Living Ind

Walk About

by Mary Tutwiler

Painter Melissa Bonin journeys along the songlines that connect Louisiana landscapes and Aboriginal art.

It started out as an ordinary day. Melissa Bonin was looking at a collection of Aboriginal art, in particular the pointillist paintings that seem to depict landscapes and solar systems. They are abstracts, if one can apply a modern art term to the work of a people who live as one with nature in the rugged environment of the Australian Outback. Dream and reality mingle in the lives of the Aborigines, and ancestral gods, who sing the world into being, lead them into a higher state on their solo trips, called "walkabouts."

Bonin was struck by lightning. "I was so moved by these automatic linear Aboriginal paintings that I had to see if I could paint in this manner while keeping the feeling of my Louisiana landscapes. The challenge was no judgment' and to remain open in the way that writers might practice automatic writing. I approached the paper and canvas each day with the intention of not judging what my eyes wanted to see and what my hands wanted to do. I just allowed. At first, I was not excited about these works. They were very different for me. I did not know how to relate to them, but each day I fell more in love with them."

The paintings, says Bonin, came to her like minimalist music; she felt she was painting ceremonial and sacred songs. Each brush stroke became an act of calligraphy, a symbolic language, mysterious yet imbued with power.

"The water has strong serpent-like patterns and lyrical flowing designs," she says. "Finding source as a theme echoes epic struggles. The waters are searching as we all are. They speak of cycles, patterns in nature, ancestral behaviors, survival knowledge and clues. The symbolism is specific and universal at the same time. They are a primordial journey. I journey from one edge to the other, filling in the landscape as I go. It is a walkabout."

Bonin's show, "Finding Source," opens at Galerie Eclaireuse, Saturday, Feb. 20, as part of ArtCrawl. Ordinarily, ArtWalk falls on the second Saturday of each month, but because of Mardi Gras, and acknowledging that folks are having a hard time getting back to normal following Fat Tuesday, DDA moved ArtWalk to the 20th, and dubbed this round of openings ArtCrawl. So come on out, even if you're still on your knees. For more info about ArtCrawl, check out The Independent's calendar.