Dr. Lisa Belisle:

Hello, I'm Dr. Lisa Belisle and you are listening to, or watching, Radio Maine.  Today, I have with me artist, James Bonner. Nice to be with you today. 

 

James Bonner:

Nice to be with you, too. 

 

Dr. Lisa Belisle:

And of course we're with one another virtually and remotely. We've gone back to this format temporarily based on weather related issues. So thank you for working through the technology with us. Now, it looks like you've got some beautiful pieces behind you. Is this in your home? Is this your studio? Where are you located right now? 

 

James Bonner: 

I’m located in Kittery, Maine. It's the Southern part of Maine, on the border of New Hampshire and Maine actually. So yes, I work out of my house.  My studio is located in the house. It's a nice little space here. And yes, I've got a couple of oil paintings here, back behind me, that I've been working on recently. I kind of dabble in all different mediums. So oil is what I'm into now. I did a lot of watercolor and acrylic and gouache for my show that just started at the Portland Art Gallery.  And now I’m slowing things down a little bit and going with oil paints which take a little bit longer to finish. I enjoy working with all different mediums. 

 

Dr. Lisa Belisle:

So is it because of the way that the paint responds to the canvas? For those of us who are not artists, is it because the paint takes longer to dry? Why does it take longer for something in oil to be finished? 

 

James Bonner:

Well, yes, oil paints, because they are based oil-based, They do take longer to dry. And the way I work with them, and actually I worked the same way with acrylic and watercolor, by layering translucent layers of paint over each other. With acrylic and watercolor the paint dries immediately. And with oil, it takes hours, and sometimes days, to dry.  This one over here, the bell, I actually put a layer on it and I used a glazing medium and it's actually been drying for almost a week now. I'm getting very impatient on that one.  But it's about ready for the layer that I put down to be dry. So, then I can go over it with another layer. So I layered the colors starting out with a very transparent translucent, and I build up the opacity with each layer. 

 

James Bonner: 

So my finals are pretty opaque and I never get really thick.  But they are pretty heavy by the time I get to the end, particularly in the white areas.  When I use a lot of white in the paint in this other, still life over here, or it's, it's just about done, I've probably got another layer to go over it and then varnish it and then sign it. So and these are on, these are actually on birch panels, not on canvas. I do work on canvas too, but the smaller, the image, I like to work more on a panel because you don't get the texture of the, of the weave of the, of the fabric of the canvas of the linen coming through, especially when you're doing some detail, a lot of detail in the work, the painting behind you the Monhegan Lifeline is on a panel and that's acrylic also, and there's many layers on that, but the difference on that being acrylic is that the paint dries immediately, so I can layer it very quickly, very quickly, whereas the oils, I have to have a little bit more patience, which is kind of hard. 

 

James Bonner: 

I also work in egg tempera, which dries very quickly too. And I work in layers, transparent, translucent layers building up the opacity on that, but, but egg tempera drives fast also. So you can layer it pretty quickly, but yes it's a process and I do enjoy slowing down sometimes and working a little bit slower. And I love the oil paints too. Just the quality of the oil. There's a little bit for me when I use 'em, there's a little bit more softness to the image, and not quite a hard edge, I would say to the image when I'm painting it, if I can explain it that way, but yes it's kind of the process in a nutshell. 

 

Dr. Lisa Belisle: 

It sounds like you've used a variety of mediums for quite some time. Was there one that initially drew you to it that you spent time really getting very good at before you moved on? Or have you always just taken a broader approach? 

 

James Bonner:

Well, when I was in school in college and, and studying I studied primarily under Al Allen, who was a Southern artist that's pretty well known. And he basically, we worked in acrylic and oil, so I started out in oil paint actually, but I really wasn't crazy about it early on. I became interested in the Wyeth’s; Andrew Wyeth, Jamie Wyeth, Winslow Homer while I was in school. And so those artists used a lot of watercolor. So I really got interested in watercolor primarily and started just experimenting with that. I didn't really have any instructions on it. I, you know, I kind of consider myself self taught in a way because I I just basically experimented and whenever I got a chance to go see Andrew Wyeth or Jamie Wyeth exhibit at a museum or anything that had Winslow Homer I went and basically just got that far from a painting, you know, and just studied and tried to figure out, you know, how they use their technique with the medium. 

