Having known Peter Bodnar for a LONG time, in fact since my days in New Harmony, which date back forty years, I am always excited to see what he is up to, so the prospect of a show of new work at Swanson Contemporary (opening Oct. 7) is indeed something to look forward to.
I value Peter for lots of reasons, his thoughtfulness, his integrity, and ability to question authority, his persistence and dedication, his humor, both good and funky, and his ironic stance in the face of a non-caring universe. All these character traits show up in his art, which to my mind is the principal duty of being an artist: putting in, giving form to the world an authentic and personal vision.
These questions are all things, that while I had made assumptions about, I had never really asked Peter directly, so this was a chance to learn from him in a new way. — John Begley
When starting on a piece of work of art, what's the process?
PDBIII - An idea becomes a drawing, which begets more drawings until a path toward final execution is clear. Small models make form concrete and guide the larger work. Paul Klee showed me that one could invent a living world with a pencil and paper.
JPB – I am delighted to see the Paul Klee reference, have always liked his “taking a line on a walk” statement.
Since you work abstractly, how do you know when you are finished with a specific piece of art?
PDBIII - I’m not sure that the moment a work is “finished” is any different for abstract or representational work, having done both. It generally is the point at which something cannot be added without losing something else. I live with my pieces for a long time. They are released into the world when they possess fewer things that bother me than excite me. That said, the desire to make new work comes from a feeling that I never quite get it completely right.
JPB – I should have realized that you do work in a multitude of manners and not asked the question so narrowly. I find your explanation of not being able to add something without losing something to be very revelatory, and right. And the motivation to do new work because there was always a choice that you could have made, and did not, and therefore are not sure that you indeed get it right to be compelling.
Since you have long tenure in the Louisville art community, how are you feeling about local art scene in Louisville? What's good? What's not so?
PDBIII - Things change, some for the better, some not. I am especially grateful for the support & leadership you, John, have given this community over many years. With experience comes the long view. I am still dismayed at the lack of institutional support for regional artists. From an ART BASEL perspective, we’re all folk artists.
JPB – Thank you for the compliment, and I do agree that the art history of our community is neglected and deserves the same thoughtful analysis that work in other places receives.
You have exhibited with Chuck Swanson for several years, what are your thoughts on the artist/ dealer relationship? What makes it work?
PDBIII - I am lucky to have had Chuck’s friendship over these years. I have been able to show bodies of work in an un-curated context. The classic artist/ gallerist model is a rare bird these days, and Louisville is fortunate to still have a few long standing examples. Sales and promotion have few rewards in hinterland markets.
JPB – I think “un-curated” may be a bit misleading. Chuck’s ultimate curatorial choice is to choose the artist and then trust the artist to bring a cogent body of work to the exhibition space.
What advice would you give a young artist? Any regrets for paths not taken?
PDBIII - Beware of fashion and seriousness. Develop as many skill sets as possible. You will need and enjoy them. Knowing what I know now, I might have chosen another profession.
JPB – I find I am susceptible to the “seriousness” problem, and I think that is why I always find the“dada-fluxus” response so freeing. I have always loved your “eclectic” cooperative as absolutely fun, anti-seriousness in its most honest form.
What role do you think is important for an artist to play in a community? What is the artist's job?
PDBIII - I feel my job, as a citizen of this community, is to strive for equality and justice for all its members and to protect the environment of this place. That is my social practice. As an artist, I work to make the community a place that can support creative individuals. When I was starting out, I felt my challenge lay outside NYC, to forge a new art / community dynamic in flyover America. As an educator, I know I have made a difference in specific cases, but in general, after forty years, I fail to see much effect on the community as a whole.
JPB – I think many of us feel this frustration at the slowness of change, at the same time I remain hopeful that if we keep doing it, we might get it right at some point. I think you must feel the same way.
You have worked with ideas from science and mathematics for long periods in the past, what is exciting you now?
PDBIII - Same inspirations— just deeper, less literal— in my view. I want to see how an idea looks in the flesh, so I have to make it. I strive to make animate objects, so my metaphors are animal, vegetable & molecular.
JPB – Ideas incarnate, sounds almost religious.
You have used a variety of materials and media, as well as engaged in performance work, collaborations and installations, what is the cause of your restlessness? (I don't want to imply that question as a pejorative.)
PDBIII - I don’t / didn’t want to miss anything, so that when opportunities arose, I took the bait. Different audiences respond to different stimuli, and the question of whom you’re making your work for is an important one. I find I need a better “effort-to-return” ratio to prompt me in my golden years. Large installations with a clear narrative receive a predominance of media coverage, but are usually costly affairs that turn an artist into a fundraiser.
JPB – If we do this kind of thing again, I want to explore this idea of the artist as fundraiser. You have provoked me again in a most positive way.
Your father has had a successful career as an artist/teacher, how has that shaped your approach to making a life as an artist?
PDBIII -. My father has been a great influence on everything I do. I purposely ran in different directions as a youth in order to define my own self, but am constantly aware of how much I’ve circled back to the groove. His work ethic approach to art making—perspiration not inspiration-—kept me going from the start. I was fortunate to catch a career as artist –teacher before that model became difficult to maintain, and was able to develop my expertise in ways that were never available to him. He’s 87 and still painting and I am proud to be carrying on a family tradition.
JPB – Peter, thank you for your willingness to share these thoughts, as well as your work. I look forward to the new show at Swanson with much anticipation.
Peter Bodnar’s Neo Phenomena
Swanson Contemporary, October 7 - November 12, 2016
Opening Reception 5-8pm, October 7
This Curatorial Q&A was written by John Begley.
John Begley is a Printmaker, Installation and Video Artist. From 1975 to 2014 he was a Curator and Gallery Director, including 19 years as Executive Director of LVA and several years with the UofL’s Hite Art Institute, where he is now Coordinator of IHQ Project.
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