AN INTERVIEW WITH THE ARTIST 2021
Question: What are you are working on now?
((bonaimo)): My major current project, which I started in January 2020, draws inspiration from the experiences of my ancestors. It's a visual story of a turn of the century Sicilian family told through the art of assemblage. I use found objects (vintage and modern), paper (vintage ephemera and modern artisan) as well as personal mementos. I want to connect to my ancestors in a more intimate way and bring their stories to life to share with others. I seek to put the struggles they faced in historical context, highlighting events which not only effected their lives, but also shaped the world at large.
Some themes I’m working with:
1. My maternal grandparents and the Brooklyn homes they owned including a home he built in the "country" (Long Island)
2. The Steamship journey and the Ellis Island experience through the eyes of my maternal grandmother/ great grandmother
4. Manhattan tenement buildings and my immigrant relatives who lived there.
5. My paternal Bonanno family and their early years in America
6. Domestic life of women circa 1920
7. The 1918 Flu Epidemic
8. The Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire of 1911 and my lucky Great Aunt who called out of work sick that day.
Question: What art process do you use?
((bonaimo)): Having earned a Fine Art degree in metalsmithing, my focus was on jewelry design for many, many years. I have always approached my jewelry as “small scale sculpture” so making the shift towards larger scale sculptural assemblage pieces of art was a natural progression for me. Assemblage is like 3-D collage using found objects.
I work on multiple works of art simultaneously, using elements from my extensive collection of found objects which I have lovingly foraged from second hand stores. I sew, bolt, drill, glue, collage, stamp, emboss, paint, sand, saw, mold, bend, wire wrap and forge the various parts of my designs until I believe I have achieved creating a work of art that is both masterfully crafted and aesthetically intriguing.
Question: How do you take an idea from concept to completion?
((bonaimo)): When I am inspired about an art project I think about it day and night. First it starts off as a vague idea, possibly inspired by a found object, or a photo, or an concept I want to convey. Mentally, throughout the day- while I’m going about the normal business of life- I’m developing the concept and theme. It's like running an App in the background of my mind. I’m researching facts and ideas. Maybe I’ll sit with my sketchbook and jot down phrases, thoughts and concept drawings.
I’ll go through my bins filled with random found objects that I've collected over the years and look for the perfect things to incorporate into my ideas. I’ll brainstorm about how I am going to put the pieces together from a master crafts-person standpoint (How can I assemble this so it is sturdy enough for display in a gallery?) I’ll make a supply list if I’m missing anything to complete each project. I’ll look through my boxes of papers and documents and old photos to see what might work. All this preparation before I “start” to make the artwork. But you see, the start has already begun.
Once I start working on a piece, and I usually have several works of art in progress at the same time, I will first layout the elements on my workbench. I'll rearrange them until it think they feel "right". and then I start gluing/ painting/sanding/sewing/ wirewrapping/drilling and whatever else it takes to connect the elements.
Then I sleep on it and look at it with fresh eyes in the morning and it starts all over again. Most pieces from this collection take about 15 hours to complete (not counting the preparation time).
Question: Where do you find your elements? Explain this process of foraging for found objects.
((bonaimo)) : I have been collecting found objects and ephemera for many years now. Combing through thrift stores, antique stores and resale shops has been a sort of therapy for me. I relish alone time to slowly roam through the aisles and contemplate disparate items on the shelves. Or to reminisce about objects that remind me of my childhood. I wonder about the many random discarded items that end up in bins and the people that may have owned them. When I find something that speaks to me and the price is right- I buy it. I don’t know how or when I will make art with it... but I just know one day it’ll be exactly what I need for a project.
Funny thing is... in mid 2019 I sorted through my numerous storage bins to cull my collection. It had been years since I was inspired to create something really artistic out of found objects. Flash forward to early January 2020... my brain (and sketchbook) was brimming with ideas and concepts for a new collection of art. I pulled out all my bins and when I opened this one particular bin and sorted through it- pretty much every random thing in this box spoke to me in relation to my new project concept. It’s like my new inspiration was germinating in my mind for years and years. All those things I knew were “perfect for something”- finally they have a purpose. How fun is that? It was like validation that I’m onto something big. And for the first time in a long time I have a distinct, focused, purposeful creative direction.
Question: How do you know when a piece is complete?
((bonaimo)) It’s instinctual. I hope that doesn't sound pretentious, but it really is quite hard to explain just why I know when it is done. Every part of the artwork just “feels” right when I consider it complete. Like it’s not missing anything. My goal is to create balance among the elements. Making certain the focal point of the piece isn’t overshadowed by the other components is as important as creating an aesthetically beautiful and interesting overall composition. When the artwork has a cohesive narrative and expresses my intention for creating it, that's a sign it is done. Often times, I will put aside a project and go back to it with fresh eyes. It also needs to be skillfully crafted and convey my intention to make something with thoughtful consideration.
Question: What is the significance of the symbol of wings in your artwork?
((bonaimo)) To me, wings represent someone who has passed away. Referencing the angel archetype, which many cultures and religions use to represent goodness and light. I like to think that my ancestors are keeping a protective watchful eye over me.
Question: There are lots of sewing notions, such as spools of thread, needles and stitching in your artwork, why?
((bonaimo)) My maternal Grandmother, Caterina was a expert seamstress and her finished basement was chock full of fabrics and ribbons and thread and all sorts of sewing supplies which instilled in me a love for fine materials. Her black Singer sewing machine was a workhorse. This mysterious basement of treasures is where I learned to cut patterns and sew. She had a curious shoe box filled with short pieces of string and thread. These lengths of thread were way too short for anything I would deem useful as a child and I never understood why she would save them. Now that I am an adult, I am an artist with numerous bins of scraps and bits and bobs that I'm sure most people would just discard. Finally, I understand my Grandma's reasoning!