Talking Technology with Bonard Hughins (#94)
In a time when technology is changing and morphing around us so quickly that we are all in a steady state of flux and perpetual catch-up, Bonard Hughins‘ paintings (NAP #94) offer us a respite.
In his portraits, Hughins mimics the CMYK color process that was used to increase printing speed and efficacy, but in painting it by hand (his process averages a couple of weeks per painting), he also reverses this technological development as if to slow down the rapid pace at which our iPads, iPods, and phones seem to lull us with their siren song...If technology is constantly propelling us to the Land of Two Steps Forward, then Hughins is consciously looking and taking one step back. - Ellen Caldwell, LA Contributor
EC: I was really drawn to your pieces because of the way in which you are mimicking something so technical and technological (the CMYK color process), but you are doing so by hand with traditional painterly techniques and mediums (acrylic on canvas). Does your process speak to your feelings about technology?
BH: I've always been interested in taking a concept, theory, or method and looking for new applications for it. In this series it's just taking an already existing process and applying in reverse of its intentions. It kind of defeats the purpose of the original purpose of the CMYK process.
The printing process was developed for speedy mass production in order to reach as many people as possible. With this series it's using the same concept of production, but by hand instead of a press, to create a singular object that will not be seen by many. With all of the possibilities that technology affords, there are so many variations on what can be done. I think how technology is perceived is up to the artist and also to the time they live in. I feel the relationship between people and technology changes from generation to generation.
EC: What first led you to incorporate this aesthetic and process into your acrylics?
BH: My dad had a print shop when I was growing up. I think being in that environment influenced me without me realizing it. While working there years ago, I tried the same process with stencils and spray paint and it worked well. This time I wanted to try it with more control and have a more personal touch in the process. I've used oils, India ink, and screen printing ink along with acrylic to see which medium works best. I was also interested in how this technique would translate on a larger scale.
EC: You call your approach "multilingual in the visual sense." How do you see your work as a means of communicating?
BH: I think the more methods, medium, and approaches you have experience with, the better it helps you with ways of communicating. It's like having an expanded vocabulary. But from experience, I think trying too many new things at once can dilute ideas.
EC: I love this idea that the more mediums you are fluent in, the more expanded your vocabulary. And it is interesting how your style cross-references this totally mechanized process while also recreating a kind of new Pop art, reminiscent of Roy Lichtenstein and his use of Ben-Day dots.
You depart from this on many levels, though, making the images personal, detailed, and compelling in their intimate depiction of your loved family and friends.
BH: I like the idea of it looking what to some is Pop art, but the people that are the subject of this series not being popular figures.
I once had an art dealer tell me that he could sell these paintings if they were of celebrities. Why paint an image of someone whose face and name is already scattered across the media landscape? I don't want to contribute anything to that. I'm also fascinated with the idea that the people I've painted are people I presently know, and these paintings will be a reminder of this time for me and them years down the line.
EC: What art inspires and influences you now?
BH: Really the only thing that inspires me is everyday living and trying to make sense of the whole thing. I think when a person decides to create anything, there is something to learn from it. I'm inspired by what I see from other artists here in Birmingham. The internet is also is great to for me to see what others are doing around the world. I hope to see more virtual artwork that only exists in cyberspace.
EC: What do you think that cyberspace art will look like/looks like? Have you contributed to that movement?
BH: People are experiencing the world more and more through the internet and it only seems natural to use the internet as a medium itself. I would like to see that evolve more. I don't quite know what it should evolve to or what it means though. I have very limited and already dated web skills, but I hope to work with it more in the future.
EC: Your work was recently featured in two very different shows -- one works on paper and the other sculptural. What’s the difference in working with these mediums and how do they speak to your expanded visual vocabulary? Do you feel like viewers relate to both?
BH: Working on paper and with 2D material always seemed instinctual. I've been drawing since I was old enough to hold a crayon. I had quite a learning curve to get over to work sculpturally. I worked at the McWance Science Center in the exhibits department for a few years and it taught me immensely about working with more sculptural materials that I was always apprehensive of using. Now it seems just as natural as working with paper and pencil. I do believe it's helped me feel more confident in being able to express myself in something other than 2D. I’m not sure if people who view what I make two dimensionally and three dimensionally see a consistent relation. I'm still trying to figure it out myself. I'm still exploring both worlds and working on bridging that gap.
Ellen C. Caldwell is an LA-based art historian, editor, and writer.