Bonita Helmer: “Observed” at George Billis Gallery
by Megan Abrahams
Trawling the cosmos for inspiration, Bonita Helmer produces abstract paintings that reflect the perpetual curiosity and tireless imagination of an explorer. She embraces a conceptual range from suggested spacescapes to renditions of sub-atomic worlds. Her subjects imply the stuff of stardust and evoke a scope beyond the solar system, even as they materialize out of the inner realm of the subconscious. Helmer’s compositions are dominated by asymmetrical nebula-like forms which appear as if suspended on top of amorphous backgrounds, sometimes anchored by intersecting lines with unexpected angles, adding a deeper sense of perspective, a sort of order superimposed in relation to the mysterious forms and shapes hovering in the foregrounds. In a sense, her images are not technically abstract, as they are representational of matter and energy—the swirling and enigmatic components of the galaxy.
The work derives in part from the artist’s study of physics and astronomy—a lifelong quest to probe the origins of the universe. Helmer is the only visual artist on the board of the Exploration Institute, a science-driven organization that launches expeditions on land, sea and in space. While rooted in science, borrowing from the realm of quantum mechanics, her work is a form of artistic hypothesis. The unknown is open to theoretical conjecture. There’s infinite latitude for the artistic supposition of subatomic, theoretical particles, which are virtually invisible. As the artist has observed, she has carte blanche to come up with visual renditions of these natural phenomena, seeing that even scientists don’t know what they look like. Resembling continents drifting in uncharted waters, Helmer’s nebula-like forms are multi-colored, often thick with milky applications of pigment and subtle nuance under layers peaking through. Using acrylic and spray paint, the artist achieves the effect of crusted cracking on some sections of the surface —like fissures on the face of the moon—creating striking visual contrast. Given the fact that the source material of Helmer’s paintings is a marriage of science and the psyche, the exhibit might have been titled “Imagined,” rather than “Observed.” Viewed as a body of work, the paintings convey a mood of intrigue, and offer nuanced visions of enthralling hidden worlds.
Acrylic and spray paint on canvas
36" x 36"
Photo: courtesy George Billis Gallery