Bonnie Gloris Talks Art & Illustration as She Prepares for Two Jersey City Openings Next Week

From Amy Tan and Marcel Proust to pole dancers and pinup girls, Bonnie Gloris does it all. This Jersey City-based fine artist and illustrator works on both sides of the much-discussed art/commerce divide, with her work appearing both in galleries and in commercial venues like magazines. We recently caught up with Gloris as she made some final preparations for two new exhibitions opening next week in Jersey City — Surface Tension at LITM and The Authors at Made with Love.

You describe yourself as a fine artist and illustrator. Everyone knows that illustrators dine on butter-poached oysters and drive Volvos while artists slurp 40s of Mickey’s and ride the bus. What are some other differences between the two professions, or misconceptions about those supposed differences?

Luckily I like to wash my oysters down with a 40! Apparently there’s a big division between the two professions and you’re supposed to choose one or the other, but to me the lines are blurry. I’ve exhibited artwork in galleries that was originally created for illustration purposes, and adapted personal work for illustration assignments. A lot of people think that illustrators are sell-outs, but I find that fine artists are just as willing to pimp themselves out, only in different ways. I’d say I actually make more “oysters” off my fine art.

In my experience, illustrators and graphic designers have a better business sense, and tend to be more financially savvy and realistic than most traditional fine artists — painters and sculptors. I studied painting and drawing in college. The program stressed painting and drawing, but not money. When I graduated from school, I was broke, and had no viable skills. I could make a painting, but I could not sell it whereas illustrators and designers could work, determine the value of the work, and earn money. Did you study illustration in school? If so, did the program discuss money—billing, price quotes, how to value your time and work?

Yes and yes. When I started at Parsons I planned to major in either Fashion Design or Fine Art. After the “foundation” year (which we lovingly referred to as boot camp) I knew I didn’t want to do fashion because I couldn’t remotely relate to the other kids going into that department. I was still interested in Fine Art, but my professors encouraged me to do Illustration because my work was very concept-driven and because that department was known for instilling a lot of practical techniques and valuable skills. Senior year we were required to take a class called “Professional Practices” that was so boring, but so useful! We learned how to make invoices and contracts, discussed cost of living, and were informed about the implications of being a freelancer, as far as taxes, insurance, etc. are concerned. Those skills have turned out to be just as important to my career as artistic skills.

What work have you decided to include in Surface Tension, what work have you decided not to include in the exhibition, and why?

LITM is a big space and I wanted to utilize it to the fullest, so I’m showing a sampling from many different series. I did try to gear my choices to a younger audience because LITM has a vibrant, loyal scene of locals. It’s great that people are starting collections early and I want to encourage that. Buying the work of your contemporaries while it’s affordable is a smart investment. I left out my series of author portraits because I thought it might be a bit too serious for the LITM crowd. It worked out well because The Authors is perfect for another solo show that came up unexpectedly at Made With Love that opens next week.

Tell us more about that series.

The Authors is an ongoing series of portraits of writers that I admire. So far the series includes Truman Capote, Marcel Proust, Vladimir Nabokov, Maya Angelou, Amy Tan, John Updike and Jean-Paul Sartre. Now I’m working on a set of portraits of Henry Miller and Anaïs Nin, so those will be fresh for the show. I do a pretty realistic likeness of each author, and then add collage elements that give insight into the subject’s personality and the personalities of the characters they create, as well as the time period they wrote in/about. I feel an intimacy with the authors in my portraits, like I get to know them personally by reading their books and doing artworks about them. I emphasize that by making the portraits really small, so they’re like family photos you’d have around your house.

What has been the biggest highlight of your career as an artist? What has been your biggest disappointment?

It’s hard to choose the biggest highlight. Landing my first solo show (at the Rotunda Gallery in City Hall) was something I’ll never forget. It was also satisfying to have my illustrations recognized by 3×3 magazine, the Creative Quarterly journal and Communication Arts. I was recently commissioned to paint a pole dancer for a wine label, which is basically my dream job. As for my biggest disappointment, I still haven’t gotten over being rejected by Cooper Union.

At least you applied to Cooper Union — I was too afraid. Tell us about the pole dancer, and why is it your dream job?

First of all, I’m really amused by the randomness of this company choosing a pole dancer for their label. When they originally pitched the concept to me it sounded really cute and playful, and became more blatantly sexual as the job moved forward. They wanted a 1940s style pin-up girl dancing on a pole … did pole dancing exist in the ‘40s? … and throughout the sketch phase they kept asking me to make her waist smaller and her T&A bigger. It was priceless! Anyway, it’s fun painting sexy ladies – who isn’t fascinated by a beautiful woman? And I’ve always wanted to do a wine label for the simple reason that I love wine. Beautiful woman plus wine equals dream job.

What three pieces of advice would you give to an artist just starting out their career?

Ask lots of questions and be receptive to advice. Experienced artists are usually more than happy to help out emerging artists — it strokes their ego! Also be open-minded; sometimes an opportunity comes along that seems really lame, but ends up leading to something amazing. And lastly, don’t quit your day job.

New York City is arguably the center of the art world. As an artist, why did you choose to live in Jersey City, not New York? What does Jersey City provide you that NYC cannot provide you?

I have to admit that I moved to Jersey City as a necessity, not a choice. I couldn’t afford to live in Manhattan after graduating from Parsons. But now I like Jersey City — it has everything that NYC has, only it’s less pretentious. I can afford a bigger space here and anytime I need an NYC fix, it’s just a PATH train ride away.

What is your favorite place to eat? Who has the best jukebox, and where can you find a decent cup of coffee?

LITM, of course! And then Made With Love for desert! In all seriousness, I’ve been pleasantly surprised to find a lot of top-notch restaurants in Jersey City — Light Horse Tavern, Skinner’s Loft, some of the waterfront restaurants are nice. … I’m still exploring, you’ll have to ask me that again in a year.

Who would you rather paint of portrait of, Lady Gaga or Katy Perry — and what materials would you use, and why?

Well, I guess they’re similar in that they’re all about shock value — playing up their sexuality, making bold fashion statements. I guess I’d rather paint Lady Gaga because she’s more extreme and extreme things tend to be fun to portray. I would use collage, because when you do a collage every piece you incorporate is an opportunity to represent some aspect of that person. Building up the layers of the collage is like building up all the characteristics of a person that make them who they are. You end up with something much more dimensional than a straight-up portrait. That being said, I’d still rather paint classic authors than pop culture icons. Does that mean I’m getting old?

What’s up next for you?

I’m really excited to be curating my first show: Nature Vs. Nurture at Broadway Gallery in Manhattan. It will be up November 1 – 15, with an opening reception on November 4 at 6 pm. I get to work with a lot of amazing artists that I admire; a combination of local artists who I’ve shown with, a couple of my favorite alumni, and even some former professors.

SAMPLES OF GLORIS’ WORK:

The opening reception for Surface Tension is Tuesday, September 7 at 7 pm; at LITM, 140 Newark Ave. The exhibition will be on view through October 3.

The opening reception for The Authors is Saturday, September 11 at 6 pm; at Made with Love, 530 Jersey Ave. The exhibition will be on view through October 11.

Brendan Carroll

an artist and a writer. In 2006, he cofounded Agitators Collective, which creates site-related installations in urban locales that have fallen into neglect or dereliction. He has exhibited his work at a number of museums and galleries in New York and New Jersey, and his work has been featured in several periodicals, including The New York Times, Village Voice, Art Fag City and Time Out New York. Find him online at brendanscottcarroll.com.