Though she would probably be too humble and self-effacing to admit it, Brush Strokes Gallery’s October featured artist, Bonnie Halford, sparks co-creation and collaboration wherever she goes.
That hallmark was evident in 2004 when Halford first suggested to others in Johnny Johnson’s painting workshop that they launch a new venue to exhibit their work. Shortly thereafter, she took the leap of realizing her vision, as a dozen other artists joined her to create the Brush Strokes Gallery. The lease was signed on a Tuesday and—after busy days of scrubbing, mopping, and painting—the gallery’s opening reception was held the following Friday. Since that day more than ten years ago, Brush Strokes has provided an exhibition venue for hundreds of artists, some of whom have even gone on to start additional galleries in Fredericksburg.
Halford’s artwork incorporates the same collaborative spirit as she invites the viewer to interpret her finished work. In her paintings, Halford uses a unique substrata that Johnson first introduced her to—yupo, a synthetic paper which has the uncanny quality of resisting rather than absorbing the paint. After thoroughly wetting the surface, Bonnie pours on drippings of watercolors or acrylics and lets the colors merge, collide, mix, and expand. At times, she tips the paper from side to side to augment the fusion. When the composition is at a stage where it presents prospects of various subjects, Halford lets the paint dry and later returns to absorb up some areas and embellish others with a dry brush. “I may see an eye in the painting and work from that point to create a face,” Bonnie explains. She says that her paintings often surprise her—by the colors that are created from the merging of the two or three hues she poured, by the subject matter that suggests itself, and even by the emotions the work conveys.
Folks who know Bonnie often enjoy searching for hidden objects she has incorporated in her paintings, but they sometimes surprise her by “finding” subjects that even she did not realize were in the design.
Throughout the years, one favorite theme that Halford has returned to is the moonlight playing on the branches of trees. “These scenes bring back memories of my girlhood in West Virginia,” she explains. “I often walked through the woods on a moonlit night when no flashlight was needed. I will always remember the beauty and the shape of those trees.”
In her October exhibit, dubbed “Beyond the Sea,” Bonnie turns to another favorite theme—the serene blues and greens of the ocean. “I have always gone to the ocean, especially in times when I was facing a personal challenge. It is so calming and embracing, even in the sound of its waves,” she said. She hopes that viewers of her paintings this month will experience the same effect through her depictions of fish and the creation that lies under and near the sea. “Water really is the primordial, life-giving element and I think all people feel a connection with it,” she said, “though I don’t really think about that when, as I just let it roll over my soul, it gives me calmness, relieves worldly stress, and erases sadness.”
Although Halford cherishes the ocean for its constancy, she is awed by its many transformations. “Its movement is constantly changing. Its waves might be playful when it’s gently splashing but can also seem almost menacing as it roars before a storm,” she said. “But most of all, I am struck by its immensity. It makes you feel like you are a little speck in the universe.”
That may be the reason Bonnie thinks of these lyrics as the perfect theme song for her October exhibit: I hope you still feel small when you stand beside the ocean, Whenever one door closes I hope one more opens, Promise me that you'll give faith a fighting chance, And when you get the choice to sit it out or dance. I hope you dance....I hope you dance.