‘Abstract, emotional landscapes’

Christy Bonneau’s internationally recognized paintings on display at family business

BRATTLEBORO — Abstract paintings by local artist Christy Bonneau are on display at the The Works Bakery Café on Main Street in Brattleboro throughout August.

Bonneau describes her medium-to-large-scale oils as “abstract, emotional landscapes infused with the feeling of what it means to be innately human.”

Jules Place (, one of the many galleries showcasing Bonneau's works, writes that each of Bonneau's paintings “causes pause, draws the viewer into its center, and demands an emotive response.”

Bonneau often integrates her oils with printmaking, intimate etchings, transfers, and collages for a different multi-media expression. Crediting luminaries Helen Frankenthaler and Peter Beard for teaching her what it means to be a true artist, Bonneau says she has discovered what she calls “the synergy of the professional artist: discipline and freedom.”

Lisa Lorimer, founder of the Vermont Bread Company, describes her reaction on walking through The Works Bakery Café and seeing Bonneau's show mounted:

“She has a great story - a local Spofford, N.H., woman who has an international reputation, yet she continues to show her work here for Gallery Walk once a year. She has sold over 100 paintings through a gallery in Boston, has had her work shown on David Letterman, and her art is collected by Frida Kahlo's family. I just thought how we are so lucky to have local access to her amazing work every August.”

Bonneau's husband, Richard French, says Bonneau was born an artist.

“She is very modest and might tell you she became one [an artist] about 10 years ago when she began selling her paintings. But the truth is that as soon as she could pick up a pencil she began working. She was doodling and creating from day one,” French says.

Bonneau says she believes that creating is “part of my being,” and that there is no simple answer as to how she became an artist.

'I create to feel alive'

“I create to feel alive,” she says. “When you are younger you may fall into a certain line and path, but whatever that path is, it provides something as an artist to explore. When something happens to get in what you think is your way, that too becomes another opportunity for art and as a person.”

French, owner of The Works Bakery Café in Brattleboro and in Keene, N.H., beams as he discusses his wife's achievements.

“Christy is a phenomenal lover, partner, and mother,” he says. “Before establishing herself as a painter she did many other things. She always had an eye on how to bring in income.”

She earned degrees in graphic design and fine arts. As a graphic artist, she developed a business producing high-end, hand-crafted invitations.

French notes that Bonneau's clientele have included the likes of Paul McCartney and Tiger Woods. “These invitations were so special [that] they were shown on David Letterman's show and were featured in Rolling Stone magazine,” he adds.

Although these achievements were remarkable, French says, he'd also wanted to do what he could to encourage Bonneau as a painter.

“Fifteen years ago, when she was waiting tables at the old Max's Restaurant in West Brattleboro, I secretly Sheetrocked my barn, which was being used as my man cave, you know - a hangout with a pool table and Naugahyde couch,” he said.

French got rid of all those manly comforts and turned the space into a studio for Bonneau. She was surprised and delighted, he said, and her career took off from there.

In a show at the Southern Vermont Art Center in 2000, Bonneau sold her first painting, to the Frieda Kahlo estate, and received her first offer from a gallery to showcase her work: Jules Place in Boston. Now she is represented by galleries all across the country, says French.

Bonneau says she doesn't consider herself an artist to the exclusion of the many other things that makes her whom she is:

“I am proud to be a wife and mother,” she says. “Yet I do love the medium of paint. Painting for me is a process of discovery which draws upon my subconscious. Not that I mean to imply I am in an altered state of mind or anything. But I do want to bury myself in the enjoyment of painting.”

The amount of time it takes for Bonneau to complete a painting varies with a variety of factors.

“My abstract paintings are done in layers of colors,” she says. “One layer must set before I can move to the next. This can be days or even weeks, depending upon the weather or the season.”

'I believe colors do live...'

At the outset of a painting, Bonneau says, she is often inspired by her surroundings, especially their colors. “I believe colors do live,” she says. “Within the fields of color the human spirit dances with the rhythm of life.”

“As I begin working I think, Perhaps this will work, perhaps it will not,” Christy adds. “Everything is dependent on size and scale.”

Although Bonneau has now sold many paintings, her success does cause her to reflect.

“It has taken me a long time to create a body of work,” she says. “As I become more successful, and more people want my work, I fear I can not keep up with the demand.”

She says she does not want to become a “machine” pumping out “stereotypical” Christy Bonneau paintings.

“It remains vitally important to me that my work must reflect who I am,” she says.

Bonneau admits that sometimes people come up and say they just can't understand her abstract paintings.

“I tell them, if I were to paint a barn, and then paint the same barn every day, you would see the barn change every day,” she says. “Abstract painting is like that barn. It can mean anything to everybody, and it can't be the same thing for everyone. If you feel some discomfort in finding what the painting means to you, that discomfort is incredibly human.

“Honestly, when one looks at one of my paintings, I have no idea what people might see. My work is done in many layers of paint. People may see patches of colors, and wonder how they meet. Are all things here integral to the whole or not? There may be drips that go one way or the other. Do these drips speak to you? What about oddities in the picture?”

Imperfections “make us who we are,” she says:

“What we're really and truly seeing depends upon what we're experiencing in the painting - all these layers - and considering how all the little threads and stitches are put together.”

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