
Much of Willie Bonner’s work is abstract—that is, art that does not attempt to represent external reality, but seeks to achieve its effect using shapes, lines, colors and textures. While some viewers find abstract art more challenging than figurative or realistic art, the good news is that there are many possible answers to the question “what does it mean?” Viewers who look closely at artworks, abstract or otherwise, can construct meaning using some of the engagement strategies employed by TMA staff.
The first thing many viewers notice about Willie Bonner’s works currently on view at TMA is an explosion of color, which can have an immediate emotional effect. Gestural brushstrokes and large canvases also convey a lot of energy.
Upon closer view, it is apparent that lines, shapes and colors are layered on Bonner’s canvases. There is a lot to contemplate when you take time to study all of the details. In an interview with AZPM, Bonner said “When you look at some of these pieces here there are portholes that are left open, so if you look at the whole canvas you’ll start seeing that you can go not just at the surface, but the layers under it, so it’s taking you to a deeper thought.”
Willie J. Bonner, Holiday for Soul Dance, 2020, acrylic on canvas. Courtesy of the Artist.
Museum educators use a variety of prompts when guiding visitors to look at artworks they haven’t seen before. Anyone visiting TMA can ask themselves similar questions. If you’re visiting the museum with a companion or group, ask each other questions and discuss the answers. Practice thinking or talking about these questions as you study Willie Bonner’s Holiday for Soul Dance, pictured above.
- What is the first thing that you notice about this work of art?
- If this work of art could talk, what would it say?
- Think of five words that describe this work of art.
- Look at the artwork for 10 seconds. Now turn around and try to describe it in as much detail as possible! How many things can you remember?
- Do you see any small details or things that are almost hidden?
- Can you imagine what might be happening beyond the edges of the picture?
- How might you describe this work to someone who has never seen it?
Thursday – Sunday,
10 am – 5 pm