 

James Bonner:

And then I'd go back to the studio and just experiment and you know, not necessarily, not really wanting to copy them, but I was very interested in how they used watercolor primarily. And then from watercolor, I became very interested in egg tempera, which is a very ancient medium. It predates oil painting. It was a Renaissance medium where you use the yolk of an egg and you mix it with distilled water. You set the yo from the, the sack and the white of the egg, pour it in a, I pour it in a little glass jar mix in some distilled water until you get the right consistency. And then you use dry pigments and mix the pigment in with the yolk and the water and it makes a past. And so anyway, I basically, Andrew Wyeth has painted with egg tempera, or he's no longer alive, but painted with egg tempera. 

 

James Bonner: 

So I did the same thing. Every time I went to a Wyeth exhibit, I studied egg tempera just by looking at his work and then going back to the studio and experimenting. And until I figured out what I thought he was doing. And then I took it from there and I used my own, you know, basically techniques off of that, but I figured out the basics on my own and then kind of went with it after that. But yes a lot of it has been, has been just through experimentation learning how to do things. So I do consider myself a little bit self taught, which I don't think is a bad thing. 

 

Dr. Lisa Belisle: 

It always seems like it's a little bit of a mixture of both for most people who are artists. 

 

James Bonner:

True. Very true, very true. 

 

Dr. Lisa Belisle: 

What is it about Andrew Wyeth that appeals to you? 

 

James Bonner: 

His work, probably of all artists, struck a chord with me. I think it's not only his – I love the way he applied the paint and his style of paint, but I love the simplicity of his paintings, how he simplified the image down to the essence of what he was trying to express. And that to me really resonated. And I, that's what I try to do in my work. I heavily edit my work landscapes. I take out a lot of extraneous detail and, and bring it down to what is just a very minimal image and I mean, it all has to work in the composition too. So that's important. And I just try to get it down to, to the very essence of what I'm trying to say in the painting. 

 

James Bonner: 

But why he was a master at that, I felt like Andrew particularly, and Jamie also, but Andrew was really a master of that, and there's just something about his personality too. It just seems to resonate with me also.  I'm somewhat shy and a little bit reclusive and I like that about him. He kind of kept to himself, even though he was very famous and became very famous. I mean, he just kind of roamed the countryside and did his, you know, did his work and didn't toot his horn a lot, you know, and just let his work speak for himself. So that's, I just, it just really resonated with me. But yes, I would say that those are particular aspects of what attracted me to him the most.

 

Dr. Lisa Belisle:

It sounds like you came to Maine in part because you wanted to more deeply learn about the Wyeths. Where are you originally from? 

 

James Bonner: 

I am originally from Little Rock, Arkansas, which is considered actually Southern like a Southern state, but never really considered it Southern. It's almost in the middle of the country, but as you can probably hear, I probably really sound Southern. I mean, I don't sound like a lot of Mainers, but I have been coming to Maine. I was born in Little Rock and was pretty much raised there. And in the mid nineties, I after studying the Wyeth’s and Winslow Homer, Edward Hopper, Rockwell Kent, all these representational artists that I admired, all of them had a connection with Maine. Some of 'em, you know, lived, lived here. Some of 'em had homes here, some of 'em just came and, and painted here, but I always loved their work from Maine. And I just, when I started studying their work and became interested in 'em, I just became interested in Maine. 

 

James Bonner:

And back in the mid nineties, I just, I was like, I've got to go there and experience this place. I'd love to do some paintings, you know, from, from that area. So that's primarily what drew me to Maine was studying the artists that painted here and a lot, you know, I just never was able to actually come and live here and for personal reasons. But I did visit quite often throughout the years and I would come take photographs, sketch, get as much subject matter as I could and go back to Arkansas and paint. And and I have, I've had representation here in Maine primarily in the Midcoast area for 20 something years actually. So yes. But I've never been here all year round. I've just had to make visits here in the past, but now it's full time and that's, it's wonderful. I mean, I just love – although this is my first full winter, going to be my first full winter here. It's a little bit of a new experience for that, a little colder than Arkansas, but it's gonna give me opportunities to actually do some winter things from here and not just all summer and which I'm looking forward to. 

 

Dr. Lisa Belisle:

Actually, one of the reasons that we're doing this interview remotely is because we actually are having a winter day. And so trying to travel, obviously is a bit of an issue. And people who are listening closely can probably hear some of the precipitation on our roof here. I don't think we're hearing much from over on your roof, but it's good to hear that you actually are coming to some sense of at least acceptance regarding the weather considering that Arkansas has a very different climate. 

