Mar 162008

Several months ago I reviewed a still life with a key by J Matt Miller — that piece, however, displayed the object against a wall. Todd Bonita places his keys on a background of wood, and, it appears that in such minimalistic scenes that makes all the difference. Impenetrable stone “rejects” the key and marks it as a notionally autonomous object, a carved and patterned chunk of metal, poised in a connotative vacuum, which is to be filled by the beholder’s imagination. Wood, however, immediately associates with a door, a foil that dovetails with a key to evoke a specific and familiar circumstance. In the former variation, the key appeared as a detached purposeless thing (an idealistic approach with its own merit), here it is being showcased as a practical instrument.

key still life metal wood

Why not examine these paintings from the perspective of the “desire” principle — I was introduced to it during my university studies, and recently encountered a few articles about it on the web. Apparently, libidinal desire, either sublimated into artistic goals, or primordially sexual, drives all people, at all times, all their lives, with only occasional stops for brief pleasurable satisfactions. In a way it is like an inner atomic reactor that may or may not exhaust its fuel as we age. According to this theory, excess energy from this reactor may spill into works of art. The moment at which an artist completes a painting is marked with pleasure, a metaphoric union with the piece that brings him or her a temporary satisfaction and relief.

key still life metal wood

I think that these paintings summarize this theory in a visual form. (Which is not surprising, considering the highly symbolical nature of the key as an object.) Lets start from the end: a key inside a lock would constitute a union and a satisfaction of desire. It, however, is not there, though tauntingly close, the door being in the background. The desire of the key to reach its designated place can be deduced from the rusty colors covering the steel; the reddish-brown shades of the wood travel to the metal, as if the two are trying to achieve some kind of a superficial merger. Ubiquitous brown color pumps in an energy of totality and, consequently, we again witness the scenes as manifestations of the powerful desire for unity, strained and nearing satisfaction.

key still life metal wood

Various compositional elements serve as a “cold shower” to cool off the atmosphere and divert the gaze from the intensity of the monochrome. (I actually believe that it emits a certain pre-orgasmic overflowing wave — the reason I thought it would be interesting to utilize a psychological theory for this interpretation in the first place.) So the crack in the wood, the shadows as compositional echoes, value modulations of the main color, the lines and the texture of the wood, the inner corners of the box, the nail — they all alleviate the tension, but do not dissipate it. That way the paintings pose an unending source of fascination, as if contaminated by radioactivity emanating from the artist’s own creative reactor.

  5 Responses to “Todd Bonita: The Keys to Desire”

  1. I think Mr. Miller is very astute in his observations. All his assertations are wonderful but I think applying them to the “libidinal desire” may not necessarily be the case every time. I believe the use of the key in art is really about a search. The searching artist might be on a quest for a mate but I think it more likely they are on a quest for answers pertaining to art. They are trying to unlock the doors to the “Art Kingdom” so to speak. Perhaps it is a journey to find a personal style. Perhaps it is a journey to understand the art market and gallery world. The questions are; Do I understand my journey? Do I understand my next step? Am I finding the key to unlock Art’s door? Is it just there in front of me, obscured in a box? Am I just about to grab it? Will this next “idea” unlock the doors for me? Am I almost to sucess? I think this Key motif could come up for other reason. You may see it in someone dealing with infertility or searching for an answer to a physical illness such as cancer or diabetes. As I said before it could come from someone who is single and searching for a mate but as our jobs usually consume a majority of our waking life, I would guess it will usually pertain to that aspect most often. Linguistically, think how often the word “key” comes into play in a workplace. People use the word to describe the struggle in finding solutions to their business problems. ex. “What is the key to solve this problem?” It is so often used like this that I believe it is more likely linked to business than romance. I love Mr. Millers thoughts on the door and wood. Truely the artist thinks the key is close to the door. Had the key been painted in a pile of nails it would represent a different feeling. The shadows could be simply a “must do” because of the lighting the artist chose to use, if it were done from a setup. They could also represent a “foreshadowing” of the key the artist believes is coming; sort of a repeated meaning – the key x 2. The artist believes they see the shadow of the key, the key itself and it’s hanging comfortably near the door. Things are about to open.

  2. I actually agree that the psychoanalytical interpretation may be too speculative. I though it would be an intersting angle to explore because of the general warm atmosphere. You present a valid and interesting point of view, Mr.Cole, thanks for the insight.

  3. It is always interesting to learn what viewers find in an artist’s work. Perhaps in many cases the observer’s interpretation reflects more of their own mind than the artist’s. But it’s all about connections, isn’t it? If a viewer gets satisfaction of his desire to engage the key in the lock, so to speak, what difference does it make that the artist just liked the way the metal looked with the wood?

  4. I agree 100%, Diana. I never presume to know what the artist meant or intended. I try to suggest a direction and one possible interpretation.

  5. Old keys used to hang on a nail on a wood door frame or homemade box. The wood has such texture that contrasts with the shiny metal of the key. What we want to know is, key to where?

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