Bonnie Joy Bardos created her first paintings when she was just two years old, although her parents may not have appreciated her budding talent at the time. “It starts early,” she says, remembering her first efforts: scribbling color in the white brick mortar around her family’s fireplace.
But by the time she was seven, she’d sold her first drawing, of a horse, for 15 cents. Today, her work is considerably more widespread, found in private collections in the United States, Mexico, and Europe. “To this day, I keep that inner child alive and honored in my being,” Bardos declares. “She’s allowed to color all the walls she wants.”
Her sources of inspiration, however, have grown up: they include prehistoric artifacts, Jungian psychology, and Buddhist thought. She bonded with nature early on, during her childhood on Ketchikan Island in Alaska, where her father’s military career had taken the family. Esto Perpetua (Latin for “It is Forever”), a painting series begun 15 years ago and notably devoid of any human figure, reflects her belief that “nature is sacred — she will carry on without humanity.”
When Bardos does allow a figure onto her canvas, it’s most frequently the feminine form, often seated and depicted in bright, Matisse-like primary colors. These pieces radiate a calm strength and self assurance, especially resonant with contemporary feminist sensibilities. “I see a turning that needs to come,” Bardos says. “I’m a fairly quiet, peaceful sort of artist, but I do pay attention and care deeply about what goes on in this world. I respect and admire the artists who are in your face, but for me, I think you can catch more flies with honey than vinegar.”
Spirituality appears most strongly in Bardos’ “Haloed Bird” series. The bird is a symbol in Jungian theory of the striving for higher planes of awareness. Swooping through delicately rendered botanical backgrounds, the painter’s cranes and other avian forms evoke the joy of the unfettered soul. “The bird is usually the start of a new piece,” Bardos explains. “Sometimes it will be dreaming, flying, or sitting on a branch, and then I add layers to that. I work intuitively without spending days detailing or obsessing over a plan.” The initial inspiration can come from anywhere, Bardos says — the play of morning light, a piece of music. “Just a glimpse of something that sends a sparkle in my sky. I know that’s it. It’s mystical.”
Her panoramic approach took wing from observing her father. “He was a repressed writer at heart,” says Bardos. He used photography as his outlet, and by the time his career in the military took the family to Fort Bragg, he had his own darkroom. Her mother was a gardener and flower arranger.
Bardos’ own garden is part of what she calls “Bonnie World” — her 19th-century Victorian home in Saluda, a physical representation of her many-armed approach to expression. She considers the entire house and grounds to be her studio. “At this point in my life, in middle age, I’ve come to understand and appreciate that I’ve evolved into my art. Poetry, writing, and [visual] art have become who I am. There’s no longer a separation.”
Bonnie Joy Bardos’ work is part of the Four Women, Four Journeys exhibit at Upstairs Artspace in Tryon (49 South Trade St.) through Friday, August 3, and will be included in the gallery’s ART Trek studio tour — Saturday, September 29 and Sunday, September 30 — and in the accompanying exhibit at the gallery that runs through October 12; see upstairsartspace.org for more information. Her work is also on display at the Purple Onion in Saluda (16 E. Main St.). Her home studio (285 Greenville St., Saluda) is open to the public most Saturdays from 11am-3pm, or at other times by appointment. Call 828-749-1153 or e-mail email@example.com.