 

James Bonner: 

I love the wintertime but there is nothing like the spring and summer in Maine. I mean, I don't care how bad the winter gets or how long it is. It's worth those, those months that you get in the spring and summer. Just mainly, I mean, I love the light that you get in the spring and summer here in Maine. It's just like no other light that I've seen elsewhere. It's amazing. And I love to paint it. I mean, of course, like so many other artists, they love to paint light, how it falls on a wall or just on foliage in the woods. I mean, it's just amazing light here. It's like no other, there's a clarity to it that I haven't seen anywhere else, actually. 

 

Dr. Lisa Belisle:

Exactly. Tell me about your connection to Monhegan Island. What was it about Monhegan? Is it simply because it's something that's always drawn artists or was there something special about this island off the coast of Maine? 

 

James Bonner: 

Well, once again, it goes back to the connection with the artists that have always painted there or have painted there in the past, I should say.  I just was really intrigued with the paintings that I saw from Jamie Wyeth and now Andrew very rarely traveled to Monhegan, but Jamie, his son, painted a lot on Monhegan and actually has a house there.  Rockwell Kent's old house, Jamie lives in, which is actually the painting you have behind you. Jamie Wyeth’s house is within a stones throw of that painting that I have behind you. It's called Lobster Cove and Jamie's house faces out to sea right by that painting.  He's actually done a painting from a different angle of that exact lifeline that I've represented there. But it's probably just because of the artists that I admire their paintings from Monhegan. 

 

James Bonner: 

And I wanted to go there and experience it, and I fell in love with it.  I've produced quite a few paintings and drawings from Monhegan. I've actually still got a lot of subject matter from Monhegan that I've yet to get to.  So there's something about Mohegan too, that just – although it is a big tourist attraction now, it's just a, it's basically a fishing and lobster village. And it's just kind of stepping back in time.  Everything slows down on Monhegan, and I love that. I love that you're just kind of outta touch and for me, and for any artist that goes there, you're just totally surrounded by possible paintings everywhere.  and that, you know, that actually is what I love about Maine is whenever I get in my vehicle and I go for a drive or I go for my, you know, hour long walk it's always like, there's a possible painting down around the next corner, peeking, you know. Like if I'm walking, I'm always looking down these long driveways that they go through the woods because I mean, there's just a possible painting, right. 

 

James Bonner: 

Anywhere, anywhere I go or look. And that's something that's always intrigued me about Maine, particularly when I, when I go for a drive and I'm just like, kind of open for being receptive for anything to hit me to paint. Sometimes it's just like sensory overload though here. And when I've been away from Maine in the past, and I would get here it was total sensory overload. I mean, I would like to slow down. Okay. You know, because I would have, just on my way, come on a painting everywhere I went. I mean, it was, it's just amazing. It's just a wonderful place. 

 

Dr. Lisa Belisle:

That's an interesting comment because I think many people think of Maine as a place where they allow their senses to rest. I think a lot of people arrive over the bridge from New Hampshire into Maine, and they feel a sense of release and quiet and peace. But as an artist and someone who spends his life really focusing on images, I can see how that would have the opposite effect. 

 

James Bonner: 

I've just had episodes where I've just had to, you know, forcibly calm down, just calm down. There's plenty of time, you know, you can come back to this, you don't have to get it right now, it's gonna be here, but some things are fleeting though. Some images you come on, you have to get at that moment because you'll never get another opportunity. And I don't actually do a lot of plein air type work where I'm actually out in the field painting.  I do some with watercolor because it's an immediate type of medium you know, you can put it down quickly and there's not a lot of preparatory work.  But with egg tempera, oil, and acrylic, I prefer to lock myself in the studio and work on those images in the studio. 

 

James Bonner: 

But I do use sketches, you know, a sketchbook. I do use my camera. I take it with me a lot. And I do take a lot of reference images to work from. And like I said, some images you have to capture right then and there, they're not gonna be, you're not gonna get another opportunity. So that's why I try to have a way to do that. To always capture something that I see that I want to get, that I feel like will never, I'll never get another opportunity. 

 

Dr. Lisa Belisle: 

When you were growing up, did your family members encourage you to get into art? 

 

James Bonner: 

When I was in high school, I had a high school teacher that was a big influence of mine. I also played sports. I was a football player. I'm getting to my family here in a roundabout way. So I was into athletics, football, but I also had this artistic side. I don't think my father really understood my artistic side so much. Not that he discouraged it, but I think he would've rather that I’d gone on and played sports at a higher level. When I got to college, I decided to study art instead of football.  Started, you know, instead of going on and playing football, which I had opportunities to do, but I chose to, to go art with the art side of me. So I don't think I got a lot of encouragement art wise. 

