Her Work Is Haunting and Powerful

2 Oct 2012

When I first saw the mixed media art of Lee Bontecou, my world went off-kilter. I had never seen anything like her darkly wondrous abstract art forms before. They are simultaneously lovely and threatening, calling to mind contradictory objects—artillery and transcendent portals, war machines and chrysalises.

Untitled by Lee Bontecou, 1966, welded steel, canvas, epoxy, leather, wire, and light, 78 1/2 x 119 x 31.
Untitled by Lee Bontecou, 1966, welded steel, canvas, epoxy, leather,
wire, and light, 78 1/2 x 119 x 31.

The works are hard to codify. Is it sculptural mixed media collage? Mixed media painting? I'm still not sure. The freestanding and hanging pieces combine porcelain, wire mesh, silk, string, and wire in ways that look like 3-D collage drawings. Drawn lines and hatched marks transform into spindly steel armatures; cutouts of paper or photographs become cloth or canvas wrapped or stitched in place. I see them and think of the vastness of galaxies and the smallness of animalcules (microscopic creatures if you prefer).

Untitled by Lee Bontecou, 1998, welded steel, porcelain, wire mesh, canvas, and wire, 7 x 8 x 6 ft.
Untitled by Lee Bontecou, 1998, welded steel, porcelain,
wire mesh, canvas, and wire, 7 x 8 x 6 ft.

Other works are often affixed to the wall on a frame that resembles a traditional painting canvas, but the works tent in, out, and around the wall on steel frames, ribs, and support cages onto which pieces of canvas and fabric are sewn with wire. In many of them, there is a black hole or opening that confounds—is it a way out or in? Overall, the resulting painting hybrids are like sculptural mosaic art calling to mind altered and abstracted spirals—like the whorls of a seashell—and the nature of black holes that might have once been stars.

Untitled by Lee Bontecou, 1962, welded steel and canvas. 68 x 72 x 30.
Untitled by Lee Bontecou, 1962, welded steel and canvas. 68 x 72 x 30.

Another artist whose work is equally haunting and powerful is the mixed media assemblage of Ruth Rosner. Her work is featured in one of my favorite new eBooks, Mixed Media People, Part 2. In it, you'll find inspiration and instruction on how mixed media can enhance your work, whether you are a painter, sculptor, collagist, or work with fiber and stitching. Mixed Media People, Part 1 and Part 2 are especially helpful because they emphasize the figure in art and how to approach it in new and unusual ways. Enjoy!


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bothebo wrote
on 3 Oct 2012 10:00 AM

I love Lee Bonticou, for these reasons and more. My fave headline about her? "Lee Bonticou Doesn't Care What You Think"--LOL. I think every artist should be interested in their own work for it's own sake, not for what people will think about it, and I've carried that with me since I first saw her work. Great post, Courtney!