I met Larry Bonn Phoenix a year and a half ago, I listened with fascination
as he discoursed for the better part of the evening on how the mind processes
mental images and his attempts to sketch them. The Romanian artist defected
from the former Yugoslavia in 1986, effecting his escape from the Eastern
Bloc during an International Symposium of Sculptors. A few years ago,
his focus shifted from sculpture to the study of mental images in various
states of consciousness. He rapidly sketches the fleeting images that
pass through his mind while sitting alone in his pitch-black Wicker Park
studio, creating drawings that have the raw power of a modern cave painting.
I asked to interview him about his work. Our conversation follows:
Chris: "Your sketching process is so unusual…how
did you get started doing this?"
Larry: "The first time, when I tried to do a drawing of a mental
image, I tried to work my way by tracing a mental image with an imaginary
hand and pencil, coordinated with my real hand and drawing pad. Soon I
realized that I'm doing a double job and, in the next stage, I did direct
tracings in complete darkness, eyes wide open, through a process of extrapolating
the images seen on my mental screen to my drawing pad. My technique resembles
drawings done through a Camera Lucida, where you see instantaneously,
the contour of your subject and the tip of your pencil."
Chris: "So you're working in pitch black conditions
Larry: "My innovation came by delimiting the drawing pad with four
phosphorescent dots. And by putting a small ring on my pencil, which had
a phosphorescent dot. This way, I could do tracings of my mental imagery,
controlling my hand movements. However, since mental images have such
a short life, when you switch from one mental object to another, you may
overlap the previous drawings. The result may look messy, chaotic configurations
of lines. I wake up in the mornings, sometimes I can't even myself recognize
what I've done."
Chris: "Are most of these images that come to you
a part of your visual memory?"
Larry: "Absolutely. However, some of them may come to you out of
limbo, from nowhere and you cannot find any association or resemblance
with physical objects phenomena or past events. If, as a self-observer
you have a passive attitude the way the Buddhist meditators are doing,
you can have an experience of mental images which are coming uninvited
to your mind . Mental imagery is not always a recollection of a perception
made in the past."
Chris: "And you try to freeze them in time."
Larry: "To coagulate them, if I can say so. Observation and attention
are very important. Mostly, because of the fact that you can extemporize
and change all the time what's going on."
Chris: "Which you're trying to avoid."
Larry: "Yes, I do not need questions for answers I know already.
I am looking for a process, which is less contaminated by what I know.
Difficult to say, since everything in that inner world belongs to me but
there are so many things I do not know about myself.
Chris: "Now you use a computer to do this work?"
Larry: "The paper and pencil work is still essential. It keeps
something of the human touch. But the biggest problem was trying to make
my way out of this mess of overlapping images. And then the computer became
very handy. Basically, it is a painting program, a digital tablet, and
pen, and e-glasses (virtual reality glasses). I see only one luminous
pixel. That's it. Which moves while I'm doing the tracings of my mental
object on the digital tablet. I can't see the line. Everything is black
on black. Whenever I finish tracing one mental object, with a keystroke
I can change the page of the clip book. In this way, I can have a recording
of the sequences in which the mental images are drawn. And also, I can
do a printout, or produce a small animation of the whole process."
"Are there any other artists doing work like this?"
Larry: "Most of the Visionary artists, Dada, or Surrealist artists,
are doing reconstructions of past mental events, but the process I just
described, it is done during the hypnogogic experience. I am tracing live,
in vivo, these mental images. A visual stream of consciousness. Different
from the process where you sit down at the table, you remember your last
dream, or hallucination, and use all your artistic means to describe the
"Why are you so interested in doing away with your own interpretations
and getting right to the raw mental object?"
Larry: "In this field interpretations are for palm readers. I am
gathering data and doing observations. Based on it I hope to find the
invariables which are generating and structuring the mental image. It
is about space, time, color, and the properties of mental images. Edgy,
too. Because you have to be very careful not to describe what you think
that you see related to the real world and the experience you have in
the real world. My aim is to be able, one day, to devise a tool with which
I could do a recording of my mental images. This is probably the core
of my research."
"You're showing some of this work at the Around the Coyote Arts Festival."
Larry: "Could be a brain pasteurizing experience to show some of
my ongoing experiments. Some of them have to be patented. Therefore, I
decided that The Coyote show would be mostly a retrospective of old drawings
and some of the recent mental imagery. Along with them, I am selling my
personal collection of prints and works on paper, done by European master
print-makers from Picasso to Claes Oldenburg, to raise money for my research
was in 2004)
the hypnogogic sketches of Larry Bonn Phoenix and meet the artist at the
upcoming Around the Coyote Arts Festival, Studio 213, 2nd floor, Flatiron
Building, 1579 N. Milwaukee, Friday through Sunday, September 13-15. Contact
Larry at (773) 862-1665. Learn more about the artist and his cutting edge
research at Larry's homepage
on this site.