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Re-touching the sensory experience - 
the figurative paintings of

Photo of the artist Steve Bonner in his studio“Art, love and passion are very closely related. Because they all hinge more or less on realisation of beauty in some form or other, or in its pleasure- taking. And the intoxication is exquisite." (Max Beckmann)


An English artist, Steve Bonner is well known in the UK for his watercolour landscapes, his oil paintings of marine, figure and portrait subjects, and as a muralist and Trompe L'oeil artist. Steve was born in Huntingdonshire, England in 1951. Drawing and painting since he was able to hold a brush or crayon, it's surprising Steve didn't yearn for a formal art school education, choosing instead to become a display artist for a major department store chain, now the Harrods group.


Window dressing however, wasn't for him but it did lead to exploring the many associated trades and skills, from screen-printer to sign-writer, graphic artist and poster artist - and it was as a poster artist that Steve spent most of his working life: 'working life' being the way he describes the years he spent doing what he thought he had to do - before he realised he didn't! He spent many of those years producing the hand-painted marketing material for the top night clubs in London and the South East of England. Whilst he remains proud of the heavily illustrated work he produced in those days it became monotonous - although he is the first to admit that the accompanying lifestyle was far from it. From the artistic point of view those years were far from wasted. His graphic background, although not as easily discernable as it once was, is still present in his most recent work, and his unashamed hedonism still shines through delightfully in his unique and highly individual style.


As the years went by, the industry was constantly becoming increasingly computerised and rather than abandon his pSteve Bonner at his show in The Gallery of Caribbean Art Barbadosaint brushes, it became clear that, little by little, life was pushing towards one vocation.

Steve had flirted with fine art in his late twenties when a tour of Europe eventually led to Paris. With inspiration on every boulevard painting was inevitable and the work started to flow and almost as importantly, to sell. It would be interesting to speculate why he turned away from art back then. “I'm ashamed to say I wasn't prepared to go without,” he says, “Establishing oneself as a professional artist, rather than just a hobbyist, is hard graft, it's a struggle – I was young, single and, frankly, I had other things on my mind. The frightening thing about life is that if you don't do what you know you should – it'll find a way to make you!”


So by the late-nineties he had decided to concentrate on fine art: that it was all or nothing. And it's often been next to nothing: life for many professional painters is a mixture of success and struggle, but it is a good life, and one he wouldn't swap for the world.


Whilst Steve's work adorns the walls of many beautiful homes all over the world he cheerfully admits, that to the best of his knowledge, it has never been purchased as an investment by a pension fund or insurance company. "I can't think of a worse fate for any serious painter" he's on record as saying, "I paint my work to be seen, to be enjoyed, to brighten up some-ones home, that's the measure of my success as a artist. I don't spend weeks on a painting to have it moulder somewhere in a crate in the hope that it will increase in value. I'd rather leave that to the many contemporary artists whose work should be mouldering in crates!"  He resents the fact that the galleries are often asked if his work will increase in value "Buy it because you love it" he says, "That's the only reason there should ever be for investing in a painting and, as with anything you truly love, it will repay your investment ten fold!"


He is often referred to as a realist. “It might look that way at first glance” he says, “but in fact I'm more of an impressionist. Obviously not in the accepted sense, my style is vastly different, but certainly in as much as I seek to convey the impression not the reality. Take for example a piece of work in this show in Barbados, 'Chalky Mount'. It looks, I hope you'll agree, exactly like Chalky Mount. When I started to paint it it I sat at the easel, surrounded by my photographic reference, drew it out, checked it, and thought to my self “It doesn't look like that – no way!” The problem is that the camera doesn't lie and the photographs I was working from show it exactly as it is - but that’s not the half of it!

When you actually stand at the foot of that huge great rock your senses are aware of much more than the reality. Your senses register awe, majesty, magnificence – all of which are lost in the photograph – my job is to put that back, so my painting isn't as it actually is – it's as you see it. Bonners re-touching of the sensory experience was explored at some depth by Marsha Pearce in ‘Travel, Tourism and Art’, published by Ashgate.


Asked if he regrets being self taught and missing out on an art school education he explains that he considered applying in his mid-thirties as a mature student. "I actually consulted my old art master! He looked at my work and said, 'Don't do it! They won't be able to teach you anything about colour, or paint handling, and you'll spend all day arguing with your tutors.' Sure, I'd like to know where my art might have gone, had I been to art school in my youth. But then again it's been my own journey. For better or worse my painting is just that - it's mine - nobody else's ideas, nobody else's concept of what constitutes 'good art' - and do you know what? I'm happy with that."




Biography of the artist Steve Bonner