#Understory #BonnieLalley #MichiganArtist
Hi! It’s Val, curator of Studio 23! It is a true pleasure to introduce artist Bonnie Lalley and her exhibit titled Understory. Bonnie has created 47 artworks for this exhibit. The mixed media pieces range in size from approximately 12″x18″ framed to well over 8 feet. Some are exquisitely framed in custom and handmade hardwood frames by Timothy Lalley, a known artisan in the Thumb area and Bonnie’s husband. Others are installed as if they are vintage tapestries, without a glazing treatment and inviting the atmosphere to age them naturally over time. Such a great concept! I had a chance to ask Bonnie questions regarding her life, her creative process and philosophies and here is the content. I hope you enjoy reading!
Interview with Artist Bonnie Lalley
- Please describe the logistics of your exhibit.
Understory is comprised of 47 pieces of paintings on paper. The title describes the vegetative layer that lies beneath the canopy of trees. This title was chosen by Elizabeth Lalley, who, as well as being my daughter, is a curator of contemporary art in Chicago. This title is apt and poetically describes the source of much of my imagery. It is used loosely, as Elizabeth describes it, for I am “under water as much as under bushes looking at things…”
- Which is the most autobiographical artwork?
I would have to say Beasts and a Ladyis the most autobiographical piece for reasons only I would know. The “lady” is not me, but, the imagery, the colors—everything—are redolent of childhood imaginings for me.
- How do you describe your process? Is it collage? Is it mixed media? Is it painting?
My process is difficult to describe because I feel I have found my voice. I don’t follow any system. The way I work—by painting and drawing images and then cutting and arranging them on a larger paper ground—is very free and unplanned. I am able to move things, change background colors, layer, stencil, etc., in a manner that is fluid, like music. If I call them “collages” it suggests that I use appropriated imagery, which I don’t. I draw and paint everything. So not being able to give them a tidy category has kept me out of a lot of juried shows! (Ha ha!)
- You talk about your art being inspired by flora and fauna. Can you tell us more about that and also about your gardens?
My family culture was always centered around nature, whether we were living in Detroit or on my grandfather’s farm. Botany and beauty were important topics of discussion: “Did you see the sunset? Did you hear that bird? Someone saw a patch of Blue Fringed Gentian…” My mother had beautiful flower gardens, and I try to emulate that, but I find it much harder than she made it look! I have English roses that I cherish, but my gardening skills are not so great. I find I would rather be in my studio painting flowers than digging in the dirt. However, hope springs eternal, and I make new promises every year to have the best garden ever! This year is no different (a double ha ha!).
- I’ve seen your studio space—small, intimate, and, in my mind, an artist’s hideaway. Why does that setting work so well for you?
Because it is near a teapot and toaster. Actually, somedays I kind of long for a few more square feet for really large pieces. Having said that, I make it work. I love my little studio…
- You and your husband are both artist and artisan. Do you often talk about the creative process? Do you inspire each other with ideas and, if so, can you be specific about your collaborations?
Regarding his cabinetmaking and my art, we tend to both be internal. Regarding our house and garden restoration, though, we collaborate on all levels. This we both enjoy, and we recognize each other’s talents and have equal input. The other important collaboration that happens is the framing of my work with his spectacular handmade frames.
- If you were to invite an artist to your beautiful home for dinner, who would you invite and what would you serve?
Can I invite three? Or a combination of the three and two of them dead? If I could do that, it would be Mary Delaney, who was an 18th-century English aristocrat who in her 70s developed the style of painting, cutting, and assembling pieces into beautiful botanical compositions. Her work inspired the first piece I did, which was the beginning of this body of work. Next, I would have Maria Sibylla Merian. Born 350 years ago, she left her husband and Holland and with two young daughters travelled by ship to distant tropical countries. She painted some of the most beautiful and best-regarded botanical and reptile/animal illustrations. She was one of the first to understand and illustrate the life cycle of moths and butterflies. I would love to talk to her about her travels and the natural world she witnessed. Finally, I would invite Cornelia O’Donovan, who is a young contemporary British artist whose work I admire. We both have a love of early textiles, so we could talk about that. Her imagery is so freely composed—I really love that.
Oh, and I would serve shrimp and grits with a side of greens cooked in a little bacon fat, a garlicky salad, and gingerbread with orange curd and whipped cream. This is because I just made this for friends and the cooking gods were with me.
- What is your art teaching philosophy in a nutshell?
To teach skills and philosophy; i.e., “methods and materials” and “art is important.”
- If you were not a visual artist, what would you be?
Hmmmmmmmmmmm—a grower of cardoons in France.
Thank you, Bonnie for sharing your thoughts with us during this time of sheltering! You gave us much food for thought on living your best life as an artist. This exhibit will unfold virtually over the next few days on our website and Facebook page.
The exhibit is generously sponsored by Chemical Bank.
Thank you for your support of the visual arts in the Great Lake Bay Region.
Stay safe and keep well, Studio 23 family!