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.
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.
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.
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.