Bob Bonies

In the Netherlands constructivist art looks back on a long tradition. The group “de Stijl” originated in the 1920s and in the course of time came to shape the development of constructivist art decisively, so that it is today considered by art critics to be one of the main directions in classical modern art. The creed of the “de Stijl” group still influences art, architecture, and industrial design in the Netherlands today, in that it continues to live as a creative maxim in the aesthetic program “Less is more”.

Bob Bonies can be considered to be a successor of the “de Stijl” movement in as much as he did not just restrict himself to free art alone but extended his artistic work to architecture, industrial design, and art teaching, and exemplified the aim of those pioneers who wanted to use their artistic ideas for shaping their surroundings. Moreover, he can also be considered a pioneer of the second generation, as his constructivist painting imparted a new impetus to the geometric direction of art in the Netherlands of the 1960s.

Prototyp, 1965

Prototyp, 1965, acrylic on wood, 30 x 30 cm

Were one to look for a conceptual motif in Bonies' art work, one would in the first instance cite the theory of Josef Albers on “The Unity behind the Many” and “The Many behind the Unity”. His method, however systematic it may be, is directed less towards the programmatic and more towards investigating the potential of variables. Thus Bonies’ art work does not develop in a serial way as is usual in the constructivist domain, but rather in a sequence of cycles of works whose themes recur with varied points of view. The only fixed factor in Bonies’ investigation over many years into color and form is his handling of colors: he has always used and today still uses only four colors, namely the three primary colors red, yellow and blue, the secondary color green (as the complementary color of red) and the noncolor white. On the other hand, he has given the handling of form as well as of format a more open interpretation. His vocabulary of forms includes differently weighted categories of areas with linear edges (stripes of varying thickness, triangles, and rectangles) arranged in the three classical directions horizontal, vertical and diagonal, and has in the last years been extended to include the circle as well as the circular segment. The basic colors and forms appear in different systems of arrangements, of which there are, as regards their number and combination, essentially two types of picture. First there is the closed and contained absolute shape of the square which dominates Bonies’ work and which also occurs standing on a corner (diamond), and then there is, so to speak, the polarly opposed type, the “shaped canvas”, which is sometimes included in the shaping of the picture. This novel shape was developed by American artists during the 1960s and was intended to free them from the traditional rectangular pictorial shape in order to achieve a congruence between picture and format, as well as at the same time attaining an enhanced objectivity.

Were one to seek a common denominator for Bob Bonies’ process of visualization which now encompasses nearly four decades, one would surely find it in the dynamic extension based on a tension-laden balance of forces. Thus, for example, Bob Bonies combines progression with rotational moment in a square format and at the same time quasi extends the construction beyond the boundaries of the picture (Without Title, 1986, p. 22). Or he achieves a displacement of the diagonal axis in a “shaped canvas” by flapping open the upper part of the picture (Without Title, 1987, p. 30). This virulent dynamization of elements has in the last years been further heightened by a return to the method of omission practised in the 1960s (Without Title, 1966, p. 19) or the inclusion of the circular segment (Without Title, 2002, p. 29). In the multipartitioned pictures, several parts constituting the whole are omitted, leaving the completion of the gaps to the imagination (Without Title, 2003, p. 42). Furthermore, the basic system of proportional partitioning in the multipartitioned picture is now harder to comprehend. Thus, in recent years his intention has distanced itself from the initial elementary order and has proceeded in the direction of increased complexity, without, however, renouncing his reductionist convictions. The pictorial organization continues to be based on the interpretation of progression, rotation, displacement of axes and omission, but the extensive character of the most recent works is more strongly accentuated.

Prototyp, 1967

Prototyp, 1967, acrylic on wood, 30 x 30 cm

In view of the prevailing social background, it is not difficult to interpret this tendency to break through the boundaries as a characteristic of Bonies’ democratic understanding of art and his typical open-mindedness. Willy Rotzler has used the medium of sailing to describe Bonies’ work. He considers his works to be “sheer as a sail, reduced to minimal essentials”, and they suggest “a dry cheerfulness and distant vision, as is typical of a coastal, seafaring people” (Rotzler, Willy: Bob Bonies und Nelly Rudin. In: Zwei Künstler aus zwei Ländern - Nelly Rudin, Bob Bonies. Zuger Kunstgesellschaft (ed.), 1989). Bonies’ paintings appear cheerful and composed, inspired by the pioneering spirit of the 1960s, as if the artist were at all times prepared to send his pictorial intentions across the seven seas.

Elisabeth Grossmann