Studio Visit: Jodi Bonassi, Stories of the Persona
“It is by going down into the abyss that we recover the treasures of life. Where you stumble, there lies your treasure.” Joseph Campbell
“Like Chekhov, I am a collector of souls…” Alice Neel
By Gary Brewer
Painting is a spiritual discipline; it is a space and an activity where a person can observe and recreate themselves anew. It is a method of self-realization, and a humbling journey of self-acceptance. One is constantly faced with the facts on the ground; the net results of your efforts are recorded in the painting, one can see the evidence of the journey. Truth shines brightly and self-deception and fear are clearly present in the touch and vision that one realizes in paint on canvas.
Learning to accept oneself, to believe that what one has to contribute is valuable whether it fits the mold of the current style of art or not. To believe in one’s self is to use their vision, fueled by imagination, as a means to illuminate the path. It is a beacon that allows the organic growth of a language that issues forth from the eccentric nature of this imperfect being – oneself.
Jodi Bonassi is an artist whose sensitive nature feels the world around her deeply. When she paints a person – friends, artists, strangers on a train – her inner eye and intuition becomes a seer of the spiritual and emotional life of her subjects. She uses images of animals, shadow beings, demons and monsters to communicate the things that she senses in her sitters.
Jodi’s paintings are not a surrealist – stream of consciousness form of art, but represent her responses to the sense impressions that she experiences while interacting with her subjects. She does not see herself as a psychic, but as an artist with an exceptionally sensitive intuition that gives her vision and insight into her subject’s spiritual journey. “When I meet someone and shake their hand or touch them, I can feel all of the people and events that they have experienced, and have shaped them. I can feel the past, like a river of experience and I put that into my paintings.”
Her paintings are a marvelous journey of multiple narratives linked by the threads of her intuition and imagination. She paints in her figures first, a portrait of a friend or someone that she sketched on a train or on a bus. She fills sketchbooks with countless observations from her travels by public transportation to openings and exhibits of friends around Los Angeles.
She starts a painting by first drawing the person that she is depicting. Her imagination then sends out threads of thought and feeling that weave together the myriad narratives that arise from the impressions that flow from her feelings about the person. Some are autobiographical, like a painting she is working on, a commission from a nurse who helped her during recovery from an illness. The feelings of love and gratitude expressed in the playfulness, lightness and joy that she captures in the dual portrait-self portrait, are true and genuine. They arise from having had this person as a helper and a guide during the darkness of brushing close to one’s mortality.
In another piece she has painted two friends on a couch. At their feet is a patterned rug. From the rug baby birds with their open mouths crane their necks upward, searching for food. She told me that this represented the hunger of the ego, the constant need and craving for acknowledgement. On the couch seated next to her friends is a shadow figure, camouflaged in a pattern similar to the material of the couch; this depicts the shadow self, the dark aspect of ones being. There are countless figures and animals tucked into the nooks and crannies of the couch and the trees behind them. There are more friends looking in from a window behind in the background, and Jodi herself, stands to the right of the couch, a green frog clambering about on her head.
She paints with a careful, but light touch. Her brush strokes are delicate extensions of the psychic tendrils of her thoughts. The marks of her brush are delivered in nerve sensitive daubs that capture the likeness of her sitters. She expresses the character of her subjects with an interiority that communicates their inner being. Like Alice Neel, she is a “collector of souls”, embellished with the currents of the past and the present. Her brushwork gently morphs from one thing to the next at the dictates of her mercurial nature; the pattern of someone’s clothing starts to shape-shift into groupings of animals. Elephants and monkeys emerge from various spaces within the image. Demons manifest between a person and the seat they occupy, words and thought bubbles add narratives to her observations of the world. The paintings are diaristic and expressive, moving freely from the world stage to the hidden universe of the soul.
Jodi is an investigator of the psyche. Her insight and sensitivity to the forces that shape us, our past – and the archetypal patterns that are the mythic structure of ones soul – are the true subjects of her richly layered stories of the persona. She is exploring the world around her and the world within her. She told me about the process and nature of her explorations.
“I am like a bag turned inside out. I am open to the world absorbing and feeling everything. When I meet people I try to unwrap them to discover all of the ingredients that make up their personality, and in so doing I discover the ingredients of myself. I am like a surgeon cutting out the cysts of life and putting them onto paper or canvas; it is a way to ground myself. When I was younger I blocked out the world, I stayed in, raising my son and not engaging with people or the world, it was more than I could bear. My painting has given me a place to put all of these feelings, all of the emotions that I feel from the people I meet. When I paint a friend, I include elements from their history and from mine. It is a way to intertwine our lives, to tell a story about both of us. It is like I am making love, blending our two selves together.”
It is an intrinsic aspect of art – in painting, sculpture, writing, music, or dance – that the cathartic spilling forth of one’s self, of both the angels and demons that inhabit our psyche, is a way to purge the soul. By laying bare the naked truth, in both its beauty and terror, we are able to find a ground upon which to stand.
Jodi Bonassi’s art is an organic extension of herself. It is the physical representation of the forces that surge through her body, mind and soul. She cannot contain all of this in her physical being, so her paintings have become a repository, a place to put the feelings that arise from her interactions with people and the world. It is a psychic palimpsest of the myriad narratives that she perceives. When she was younger she blocked out much of the world in order to maintain her balance; over the years her art has matured and evolved, to allow her to use it as a vehicle to channel these forces.
The word Halcyon in Greek mythology refers to a bird that had the power to calm the seas. It is the same power that painting has for Jodi. It is the center point of her consciousness, the eye of the storm that gives her power over the space she inhabits.
Art is born out of human need, the need to reach out across the abyss of time and space and to touch another. We encode matter with memory and emotion to connect with another, it is a form of love to embrace the world and meld oneself with it, to fearlessly take in all that is offered and to weave it into stories that speak in the language of the human heart.
“Bread & Salt”
Hebrew Union College
April 25, 2018- April 25, 2019
Public Settings…Private Conversations
The Museum Of The San Fernando Valley
March 1 – June 30, 2018
Torrance Art Museum June 1-30
Pop-Up reception June 30th 7PM
Studio System ll
Month long Art Residency
1206 Maple Avenue
July Kamikaze exhibits