 

James Bonner: 

 My mom was always very supportive of me either way.  As I think most of my others are. I mean, you know, my dad had a little bit more trouble with the artistic side and he just enjoyed sports and football so much, and all my siblings were supportive of me, but it wasn't particularly an artistic family. So I was kind of on my own, you know, I kind of forged my own path there, which was okay, which is fine. I have a brother and two sisters, so I come from a family where we all have, you know, done different things and that's fine. And that's, there's nothing wrong with that. 

 

Dr. Lisa Belisle:

Did your father play football himself or did your brother or sisters play football or play sports? 

 

James Bonner:

Oh no, my dad did some when he was young. My brother is a physician, a family physician. He did play football. He was two years younger than me. He also played football and he was into sports and he had offers to play too, but he chose to go to medical school and be a doctor. So he kind of went another way also, but everyone in my family's been very encouraging of my artistic endeavors, I would say.

 

Dr. Lisa Belisle:

Well, please, as a fellow family physician, please do give my regards to your brother because it actually is very special and important work that he is doing right now. And certainly one that is not very easy. So we're lucky to have him doing that out there. 

 

James Bonner: 

He is. Um he's my brother and I'm so proud of him. I mean, he's just, I think he's a phenomenal physician kind of from the old school physician. He does a little bit of everything I think. And he works with a lot of rural farmers and things like that, because the area that he's in, in Arkansas, he has a lot of people that come in from that farm and things like that. So he's just a good guy and a good doctor. 

 

Dr. Lisa Belisle: 

I think I can relate a little bit because even though I practice in Maine, we also have a fair number of patients who come from rural parts of the state and I'm actually doing distance based doctoral studies through the University of Arkansas. So it's been very interesting for me to be working with people who are from a very different part of the country. And it's, I think the culture that you grow up in for you, it was Arkansas. I mean, it really does influence your life in a way that you probably don't recognize while you're growing up. 

 

James Bonner:

I would agree. I would agree. That's interesting. That's pretty cool that you're working with – is a  bridge from the medical, from University of Arkansas, the medical, 

 

Dr. Lisa Belisle: 

Actually the program I am doing is the Doctoral program and is with the University of Central Arkansas. So we're doing it mostly with teachers, but it's a community based leadership program. So that's even more interesting because I get to work with people not only from Arkansas, which is very different from Maine, but also people who are nothing like me. So 

 

James Bonner: 

Yes well Arkansas's  a great state. The people are warm and friendly and so are the people here in Kittery in Maine? I mean, it's kind of the same thing. It's just different accents, you know, basically. But Arkansas is, I mean it is a great state and I've always loved living here in Arkansas, but for some reason I have just had this infatuation with New England. And I think a lot of that did start when I started studying the Wyeth’s and you know, the other artists that worked here in Maine. But I also love the architecture, the New England architecture. The clapboard houses are something that just really drew me to that style of architecture.  I loved, even though I don't have anything, you know, behind me, but I do incorporate a lot of the white clapboard houses, New England houses.  

 

James Bonner: 

And I just get the biggest thrill out of painting the light. It falls across the New England, Cape style houses. The clapboard houses, the windows in these houses. I just love to paint the way light hits those houses. And that's one of the things that attracted me to New England was the simplicity of the architecture. The early architecture I'm talking about and that style of house. I would also say that something that interests me about New England too, was the kind of the birth of our country in this area. You know that's really kind of interested me too, like, this is where the area of the country began and just always kind of interested me. I always wanted to just be a part of that for some reason, not that I'm shunning Arkansas or anything, but I've always had this interest since I started, really in college studying the artists that I liked about really being a part of this part of the country, where we all began, where it began. 

 

James Bonner:

It's just taken me a while to get here, to actually live here, but you know, sometimes things take a while to mature and I'm just glad I'm able to get here now. And I've got hopefully enough time to produce a lot more work from this area.

 

Dr. Lisa Belisle:

We’re very lucky to have you here in Maine.  I encourage people who want to learn more about James Bonner, or his art, to go to the Portland Art Gallery in Portland or to the Portland Art Gallery website. Also, come to one of the openings at the Portland Art Gallery and perhaps you will meet James there. It's certainly been a pleasure for me to get to know you today, James. Thank you for joining me. 

 

James Bonner: 

Well, thank you, Lisa. It's been a pleasure being a part of this today. I'm not gonna lie, I've been a little bit nervous about this. It has been a pleasure though. 

 

Dr. Lisa Belisle:

Well, you did a great job. 

 

James Bonner:

Well, thank you. Thank you.