Gary Bukovnik: Forever Spring at Bonfoey Gallery

Yesterday, my son, John-Parker, was incredulous when I told him I didn’t have a favorite among my paintings.

“Being an artist,” I told him, “is similar to being a musician. Sometimes I’m the composer and the theme is very important. Other times I am the performer and don’t care about the subject as much, but focus on stylistic issues, like how I handled the red colors.”

I was pleased with my impromptu explanation but I could tell John wasn’t.

In the highest art, a compelling theme is perfectly captured by its style. The style serves as a force multiplier that reveals and fixes its theme for all time. The marriage of theme and style is rare and very few works are in this category.

Just below this lofty level are works that have equally captivating themes, but done in a style that does not add to it–no style as force multiplier for these works. Most so-called masterpieces are in this category. It is very, very easy to diminish a theme by a poor, or inappropriate, or overwrought style. Just avoiding these pitfalls is an accomplishment.

Next are the works that do not have a captivating theme but are noteworthy due to their style. Most professional art—by far– is in this category. Bukovnik’s works currently on display at Bonfoey are in the latter category.

The Good

Matisse, that sly dog, said that he wanted to make paintings that were ‘armchairs for the mind,’  by which I take him to mean he wanted works that capture and hold the mind–objects of contemplation. This could be Bukovnik’s motto as well. The subjects for these large watercolors are neither original nor even unusual, but are selected for the opportunities they provide for intellectual pleasure.

In each painting, a flower arrangement is centrally placed in an amorphous, unarticulated space. These devices emphasize the designs’ two-dimensionality. The painting in this photo is typical: shapes flow and dance in undulating arabesques. Things are off-kilter; shapes become unmoored from nonexistent  backgrounds.

Bukovnik Watercolor

Bukovnik Watercolor

The artist plays with these shapes with relish. The artist’s joy at his art-making produces a feeling of abundance and fecundity–perfect for his subject. Look at this detail. The addition of the ribbon in the vase is for no other purpose than intellectual pleasure.

Detail of Bukovnik Watercolor

Detail of Bukovnik Watercolor

The Bad

When several paintings share the same subject matter and style, tendencies become apparent. The straightjacket of two-dimensionality imposed on the riot of forms results in some confusing and under-done passages. While many ambitious passages, such as those in the reproduced detail, are crisply realized, many are not. Some few of the works seem tired, and the artist repeats devices used elsewhere.

The Ugly

Bukovnik suffers from modern gigantism–everything is magnified and magnified and magnified.  As an exercise, visualize the works at half- or quarter-size.


While annoying passages mar several works, the artist’s wit and love for painting carry the day. Moreover, Bukovnik is a mature and disciplined pro who stays within himself and keeps focused on what he does best.


[Photos are mine but works  are copyright Butovnik.]

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