Bonner Sale is in limbo. For the time being he is a D.C. artist. He is planning a move to Brooklyn in July. I visited Sale’s basement studio in Tenleytown.
As a basement dweller who also keeps a studio in my apartment, I can relate to Sale’s studio practice. He’s got the wood paneling and just enough window to know what it’s like outside but not much in terms of natural light. Sale works at a drafting table with a clip light. In the corner there are two stacks of older drawings on a square riser. There are a number of newer works clipped to two of the walls of the studio. They are all 30 x 22 inches on medium or heavy weight printmaking paper in various shades of gray or tan.
Flat, almost chalky applications of not-quite-day-glo color dominate the surfaces of the works on view. There are figures: male, female, androgynous. And creatures: aquatic, terrestrial, extra-terrestrial. There are objects: amplifiers, guitars. I’m pretty sure there is at least one campfire. The settings are imaginary and non-specific; they look like icebergs, floating stages, fog-ringed mountaintops, underwater caves, or cosmic constellations.
When I first saw Sale’s work, I referred to it (within my own lexicon) as “kids art.” So-called “outsider art” also came to mind. We talked about Henry Darger and the capacity of such a figure to have great influence over a generation of artists by virtue of being on the landscape of contemporary art while young artists like Sale were in school. The same could be said of the landscape of cartoons Sale was exposed to as a kid growing up in the 1980’s. His work is cartoon-inspired, but these are not the cartoons of Warhol (Popeye), Rauschenberg (turducken), or Lichtenstein (Ben-dey). The post-Pop Art era saw the cartoon classics supplanted with Saturday morning cartoons such as Scooby Doo (in various incarnations since 1969) and Super Friends (1973–86). These were different from their duck-and-parry, slaphappy predecessors. Scooby Doo relied on the predictable, efficient narrative of a group of kids being confronted with, and solving, a mystery. By the 1980’s many of the Saturday cartoons were tied directly to toys such as Smurfs and Transformers. At this point one subtext seemed clear: get the toys and you can create and enact your own stories.
I asked if playing with toys was how Sale generated ideas for his paintings. He insisted that it was not but described each work as “a drawing adventure.” He showed me some older paintings and in these it became clear that his work has evolved subtly but significantly in terms of his appreciation for technical acuity in drawing and painting. Generally, the old and new work share similarities in subject matter, size, surface, and media. But Sale has been spending more time on his recent works, and it shows. Among other things, there is a surety of line and a precision of application in the newer work. Going forward, Sale hopes to develop his drawings and paintings in the interest of, as he put it, “being able to draw what comes from my head.”
Click here to go to Sale’s website.
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