It’s the season of artistic experimentation for Margaret Bonneau — a season for risk.
For the acrylic painter, it means not always relying on years of experience, technique and knowledge, and instead venturing out into new territory, using new media and aiming for a look she might not always hit and might not always know is possible.
“It’s kind of like an adventure,” she said. “And sometimes it doesn’t work and so then that particular painting doesn’t live… but I kind of like that unknown aspect, you know. I like not having a sure thing all the time.”
Bonneau has spent a while getting to this stage, which was sparked by the loss of her husband three years ago.
Bonneau’s exhibition, taking place at TOSH until April 29, is one of her first solo exhibitions since he passed.
Immediately after he’d passed away, Bonneau didn’t paint much at all, she said.
“I didn’t feel inspired to paint,” said Bonneau, who’s based in Nanaimo. It had been an activity the pair shared, even holding exhibitions together.
“We had a great relationship, and we were both painters. And it leaves such a gap in your life… instead of being two, you are one.”
It means having to redefine yourself, she said, and having to be defined by just yourself for the first time in a long time.
“And it takes you a while to get to that… it’s almost like a metamorphosis.”
So Bonneau’s work to redefine her own borders has resulted in an expansion of her artistic work as well.
Drawn to faces and figures, Bonneau has always been interested in painting people in life. But by that, she doesn’t mean with total realism.
“I’m more after the mood or the expression or… ‘What is he or she thinking’?” she said. “I might deviate somewhat from the likeness to get the expression I want.”
But now, she’s venturing out into different media, like various gels and molding pastes, to give different textures and feels to her acrylic work.
“I also want to experiment more with landscapes,” she said. “Again, somewhat deviating from let’s say the reality of what you see … The mood is what I’m after more than the exact realistic view.”
Her exhibition at TOSH shows her push further and further into the unknown, beginning with safer pieces and ending with ones that happened to become a finished work.
“I think it’s just to see how far you can push it, you know?” she said.
“There is a framed piece in (the exhibition). It’s the only framed piece on the back wall, which is a collage,” said Bonneau. “It’s paint and a collage and it’s many, many layers of stamping — stamps I carved myself that are symbolic, and some words and textures and many, many layers. And it creates a very rich surface and so it was one of those paintings: ‘OK, what happens if I do this?’ And then you keep going and you don’t really know what the outcome is until you think, ‘OK, that’s it. It’s done.’”
What she hopes for in terms of reaction to her pieces is either the stirring of a connection with a piece, or a burning question.
While a painting might strike a memory or convey a mood that particularly speaks to someone, others do the opposite.
“In the more experimental pieces, I like that you don’t tell everything,” she said. “Like in the frame piece, I call it Anticipation. Somebody asked me, ‘What is she anticipating?’ And I said, ‘Who knows.’ It’s whatever you think, right? Whatever you put there.”
And what Bonneau is putting ahead of herself is change.
“I think that it’s good as an artist to always be open to change,” she said. “To grow, to experiment, to sort of be open to not stopping and, at a certain level, just to keep going and see what you can do. What comes out of everything you’re taking in. And I think it’s nice sometimes to be able to surprise yourself.”