Interview with Liv Bonli

Line Gallery: Why do you think you came to focus on drawing as opposed to another medium?

Liv Bonli: I’ve always drawn — as far back as I can remember.  I was a kid with pencils.   Drawing has been a constant in my practice, and informs my thinking about work in other mediums as well. Beyond that, however, I’m drawn to its simplicity and versatility.  Drawing is something that can be done almost anywhere and that you can take with you. It’s also extremely relatable: most people have experience with drawing. You can be dealing with very complex or very simple ideas, and there is always a point of entry for the viewer.

 

LG:  Are there any artists or experiences that have shaped/influenced your practice?

LB: I’ve been lucky to benefit from the instruction and mentorship of Alison Norlen and Patrick Traer during my time at the University of Saskatchewan, and David Merritt during my graduate studies at the University of Western Ontario.   I was an undergraduate when I first realized that drawing could be a focus in its own right. That was important.

LG: Why do you think drawing is important in contemporary art or as a practice?

LB: I see drawing as both a point of intersection and as a counterpoint to other ways of working.  Mark making is often the first experience with art and art making that we have as children –  and it continues to serve as a way of thinking through and processing information for both artists and non-artists alike.

Despite the fact that much of my current drawing practice is fairly traditional (i.e. mark making on paper), my understanding of drawing as a category is quite broad and inclusive. I think you can have a drawing sensibility that extends to ways of working in sculpture and installation, video-work, etc.

That being said, drawing’s relationship to the hand, and the transparency in its process, gives it an intimacy and immediacy that people have an appetite for.

 

LG: In terms of your process, how do you begin each drawing? Do you have a shape or layout in mind before you start?

LB: While I typically have a rough sense of where the work will head, the process is also one of reacting and thinking through line, particularly with the work that skews to the less representational.  As much as I may be creating an image, I’m very much responding to shapes, clusterings, densities.  The references for this series centre around architectural structures and materials, and I think there’s a parallel to construction or building in my process as I work to build up the image with smaller, individual components, thinking about how each relates and fits with the next.

 

LG: Was there a point in time or a process that brought you to work with architectural structures and materials as subjects?

LB: When I was quite young, a new house was built on our family farm, and lot of my memories involve running around the building site.  I was very intrigued by the materials, the building process, the framing — watching the structure emerge into something recognizable and habitable. Simultaneously, however, I had access to disintegrating granaries, barns  — structures that had fallen into disuse, or had been repurposed.  I continue to be interested in those types of juxtapositions.  We lay all sorts of associations and expectations over structures, and in the end they are so susceptible to many types of disruptions.

 

LG:  We have had a lot of visitors ask about ‘settle’ in regards to it being the only piece that contains colour. With the rest of the drawings in the exhibition showing restraint in colour, why did you choose to introduce colour into this piece?

LB: Much of my drawing explores the relationship between construction/explosion and ruin, with this exhibit focusing more on the former. At the same time, there’s always an element of play in both my process and thinking with these works.  ‘settle’ brings that playfulness a bit closer to the surface, but is in keeping with the way that I think about this series overall.

 

LG: You have aspects of your practice that have entered into the realm of installation and sculpture. Can you speak a little about this and about how these seemingly different ways of working are extensions of your drawing practice?

LB: I think the relationship is largely in the way that line continues to be fundamental to the work — whether it’s implied or actual.  When I make work that moves into installation or is more sculptural, it typically still relates strongly to a plane or planes, moving on and off the wall or floor.  I often find myself thinking about the space in which the work is situated or to which it relates as an expanded ground. This tends to be true whether I’m drilling a series of holes, placing sticks, or pinning paper. In that sense, perhaps it would be more accurate to think about these works less as installation/sculpture than as drawing that has just been just been moved off a page.

I tend to see my drawings and my installation/sculptural work as engaging in a conversation with each other.  This conversation isn’t one of plan to execution — but maybe one more akin to call and response.

 

LG:  The majority of your drawings are large-scale. How do you determine the scale for your work and why do you choose to work large?

LB: It really depends on the work.  I do enjoy the disjoint between the (small) scale of the individual elements of these drawings and their larger accumulated effect. However, the scale of the work does allow for a kind of playful wandering of marks across the page that is more difficult to play with in a more spatially constrained format.  And despite the fact that the marks for the most part may be highly controlled, I like the fact that there is a relationship to my scale, to my reach.

A viewer’s encounter with a drawing also tends to be influenced by the scale of the work.  With a larger work, it can begin from some distance away — and the experience changes as one nears the more intricate elements.  I like the idea of it unfolding — and not necessarily being experienced all at once.

 

LG: White space seems to play a significant role in your work. Could you share a bit about why you have included white space as an important feature of your drawing and perhaps how you think about the white space of the page on a conceptual level?

LB: For this work it was important to me that the fragments were not trapped by a defined edge.  A white surface can bleed into the wall, giving a drawing necessary room to breathe.  The open space acts as a counterpoint to the often tightly controlled, dense, line-based work, or coils.

There is also the potential for a great deal of implied spatial depth in the white of a page.  White space has the interesting ability to act as a reserve — both conceptually and figuratively. It’s not just neutral.

 

LG: Are there any drawers you have been looking at recently? Are there any Canadian drawers we should check out?

LB: There are lots!  But I’ll name a few that I’ve been following recently:  Dagmara Genda’s drawings traverse between traditional and non-traditional techniques, and I’m finding her recent work with vinyl-based installation really exciting. Tom Ngo’s architectural propositions and plans are compelling.  And Kristen Bjornerud — who I’m going to include as a “drawer” — does watercolours which suggest delightful yet vaguely unsettling narratives.

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