Centerfold Artist

Mr. August, Bonner Sale

Back in the summer, Trop went on hiatus, and you missed your August Centerfold Artist.

We don’t let things like that go, so, today, we go back in time, to present Mr. August, Bonner Sale. Bonner is a painter who currently lives and works in Washington, DC. He has shown widely in New York City, Baltimore, and the DC area. His next show will be at Project 4 Gallery on March 29th, as part of the Centerfold Artist exhibition. To learn more about his work please visit his website.

And, yes, you read that right. We’re having a Centerfold Artist exhibition. Starting March 29th and running through May 3rd, we’ll be at Project 4 Gallery, showing all our Centerfolds’ work together in one place. The Washington Post’s Museums blog called our lineup “a veritable hipster Who’s Who.” We’re not completely sure what that means, but we think we’re flattered.

As for this last episode, we decided to tear up the rulebook, and we invited Bonner Sale into our studio to discuss his datasheet. Keep an ear out, at the end of the podcast, for special instructions on how to win an original work of art….

The fun didn’t end with the podcast:

Centerfold Artist: You work a lot with narrative, and your characters seem to be going through a lot of struggle or personal transition. The settings seem dark, even medieval. How would your describe your themes?

Bonner Sale: For the past four years, I’ve been working on a single body of work, and it falls under the title, Troubled Magic. It’s a little prehistoric. It’s alternative history. It’s a little first testament, biblical kind of stuff with a lot of human transformation and religious-related events happening. It’s about struggle.

CA: Human struggle?

BS: No. It’s not our struggle.


CA: So your characters aren’t human. Who are they? What are they?

BS: The story takes place on a kind of a magical leprosy island, No one is human anymore. Everyone is has had some sort of mutation or physical change. And characters recur throughout the paintings. While developing this world, I have come to realize there are a couple of very singular stories as well as a broader story. It’s a story is of a people who have very little but are trying to find peace, trying to live through their differences. The paintings themselves are glimpses into this little world in my head, like I’m showing you a trailer to a film. Initially, there was no story but rather a strong desire to make these characters come to life and describe their world. The stories have been developing as I continue to paint. The time spent actually physically creating the paintings allows my mind to wander and think of the stories for the characters.


CA: Is the Troubled Magic world a place that’s foreign to you still? Are you trying to understand it yourself? Or do you already know the world well, and you’re choosing to show us a little bit at a time?

BS: Troubled Magic is the world I see when I don’t want to be on Earth. It’s always been there waiting for me, so in some regards its home, but I’m still learning to describe it. There is nothing held back from the viewer: each piece is a balls to the wall complete expression of the moment.

CA: Not only do you have that crazy narrative, but your work is very formally complex. The paintings have dynamic spaces, and often they have several access points. You can flip the painting horizontal and up-side-down and the image still makes sense. How, physically speaking, do you construct a painting?

BS: I draw from my imagination with pencil first. Then the more engaging and physically long  part is the actual painting of the piece, the color choices, getting things to react to each other. Making sure ghost blood is luminescent and cat fur looks fluffy and thick. I work in gouache. Half of me wants to be faithful to the characters and their story and the other half of me wants to ground myself in the expression of painting. Painting is something that I love to do and never see myself stopping; I’ve always been a painter, even before the Troubled Magic concept.


CA: Do you see Troubled Magic ending?

BS: I don’t. It’s still a growing idea. The physical paintings aren’t even the half of what I would like it to achieve. I’ve been developing a fairy tale, a story about redemption and the belief that humanity can triumph over disease and religion. So in many ways I have just begun.

CA: On your datasheet you mentioned making toys and cartoons as an ambition of yours. Would you want these projects to relate to Troubled Magic, or would you want them to be based off something completely different?

BS: I see them directly relating to Troubled Magic. The toys and the cartoon come from wanting to build this universe and push the paintings further into real life. I want people to experience the physical aspect of Troubled Magic objects in their hands. And I want them to experience something that is not only visual but also auditory, with a catchy theme song and epic opening of course. I would love Troubled Magic to reach everyone, for it to be a force bigger than I, and to live on in peoples hearts. I think of Iron Maiden when I think the level of success I want Troubled Magic to achieve.


CA: Maybe its because we asked you about ’80s movies on your datasheet, or it was the type of musical artists you listen to, or maybe its because we know you and know you like watching throwback films.

BS: Yes, I’m a little stuck in the past.

CA: So what is it then? What do you love about the ’80s?

BS: I think it has to do with my childhood and the aesthetics that I surrounded myself with. I do enjoy contemporary things, but there was some sort of creative magic in the 1980s aimed at children. I imagine this long Jimi Hendrix guitar solo riffing out monsters, robots and mythology. In the ’80s, we were given this weird set of childrens toys that achieved a caliber of awesomeness that doesn’t exist anymore. Some favorites just to rattle off the top of my head: Inhumanoids, Super Naturals, Rock Lords, Thundercats, Masters of the Universe, Cops vs. Crooks.

CA: You like the weirdness aspect of the ’80s?

BS: Yeah, it was a strange time. Craftsmanship met a mark with toys and cartoons, and there was a Pandora’s box of fantasy and science fiction. It probably started with Star Wars, but then it got really thick. We had robots that turned into almost anything, a vast array of barbaric and non-barbaric fantasy and futurisitic army forces. The 80’s are a wonderful place to look back to.


CA: The research you do for your work is atypical. Instead of focusing on museums, institutions, or other artists, it seems like you research what you consume. You learn about movies and toy makers. You learn about the toys themselves. What is your go-to place for research?

BS: I have been watching a lot of Filmation cartoons. They’re the studio that did Masters Of The Universe, Bravestarr, and Star Trek: The Animated Series. There is a unique simple quality to the rotocasted animation that I admire. The way they were able to achieve the colors in their background has been a big goal in my work. But I do look at a ton of artwork, new and old. There are a lot of Bay Area artists that I follow, and I’ve been developing a sweet tooth for pre-modern artwork. The older I get the more I develop a taste for the old masters. There’s a lot to be said for the skill set and dedication that artists had years ago. I am currently collecting books on the Brueghel family, which I find completely fascinating and inspiring.


CA: One last question: What is up with you and your cat?

BS: She is my best friend.

CA: Is she going to be in the wedding?

BS: I wish she could be in the wedding. She has to stay in DC. She is definitely a house cat. She is seven years old. I rescued her from a landscape job that I had in college. Mogwia is one of the reasons life is wonderful.

CA: Thank you Bonner for talking with us, sharing your practice, and donating a piece! We think your paintings are wonderful.

Be sure to post this on Facebook to be entered in to the raffle. You could win your very own Bonner Sale!

Zac Willis, born in southwest MO, is an artist living and working in Washington, DC. An avid collector of toys and an obsessive documentarian, Willis redirects his energies toward amassing the stories of others in Centerfold Artists.

Annette Isham makes art work and lives in Washington, DC.