Fredericton, NB, December 16, 2014 – Sculptor and former Marine Don Bonham was a colourful individualist with a fantastical artistic vision. He was an inspiring mentor to numerous art students, a godfather to more than eighty apprentices, and a surprising and formidable anomaly in the art world. He died on Monday, December 15 at age 74.
The first American visual artist to be appointed to the Royal Canadian Academy, Bonham came to prominence in the late 1960s in London, Ontario, where he quickly gained international notoriety for his highly original, finely crafted, figurative fiberglass sculpture based on evocative human/technology hybrids – motorcycles, cars, boats, airplanes, and helicopters fused with casts of the female body. Characterized by uncompromising attention to technical detail and finish, his work merged fantasy and reality, satiric humour and eroticism, high-tech and low-tech and high art and low art, in a life-long exploration of the physical, symbolic, and psychological relationships between ourselves and machines. With feature articles about his sculpture appearing in Playboy magazine in the 1970s, his approach to making art was viewed by the international art critic Edward Lucie-Smith as more firmly integrated with North American popular culture than the work of celebrated Pop Art practitioners Roy Lichtenstein and Andy Warhol.
Called “the original cyber-punk artist” and “the Evel Knievel of the art world”, Bonham was the bad boy of the Canadian art establishment, and personified the machines he created by living life and making art at full throttle. He stated: “What made me a good artist was that I didn’t have a lot of things growing up, so I had to make them. There’s nothing better than working hard to create something you’re proud of and excited by. It’s almost better than sex.”
I had the pleasure of his teaching, not only in sculpture class at HB Beal (London) but also helping in his studio. The work entailed producing female plaster body forms and then creating fibreglass additions to put on motorcycles.
If you’re interested in seeing some of his work, please check out these links:
Don was a regular guy and a great artist and I will miss him.