Bonner Sale

Washington, D.C. | by July 6, 2010

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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