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In the Studio with Bonnie and Clyde

  • 6 min read
Bonnie and Clyde has long been one of our favourite artists. Her cool mixed media collages have transported us from Havana’s curious skyline, to palm tree lined Venice beach and the gritty streets of New York City. Last week we were luckily invited into her studio to discover more about her global adventures and her life as an artist...

For an artist interested in architecture and observing the minutiae of everyday life, Bonnie and Clyde has the perfect studio. Nestled in between streets of Victorian terraced housing, her studio is found in the front of a jewellery workshop in a converted 1960’s garage. The single story building stands in the shadow of an imposing Grade II listed brick viaduct. Her expansive window, which takes up almost the entire wall, frames her view of passing life on the bustling Brighton road.

Bonnie and Clyde’s studio feels like a sanctuary away from the urban environment outside. Her calm and bright space is full of colourful collages of expansive beach scenes, mid-air divers, miniature cut-out palm trees and modernist LA architecture; a world away from the grey day of a British seaside town. Over a pastel coloured French Fancy (or two), we dived into Bonnie and Clyde’s beautiful world of Cuban swimming pools, Californian beaches, colourful clouds, and collaged cities...

It all began, a little less exotically, in Bradford. Bonnie and Clyde describes her childhood as creative, remembering with fondness Bradford’s art-hero David Hockney and the magnificent Gallery at Salts Mill. Her first painting, which her Dad still has, was of a boxing match. Bonnie and Clyde pointed out that this was probably an unusual choice of subject for a little girl, but it was clearly the beginning of her fascination with observing life from a distance; behind the rope or camera lens.

Despite not actually taking Art A‘level, Bonnie and Clyde managed to win the ‘Art and Design Prize’ at school! Actually, it seems she avoided the conventional Fine Art route for quite some time... After school and a Foundation, where she discovered her love of collage, she went on to study ‘Furniture and 3D Design’ at Kingston University. She loved the subject but ponders whether university is in fact “always a disappointment”? We silently share a concerned look and hopeless thought for the future of arts education.

After Bonnie and Clyde’s degree and her love/hate relationship with London, she returned to England’s North West. Moving to Manchester, she set up her own graphic design company with the help of a Prince’s Trust grant. Entirely self taught in the wizardry of Photoshop, Illustrator, and the like, she was soon creating everything from posters, brochures, and book sleeves, to signage and tee-shirts. Her clients were predominantly creative industries - music venues, theatres, arts centres, club nights, and festivals such as the Women’s Arts International Festival.

We wondered whether it was lonely working as an independent freelancer; Bonnie and Clyde poignantly replied, “I always felt like a bit of an outsider... Luckily moving to Brighton was like coming home”. We also wondered whether it had always been her dream to become a full-time artist, free from demanding clients and their restrictive briefs. It was always in the back of her mind, Bonnie and Clyde explains, although she liked working in graphics she had always “dipped in and out of painting”. During her ‘Furniture and 3D Design’ degree she would always present her plans as collaged and painted illustrations. After her degree she continued and remembers that she had even had a small show in Manchester.

Manchester was great for the music and fashion scenes, explained Bonnie and Clyde, but she had always loved Brighton, “it’s so open and creative.” So a few years ago she bravely packed up and decamped to the seaside determined to learn the art of screen printing. Having printed her own tee-shirts in Manchester, “the process was already in my head,” she explains. Visiting a major Andy Warhol and Jean-Michel Basquiat exhibition in Nottingham “cemented” the idea.

Before she arrived in Brighton, Bonnie and Clyde telephoned the giclee printmakers and silkscreen specialists ‘Harwood King Fine Arts Studio’ and signed herself up on a printing course in the city. Was screen printing a new love? “Yes, absolutely. It opened up a whole new world to express my creativity.” It was clearly an invigorating and momentous move.

To begin with Bonnie and Clyde created all of her own screens. Her prints were much simpler and more graphic than the collaged style she is known for now. As she delved into photomontage and advanced her mixed media aesthetic she developed a closer relationship with the printers at Harwood King. Now she creates her bigger limited editions with the printing studio, “I love the collaborative element. I love being around people,” she says. She can go in with a simple sketch and plan her next creation, “Quentin is brilliant. He’s an artist as well and has a really good eye. I can talk really ambiguously about my ideas and he gets it!”

Describing her method, Bonnie and Clyde reveals, “I start with a simple sketch”. Then she rummages in her voluminous collection of photographs to excavate the perfect photographic images. These are scanned into her Mac computer and then she embarks on a lengthy process of printing, scanning, cutting, layering, painting, and passing back and forth between the computer and paper. “Because of the way I work I edit as I go along,” she explains when asked whether she discards many pieces in the process.

The photographic elements in Bonnie and Clyde’s work are all taken from her own original photographs. “I’m not a professional photographer,” she modestly claims before revealing that she used to take pictures for magazines and “had a couple of exhibitions of photography.” She has remained loyal to her 5 mega pixels, fixed lens “beloved Leica camera” throughout. We were surprised to discover that she didn’t have zoom or wide-angle lenses, considering her expansive compositions. It often feels as though we’re observing her collaged cityscapes from a great distance, looking down on a distant pool of swimmers or across the bay at a string of sinking cars.

Bonnie and Clyde's observations of ‘others’ and the world around her are wonderfully calm and non-judgemental. “It’s just everyday life,” she says, “I don’t want my artwork to impart judgement of the places I explore and the people I observe".

Travel is a vital component of Bonnie and Clyde’s art. “I like going to new places and people watching”, she explains, adding that she especially likes to see the “gritty” side of a place not just the tourist postcard views. She physically needs to be there to pick up on the destination’s atmosphere, feeling, light and palette. When she’s there she will take hundreds of photographs for her archive. Interestingly she doesn’t always create a piece or series immediately following a trip, as she did with her American West Coast adventure. Sometimes a place she’s visited can spark an artwork year’s later, like with ‘Tokyo Beat’.

It’s the architecture of a city that really grabs Bonnie and Clyde’s attention. She loves the graphic nature of Modernist buildings and the repetitive patterns of skyscrapers and high-rises. She seems to have a penchant for bizarre and quirky architectural creations, such as the ‘Binoculars Building’ in her ‘FIVE’ print, and the giant fabricated cricket (insect) in 'Tokyo Beat’. We asked whether she was inspired by any artists and she revealed that “I really liked Dada when I was young,” but admits she is “terrible with the history of art, I admire many artists …Tracey Emin, Linda Sterling, Peter Blake, Bill Viola and Laurie Anderson to name a few, but I find all other creative avenues equally inspiring from music, film and architecture to design and photography.”

Where will Bonnie and Clyde’s little light-filled studio take her next? Well, she fancies a trip to Barcelona. It will be quite a step away from her recent survey of LA’s postmodernist architecture, but she’s keen to explore Gaudi’s neo-Gothic creations. She's been asked to contribute to a new touring show opening this November at Leeds College of Art. Titled “The Subterraneans”, it will be based around Jack Kerouac and his influence. Bonnie and Clyde will be exhibiting a new 20 screen print with collage elements, 'The Strip'.

Many thanks to Bonnie and Clyde for welcoming us into her beautiful bijou studio and giving us a glimpse into her fascinating artistic journey, from Bradford to Brighton and beyond!