Our next Artist You Need To Know is Don Bonham (1940 – 2014). Bonham was a sculptor who produced monumental works that intersect with classical ideas about art and also incorporated contemporary references – especially as pertains to industry and technology. His work alternates between humour and a disturbing aesthetic that reflects back on a larger society.
In his own words: “The gap between human and machine is constantly shrinking. Are we to become more like machines, or machines more like us? The creators of technology have imbued machines with human characteristics, and this tendency is creating a more hospitable environment for their acceptance by society. As an artist I am only enlarging upon this concept.”
A native of Oklahoma City, Bonham spent his early life on a farm there. With his usual irreverence, Bonham has said that he marks the beginning of his interest in art from “drawing cartoons and things on bathroom walls and county jail ceilings.” A retrospective at The Beaverbrook Art Gallery offered more history about his growth as an artist: “After a tumultuous adolescence, local authorities determined that his behaviour required modification and encouraged him to join the service. Bonham enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps and served in an elite Recon unit in Southeast Asia. After six and a half years, he was honorably discharged to enter the University of Oklahoma as an Art History Major. He left university before graduating and worked in Detroit on a Ford assembly line before moving, in 1968, to London, Ontario, where he discovered a dynamic arts community that reinforced his decision to pursue a career as a visual artist.” In looking at many of his works, these experiences in mechanical and industrial spaces are sometimes subtle, sometimes more obvious, but always engaging in Bonham’s artworks.
Bonham’s work can be found in numerous collections, including Gallery Vallois (Paris, France), Art Gallery of Algoma (Sault Ste. Marie, ON), Art Gallery of Hamilton (Hamilton, ON), Canada Council Art Bank (Ottawa, ON), Confederation Centre Art Gallery and Museum (Charlottetown, P.E.I.), Daly Gordon Investments (Toronto, ON), London Regional Art Gallery (now Museum London, London, ON), Mclntosh Art Gallery, University of Western Ontario (London, ON), Steelcase, Inc. (Grand Rapids, Michigan) and the Grounds for Sculpture (Trenton, NJ).
Significant solo exhibitions have taken place at the Confederation Centre Art Gallery & Museum (Charlottetown, P.E.I.), Two Sculptors Gallery, Inc. (New York, New York), Mclntosh Gallery U.W.O. (London, ON), Pyramid Arts Center (Rochester, New York), Ian Brown Gallery (Toronto, ON), Art Gallery of Hamilton (Hamilton, ON), Galerie Dresdnere (Toronto, ON), London Regional Art Gallery (now Museum London, London, ON), Harbourfront Art Gallery (Toronto, ON), Florida State University Tallahassee (Florida), Sir George Williams University (Montréal, QC), Eastern Michigan University (Ypsilanti, Michigan), Michael Wyman Gallery (Chicago, Illinois), and Gallery Moos (Toronto, ON).
A more complete listing of exhibitions can be seen here.
Bonham received numerous awards, including several grants from the Canada Council. He was appointed a member of the Royal Canadian Academy of Arts in 1975 (the first American visual artist to be so honoured) and in 1997 was the recipient of the Alex J. Ettl Grant from the National Sculpture Society, for Lifetime Achievement.
Recently, EXILE Magazine had a feature on Don Bonham, offering an overdue look at his contributions to Canadian art history. Another article about his artwork, from the Telegraph Journal, can be enjoyed here.
Bonham once stated that he considers himself a “North American 20th – Century landscape artist…it’s not ducks and wildlife.” The previously cited text from the Beaverbrook Art Gallery (which amusingly refers to him as “the Evel Knievel of the art world”) offers more insight into Don Bonham’s life and career here, and a site that offers more information and images can be seen here.