Bonnard: The Experience of Seeing reasserts the artist’s influence as a pioneering modernist painter whose style transcended the conventional narrative of modern art and who was often overlooked and described as a late impressionist painter. The exhibition highlights his innovative use of incandescent color, open-ended forms, and unconventional compositions. Across works from different moments in time and varied subjects, the exhibition explores how Bonnard translated the experience of optical perception with several tactics, such as shifting spaces, camouflaged and dissolving figures moving in and out of focus, and glimpsed forms hidden at the periphery.
After his early years as a member in the Nabi group, Bonnard pursued his own path as a painter, and his unique techniques and remarkable range of innovations continue to provide inspiration to many artists working today. As stated by art historian and critic Barry Schwabsky in a catalogue essay on the exhibition, it is “Bonnard’s unwillingness to fix himself or his viewers in place that attracts so many artists to his way of working.” Beginning with Bonnard’s influence on color field painters such as Mark Rothko through the lyrical abstractionists of the following generation, Bonnard’s diverse influence extends to a broad and unexpected range of artists working today, including Alex Katz, John Armleder, Lois Dodd, Miquel Barceló, Howard Hodgkin, Peter Doig, Andrew Cranston, Hayley Barker, Whitney Bedford, and Allison Katz.
Bonnard’s bold experiments as a colorist, weaving together intense, vivid tones and using contrasting, complementary colors, are immediately evident in his paintings. His singular pursuit of capturing the experience of optical perception, and the role of memory and experience in observation, are perhaps more slowly revealed through his compositional innovations.
By emptying the interiors of his compositions, what Bonnard termed a “void in the middle,” the viewer is forced to slowly pay attention to perceive the images hidden at the margins of his canvases. These out of focus, slowly revealed forms capture the wavering uncertainty of peripheral vision. Bonnard’s paintings are unfixed, mutable, and in flux; the viewpoints in his compositions are shifting and his open-ended, dissolving, forms lack internal boundaries. His seemingly unfinished, ambiguous images lack resolution, requiring the participation of the viewer to bring them to fruition. This slowly suspended process of reconstructing images through memory and the passage of time achieves what Bonnard spoke of as a “halting of time.”