We had the good fortune of connecting with Bonita Helmer and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Bonita, how do you think about risk?
RISK TAKING I have always loved the risk of adventure through travel and exploring different countries and parts of nature. However, when I was studying art at Otis College many years ago, I decided to take one of the major risks of my career. I decided to stop taking classes at Otis and I began to study on my own. So much of art at that time was going toward conceptualism and performance art (“painting is dead”) and I had always wanted to be a painter. A short time later I found an ad for classes through USC Idyllwild and I began studying with Francoise Gilot My studies with Gilot proved to be what I was looking for; a strong foundation in technique as well as an historical way to look at painting. I was also pleased to find a strong woman icon to follow. It is a risk to remove oneself from the “trend of the moment” and go off on one’s own to find personal meaning. It is also a risk each and every time an artist approaches a canvas to see where the new adventure takes him/her. After my studies and due to the risk taking in an insecure career, the risks kept multiplying. I had to go out on my own and leave all security and financial stability in order to find my way as a creative person. I don’t suggest that for everyone. It proved to be very difficult but, in the long run, that initial risk led to the art I do today and the themes on which my work is based: unknown structures. Ironically I also spent many years later teaching painting at Otis College of Art and Design This risk taking and honesty has helped me develop the career and the success I have today.
Let’s talk shop? Tell us more about your career, what can you share with our community?
I work in a very challenging field. It is constantly changing and in recent years it has become as “trendy” as the fashion or music industry, instead of as it was in earlier times where it was based on “schools of thought”. Of course current politics play a big part also. Before social media and even TV, art played a very important role in contributing political and cultural ideas. These messages were covered by exhibitions and news articles. Guernica by Picasso is a good example. Since we are all now bombarded constantly by media and news, various opinions and ideas are at our finger tips. Because of this constant flow of information, I personally don’t feel a desire to express obvious political themes in my own work. At this time I am instead fascinated with symbols that connect all people, which of course, is political in its own way. As human beings we all share basic needs and emotions and that is what I wish to communicate. I try to do it by expressing feelings, emotions and desires through the beauty of exploring that which is not obviously seen but it is there, the “unseen structures”. I am very involved with the study of physics, our universe and its principles and the connection to ancient spiritual interpretations and symbols. Einstein quote: “the most beautiful experience we can have is the mysterious”. Searching and questioning the mystery in nature, physics, spirit and our universe is my passion. For me, the process and the immediacy and fluidity of paint on canvas enhances this search for mystery.
If you had a friend visiting you, what are some of the local spots you’d want to take them around to?
Unfortunately my list right now, during the pandemic, is quite different than it will be in the summer 21. Right now, my favorite place to go is the beach. Fresh air and plenty of room. My favorite beach for walking is Playa de Rey. There is a duck pond and a large grassy park. Then it is always to fun to walk out on the jetties to see lots of sea life and boats coming in and out of the harbor. Another favorite is to start in Hollywood and drive all the way down Sunset Blvd to the beach. It starts very urban and then goes through very beautiful homes, with areas of lots of trees until you hit the ocean. As far as restaurants to check out, until recently I have enjoyed the various places in Culver City. The historic Culver Hotel is a national landmark and is well preserved from the 20’s. When things are normal they have live music nightly and the food is good and the happy hour cocktails special. People are friendly there and it is easy to meet people and strike up a conversation. The museums in L.A. are wonderful, but are not open right now. A walk through the outside of the Music Center in downtown L.A. is also quite nice. There are theaters and down the street the beautifully designed Frank Geary Disney Hall. In the same area is The Broad Museum and MOCA, as well as the Coburn School of Music.
Who else deserves some credit and recognition?
First I would like to thank my wonderful teachers: F. Gilot and M. Kanemitsu for giving me skills, techniques and the belief in myself as an artist. I would also like to give thanks to the late Lydia Takeshita of L.A. Artcore who gave me my first solo exhibition in Los Angeles. Also thanks to all the international and local museums that for exhibited my paintings. Also a shoutout to wonderful reviewers and writers who have acknowledged me and my work. Presently I would like to show my appreciation to my art community and the talented artists with whom I have a constant dialogue. Most importantly I am thankful for the support of my gallery, George Billis/LA and Director Tressa Williams for working so closely with me for ten years.. Of course, none of this would be possible without the unending support of my family. Big thank you to all.
Other: George Billis Gallery/los Angeles Artland – Bonita Helmer Artsy – Bonita Helmer