"The Dressing Room" by Erica Bonavida

Question and Answer with Painter, Erica Bonavida

Written by Kyle Cohlmia, curator of the UCO Melton Gallery

One of my favorite parts of the role of curator at the Melton Gallery is working with living artists. I love the way in which each artist is different; hearing about their unique approaches to the craft is an exciting experience. Additionally, it’s always an honor working with University of Central Oklahoma alumni who know the art department (many of whom comment on the once again experiencing the distinct smell of the paints from the painting room) and received instruction and inspiration from our very own faculty.

Erica Bonavida stands in front of her painting.

Erica is no exception. Now a professional artist working in the OKC community as a part of Oklahoma Visual Arts Coalition and Fringe: Women Artists of Oklahoma, Erica is also UCO alum. As a student, she was named to the Dean’s Honor Roll from 2007 – 2014 and received the Freshman Achievement Scholarship in 2007.

Her large-scale, realist paintings invite the viewer to look at textiles from an intimate vantage point. The detail of texture and colorful fabric might remind you of a personal memory or relic from your lifetime. In addition, the fluidity of Erica’s lines creates a concentrated sense of movement, as if you could actually touch or feel the objects she has painted.

Erica created a new painting titled “The Dressing Room,” directly inspired by two costumes from the UCO Costume Shop. This collaboration is notable, as visitors will be able to see the artform of costume design highlighted through oil painting.

I asked Erica some specific questions about her work and time at UCO. To learn more about her content, process and past & current inspirations, read our Q&A session below:

Kyle Cohlmia: Your style is unique to other still-life painters I have seen in Oklahoma. How did you start painting textiles? In addition, how has your style developed since you were in college?

Erica Bonavida: My choice of subject matter regarding still-life was inspired by an undergraduate painting assignment to paint a still-life of something you are obsessed with. I had spent so much time on the fabric portions of the previously assigned still-life that it occurred to me that I was completely fascinated by the idea of capturing the nuances of fabric. It took off from there and become the subject of my senior work and subsequently my professional work. Over time my style has become more refined, more detailed, and developed into my own particular view of realism without being necessarily photorealistic.

KC: Oftentimes your paintings are of an object or piece of fabric/textile that looks as if it’s recently been used, worn, laid in, sat on, etc. Do you have stories of these pieces and how they came to be as you paint, or do you like to keep the narratives up to the viewer?

EB: Absolutely! There are many stories behind the fabrics, especially the worn ones, that I paint. Many of them come from my own childhood such as a worn and tattered quilt, handmade dresses, and vintage baby clothing. I like to elude to their history with the title of the work but I also leave it open enough that the viewer can relate their own narrative to the piece. My hope is that it elicits a response that recalls a tactile experience from the viewers own history.

KC: I love the sense of movement in your pieces. What are some techniques you use to create the lines and shadows that reference the texture and wornness of the fabric you paint?

EB: Movement is a very important part of my work. I have a sculpture background in addition to painting and I find fabric to be an interesting way to marry those aspects of 2D and 3D. I spend a lot of time arranging the composition to give it movement and to show off every facet of a particular textile that I am attempting to capture. I spend a lot of time observing the textiles and studying how they are woven to give a particular texture. Each requires a unique approach in order to capture that texture with paint. I consider them to be puzzle to solve and that keeps the process fresh and interesting for me.

KC: Similarly, what is your process like? Do you take photographs of what you paint first? How long does it take you to complete a typical painting?

EB: My process begins with the selection of the fabrics. I look for textiles that coordinate in subject matter and color palette while offering a variety of textures. From there I set up a still-life and seek to show multiple views of the chosen fabrics. I like showing the backside of things. I think it’s interesting to see how things come together. The process of setting up the still-life can take as little as minutes or as much as days. I take many photos and choose my favorite composition to work with. I paint from the photograph but keep the subjects close by for reference. Once the majority of the painting has been done from the reference photo I put it aside and make visual changes based on intuition.

KC: This can be a tough question to answer, as there are so many great artists out there, but who are a few of your personal influences from the artwork?

EB: I’m influenced by a lot of artists. I spend a lot of time just looking at work that’s being produced right now. Everything from traditional still-life, figurative work, murals, to abstraction. Right now, I’m loving just about everything that comes out of RJD Gallery in New York. One of my favorite artists showing there is Jackee Sandelands-Strom. She has incredible acrylic paintings of tattooed hands. I follow the photorealist work of Frank Oriti as well as Omar Ortiz. I also adore Shana Levenson. I’ve only recently found her work but I really enjoy how she uses pastels in her lace dress paintings. I can really relate to how she views color. One of the artists I’ve followed the longest is Anne-Marie Kornachuk. I could see myself integrating a figure in a similar way.

KC: Can you describe a favorite memory from your time at the UCO Art Department? What skills did you develop at the school that helped you become the success you are today? 

EB: Some of my favorite memories of my time at UCO are the late nights and long afternoons in the studio painting alongside my classmates. It was the first time in my life I had had the opportunity to spend that much uninterrupted time honing a skill and I loved the easy-going atmosphere and camaraderie when others were around. The most useful thing I learned that has served me well as a working artist is how to be professional, pay attention to detail, and prepare for everything. The final semester really sets you up with the practical knowledge on how to install your work as well as how to make the process as smooth as possible.

KC: What is one piece of advice you would give graduating art students who are interested in pursuing a life as a professional artist?

EB: Go in to your career with the understanding that you are an independent business and your art is your goods. Brush up on how business works. Learn as much as you can about marketing. Understand your clients and build a cohesive brand.

Erica Bonavida will be exhibiting in the Krottinger Family Gallery Nov. 1-Dec. 15. The opening reception is 5:30-7:30 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 8. Special thanks to Alyssa Couturier-Herndon from the UCO Costume Shop who helped coordinate the lending of costumes for Erica’s inspiration of her newest piece “The Dressing Room.”

For a complete listing of UCO College of Fine Arts and Design events and performances, please visit cfad.uco.edu

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