Welcome back to Jewels of Apator, Ann & Jeff VanderMeer's column about the intersection of art and the fantastic. Bonni Reid often displays an uncanny meshing of the real and the surreal in her artwork-it's as if she's recording something odd or disturbing that's just happened in her backyard. Some of her strangest work takes the form of what appear to be formal portraits. "Deadpan" is also an apt description of her art. However, there's also an underlying sense of play or the mischievous. Full-blown humor comes out in Reid's work as a color designer for animation productions, including six seasons of Cartoon Network's Ed, Edd ‘n Eddy. We talked to Reid about her work, and put together a gallery of her best stuff.
Aesthetically, Reid says she has the most affinity with SF through steampunk:
I've always been drawn to the past, but since I have only my perception to go by when depicting even the true stories, the result will always be somewhat fictional. Of course that's partly what science fiction is, whether it be about the past or the future, it's an interpretation...I can't say that my influences are considered science fiction in the classic sense. Paintings from the Renaissance, Art Nouveau, Max Ernst, and Joseph Cornell are inspirational. Vintage anatomical/biological illustration, mechanical diagrams, contraptions, alchemy and Victorian portraits also play into it. Stories like The Picture of Dorian Grey, or tales of time travel, ghost stories, legends, and old radio shows. I'm just as influenced by odd family stories that seem to arise every so often as well.
Retro technology plays a large role in Reid's work:
I began interpreting late 19th and early 20th Century technology in my pictures, maybe as a result of our own technological evolution. Ironically, as the Industrial Age comes to an end, and the Technology Age begins, subconsciously, people seem to be drawn back to the other turn of the century. In regards to modern technology, you can look at it from the point of view that it will be someone else's eccentric inspiration in the future. I have a bit of a love/hate thing going on with the modern world actually. Mentally and visually, I'm drawn to the past, but because of modern technology, not only am I able to use a computer as a tool for commercial work, but also I'm able to lay out the preliminary stages for paintings, although I still use classical methods (traditional gesso, egg tempera, oil) to execute them.
Some of her inspiration comes from her upbringing. Her father was a flight engineer "for the RCAF, then was shot down and became a POW for the last six months of WWII," then became a mechanical engineer. Reid's mother served as a nurse in London during the Blitz. She explains:
People of that generation tend to not talk much about dark, uncomfortable subjects, although every so often I would get a story out of nowhere. My dad was also a bit eccentric, so you could never be quite sure what he was up to. He'd have all these strange projects on the go like a Day of the Dead skull hanging in a macramé plant hanger (for realism, he glued his own hair on it), and often he'd include me, his baffled daughter, in the process. There was also the ‘Planet amongst the Stars' wall art-I should add that the planet was a big piece of driftwood, the stars were Christmas lights that he wired through the other side of the wall and the atmosphere was dark brown fake wood paneling. In his workshop you'd often hear him muttering and swearing, whether he was hammering, sawing, or drafting. He'd also leave odd little notes everywhere—to me, my mum, but mostly to himself.
Recently, Reid had a show at La Luz de Jesus Gallery in LA. Soon, she will finish up a long running animated series with a.k.a. Cartoon Inc. in Vancouver. See more in on Bonni Reid's gallery.