Unbeknownst to both of us, I played a small part in the development of painter John Bonner’s career. Back in March 1991, Bonner saw an article I wrote about noted Boston cityscape painter George Nick in Yankee and, struck by the aesthetic similarity to his own paintings, he wrote Nick a letter. Nick, an influential and longtime member of the Massachusetts College of Art faculty, invited Bonner to join an evening crit group consisting mostly of his former Mass Art students.
“He made me take my paintings much more seriously,” says Bonner, who credits Nick with encouraging him to continue painting.
This month, McGowan Fine Art in Concord, New Hampshire, will feature a selection of John Bonner’s paintings of North Shore townscapes as Bits of Sea (May 18 to June 18).
John Bonner was born in Colchester, England, Constable Country celebrated by England’s greatest landscape painter. In 1979, he graduated from St. Martin’s School of Art in London and in 1983 he earned his MFA at Syracuse University. Settling in Marblehead, Massachusetts, he set about his own painterly interpretation of seaside suburbs.
As Bits of Sea suggests, Bonner’s paintings often provide glimpses of the ocean as he focuses on the streets, yards, and environs of coastal towns from Marblehead to Portsmouth. His colors are often somber, organic grays and browns, the red brick and white clapboard of 19th century architecture, the obscuring darkness of deep shadows played against the bright blue of the sky and the distant blue of the sea.
As a representational painter in a post-modern era, Bonner is conscious of wanting his art to be both picture and painting, a representation of something recognizable yet an object unto itself. In his eye for the domestic and the offhand, Bonner paints in the poetic style of an Edward Hopper, a Fairfield Porter, and, yes, a George Nick. But he also has an unusual way of making his images his own.
Lots of painters layer their paintings, but few do it the way John Bonner does, painting one painting on top of another, sometimes leaving ghosts of a previous painting to loom up out of the present. When you see titles such as “Harborview Over Porch,” “Beverly Over Fence,” and “Brown’s Island Over Jetty,” that’s not just a description of the view, that’s Bonner’s clue that you’re looking at more than one painting.
“I often paint over paintings I don’t like, so with some paintings you’re getting three for the price of one,” he says. “There is a moment when I’m covering one painting with another that it just seems to take off. It’s a way for me to introduce an accidental quality.”
John Bonner is a fine painter. He only shows his work every few years and then exclusively at McGowan Fine Art, explaining, “I don’t really produce enough paintings to spread myself around.” Bonner is bound to become better known and his paintings more expensive. Now’s your chance.
[McGowan Fine Art, 11 Hills Ave., Concord NH, 603-225-7791.]