Artist-graphic designer Bonnie Rieser delights in stretching the canvas
Trained as both an artist and a graphic designer, Bonnie S. Rieser '78 has found a way to combine her skills to create unusual works of art. Beginning with computer imagery and ending with brushstrokes, she creates canvases that are a far cry from the seventeenth- and nineteenth-century-style paintings she originally composed.
Her art is a study in contrasts. It has been described as warm and cool, symbolic and literal, controlled and abandoned, expected and surprising. Some might say it's a reflection of her own life.
When Rieser entered Kenyon, she intended to concentrate on psychology and political science. When she graduated, it was with a double major in art and philosophy. "When I took political science, I didn't do as well as I'd hoped. Then I took an art course and loved it," she recalls. Rieser says it was at the College that she found what she wanted to do, she had little idea where it would lead her.
Upon graduation, she returned home to Detroit, Michigan, and began studying with Gary Hoffman. "I saw a painting of his in an art store, and I was blown away," Rieser remembers. While her Kenyon professors taught her technique, she says, she learned problem-solving strategies and expression from Hoffman. During two years under his tutelage, she fell in love with the lushness and richness of colors. That, in turn, improved her ability to see and appreciate nature.
With Hoffman, Rieser says, she learned how light and dark, cold and hot colors relate. "I'm still influenced by all this today," Rieser notes. "What I learned from him is very important to me. Knowing how to keep my brain from getting in the way of seeing the color for what it really is and knowing how to paint form through blocks of colors helped me loosen up. Because of my training, I feel freer to go further and be wilder with my work. If I botch a painting, I can always bring it back. Some of my best designs are the ones that I've ruined first."
During her time with Hoffman, Rieser also learned that an artist's life does not always pay the bills. When she sold a painting, the gallery would take 50 percent of the sale. Once she took out the cost of the materials for the painting, there wasn't a lot left. It was then that Rieser turned to graphic design, heading east to Boston University where, in 1985, she earned her master's degree in that field. She did freelance work for the next ten years, working as an art director and graphic designer and creating computer-manipulated collages for banks and major corporations.
Once a client contacts her, Rieser will develop some ideas using words and images and then sketch out rough compositions. "My thumbnail sketches are sometimes really messy, but in my mind I know exactly what they'll look like," she says. She then begins working on a Photoshop file, cutting and pasting the images until she finds the unexpected results she is looking for.
Rieser says she is inspired by the natural world. "When I use symbols taken from nature, I can get more abstract. I can say more than with something conveyed literally. For example, a pear says `piece of fruit,' but it also implies life and simplicity. Whatever the symbol, though, it can't be so obscure that it fails to have any meaning for people."
Once the client has approved Rieser's initial sketches, she enlarges her Photoshop image and prints it onto canvas tiles. She remembers when she first decided to try printing on canvas, because Tektronix had advertised that anything could be put through their Phaser III PXI printer. Rieser took them at their word and tried the canvas. "The minute I saw it go through the machine, my style was born," she says. "Now I could make collages of realistic images on the computer and paint over them, speeding up the whole process. The canvas gave my passions an outlet. Painting over the images allowed me to be much more creative."
Rieser says she loves the variety presented by her commissions. She has done a four-by-eight-foot mural for a chain of kosher delicatessens in New York City as well as pieces for E. Warehouse, Christian Prayerbook, and Working Women magazine.
Looking back on her days at Kenyon, Rieser recalls her favorite memory: "Being on my own, stretching my wings, and trying new things." That memory just might sum up her life today.
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