By NOAH SONNEBURG, April 2021
Bronson Shonk splits his time between two studios, one in New Hampshire and another in Seattle. In those spaces, his creative hours are filled with a juggling act of plexiglass slabs, X-Acto knives, orbital sanders and watercolors.
Take a look at any of his pieces and you will find a repeated motif. Sculpture or watercolor, each of his pieces features an array of semi-floral figures which abstract themselves into kaleidoscopic brilliance.
Shonk’s work is best described as multidisciplinary. By utilizing a wide variety of techniques, he gives a lifelike dimension to the organic forms which inhabit his work. But this jack-of-all-trades approach wasn’t always an inherent characteristic of his creative style.
At first, Shonk gravitated toward the exactness of line drawing. The control afforded him by the ever-correctable lines of black ink gave him a sense of comfort and dominion over his creations. But after honing these linear skills, it became apparent that he needed to branch out beyond his comfort zone.
“I was interested in that line work before I started painting,” Shonk recalls. “I was trying to figure out how to convert that into painting. I had started working in a studio and the advice given to me was to get out of my comfort zone and learn to paint, learn to use color.”
Shonk describes himself as being very analytically-minded. As a result, diving into a creative world more freewheeling than that of line drawing didn’t come easily for him.
“It was extraordinarily frustrating,” Shonk says. “In drawing, you make a line and it comes out as expected. You have control. I found the marks I made when painting had results that were completely unpredictable.”
Shonk stayed committed, however, and found ways to bring his enigmatic floral figures to new heights. By introducing light touches of watercolor, he allowed his familiar black ink lines to develop their own multichromatic vibrance.
“At one point I became fed up with the painting process,” says Shonk. “I said to myself, ‘You know what? I'm done with this.’ I took out a pen and I started drawing on my canvas. Later, I went back with paint and I sprayed the canvas with water. The wet pigment seeped into all the places where I had made indentions with my ballpoint pen. All of a sudden these intricately colored patterns appeared where I had drawn on the canvas. It opened my eyes to a new way of painting which also incorporated drawing.”
Since that moment, Shonk’s work has been defined by his versatility. As a creative, he plays the part of a virtual jet-setter, never constrained by a specific medium—an artist in motion.
Shonk’s plexiglass sculptures are perhaps most emblematic of this dexterity. These stacks of clear plexiglass are glimmering monoliths, suspending their floral subjects like ancient insects caught in drops of amber.
His adoration for plexiglass started in high school. A project he undertook at the time allowed students to develop small installation pieces inside one of the school’s lockers. Shonk’s piece was layered plexiglass on which he had painted a hand metamorphosing into a tree.
Years later, Shonk would pick up these translucent sheets again, but this time with his familiar array of organic florets. Each layer, as with his more traditional work, contains etched lines over which he applies paints and pigments. As each plane is glued atop the last, a three-dimensional form comes through, projecting itself through the composition towards the viewer.
Through repeated practice, Shonk has made these lucid, multidimensional blocks a style all his own. Throughout it all, his work always returns to a center point, a thread of motivic similarity reliant on his signature organic subjects.
“If you went back and you looked at my high school sketchbook, you would see a lot of these forms. I've been doing this for a long time. I think part of me has been trying to understand why I am drawn to this, and I see that as an ongoing conversation.”
Ruminating on this, Shonk has come to all manner of conclusions. Above all else, these blooms stand as a metaphor for the cycle of life.
“I was never interested in making representational work of flowers or trees,” Shonk says. “I am drawn to the symbolic nature of these forms. Everyone can picture time-lapse imagery of a flower blossoming. That is what I am after: the feeling of movement and motion as the form changes in each stage of its development. I see that same movement in story arcs, learning curves and maturation from adolescence into adulthood.”
In many ways, this dynamic is reflective of Shonk’s own artistic journey. Cycling through the phases of blooming and retreating, his techniques are ever-changing and brimming with energy. If we can expect anything from Bronson Shonk in the years to come, it is that same multifarious creative vision that has been at the heart of his practice since its inception and continues to grow. WM
Noah Sonnenburg is a freelance writer based in Pasadena, CA. His work covers automobiles, film, fine art and entertainment.view all articles from this author