When I heard that a new book about Bonnie Posselli was available, I jumped at the chance to write a review. I remember taking a weeklong painting class from Posselli several years ago where we were challenged to paint en plein-air every day. This was my first experience painting out of doors. Posselli made plein-air painting seem easy and more than ten years later I still enjoy wrestling with paint, canvas and easel outside in the wild.
Bonnie Posselli is one of Utah’s premier landscape painters who works and teaches out of her Sugar House studio. In the middle of a fruitful painting career, Posselli has self-published a lovely coffee table book with funding from Zions Bank. Printed in China, the 120 page book includes 92 pages of color images of her paintings on nice card stock, with 13 detailed images that give a close up view of the artist’s technique. The book also includes two reproductions of her pencil drawings and a pair photos of the artist working on location at her easel with a clear view of her palette.
The book begins with a gentle introduction written by Todd Posselli, the artist’s son, sharing some of his early childhood memories of watching Posselli develop a painting at home and also coming across her work in a public building.
Posselli explained to me that she purposefully chose to keep the personal history section in the book short in order to focus on the artwork and the author John Keahey manages to use very few words to give me further reason to respect Posselli. Two things in his essay particularly interested me: as a single parent, Posselli supported her family by painting; and for the last thirty years Posselli has produced an average of 80 paintings per year. She became a painter under tremendous odds and her work ethic sets a tough standard.
In the essay, we also learn that Posselli’s art talent emerged while working with a group of plein-air painters organized by Ken Baxter. Painting with this group gave the artist an opportunity to interact with and observe many respected Utah landscape painters whose influence and encouragement nourished Posselli’s latent talent. She began to visualize herself as a serious painter, and after a short foray into illustration she put her whole heart into landscape painting.
A later development in her career came when an art patron gave Posselli the surprising opportunity to travel to foreign cities to paint and in the book we see the positive result in her works from other lands.
Connie Disney, the book designer, chose to sprinkle the book with quotes from John F. Carlson (who wrote Carlson’s Guide to Landscape Painting which is known as the “bible” for landscape painters) and Richard Schmidt (a nationally recognized instructor and artist) alongside appropriate quotes from Posselli: all serve to balance out the text and create a nice intermission between painting images.
It was interesting to discuss the bookmaking process with Posselli. Our discussion made me think of Sue Martin’s article about art publishing in the December 2007 edition of 15 Bytes. For Posselli, publishing the book has been a three-year effort. After an initial attempt failed, Posselli took a step back and re-evaluated. She determined to simplify the book and make it more than just a teaching tool. It became a coffee-table book with a plethora of nice images preceded by enough explanation of technique and procedure to satisfy both the student and the art collector. The result is a book packed with full color images and close up views illustrating her technique that will be of interest to both audiences.
Bibliophiles may be disappointed that the book doesn’t have a dust jacket and that there are a few misspellings missed by the editor. With only a couple of exceptions, the reproductions are exquisite. The book and the career are quite an accomplishment. Posselli is a generous instructor, willing to share her painting approach with her students. This book will effectively serve as an instructor’s aide and also a memoir worthy of interest to the collector.
The paintings in this book demonstrate Posselli’s versatility and span her career. Included is a wide selection of her paintings from the past decade. Along with her signature images of standing trees with light and distant landscape shapes shining through reminding the viewer of brilliant leaded glass, there are images of snowscapes, mountain scenes, birds, water scenes, pastoral scenes of sheep, cows and horses, images from distant lands such as Peru and France The book is a treasure trove of dazzling images, presenting an artist at the height of her power. The few words that are included give us just enough to validate what we see with our eyes and to appreciate that Bonnie Posselli is an artist worthy of respect in the landscape tradition.
The Bonnie Posselli book is available for $47.95 plus tax and shipping at the Springville Museum of Art and at BonniePosselli.com or it can be purchased directly from Posselli at her studio by calling 801-232-5771.
Elizabeth Matthews , a native of Salt Lake City, Utah, graduated from Brigham Young University in 2006 with a BFA in Painting and an English minor.