Interview ~ Steve Bonello

Bio

I’m a 55 year old artist, cartoonist, illustrator and sometimes writer from Malta. I’ve been cartooning for a local paper for 25 years now and have held two personal exhibitions of my work locally, as well as participating in a few collective ones. In a past life I was an employee of our national airline (Air Malta) for 30 years but decided to take an early retirement package when it was offered four years ago. That was followed by a short stint at a land transport company but I was made redundant after 18 months. That was a huge shock at the time but ironically it provided the kick in the backside I needed to try freelance work. It is not always an easy ride but the freedom it has given me to do more of what I like to do is really priceless. When I’m not at my work desk I like to take long walks – accompanied by my camera. If you’d like to know more about my home country here’s a link to an article I wrote last year. http://roadsandkingdoms.com/2015/know-before-you-go-to-malta/

1) Tell us a little about yourself, and your calling as a creative?

My earliest drawings (some of which I still have) date from 1976 when I was fifteen. They are mostly architectural renderings in ballpoint – elaborately decorated church facades and stuff like that. Then my art turned to heavier, darker stuff with influences from the likes of Munch and Bacon. Around 1985 or so I chanced upon a fantastic Ralph Steadman retrospective on London’s South Bank. The exhibition was called Between the Eyes and I was gobsmacked. I had never realized cartooning could be taken to such a level of savagery, emotion, powerful imagery. From then I knew this was basically the path I would love to follow…although the ‘savagery’ of my earlier work has mellowed with old age I guess…

Propaganda
copyright © Steve Bonello

 

2) Discuss your process and where you get your inspiration from?

I have worked with various mediums on paper in the past but now I work exclusively with technical pens (strictly speaking these are not really artists’ tools, they are more commonly used for architectural drafting) and coloured inks – some of which I mix myself sometimes. Working with points as fine as .13 mm means I build up work rather slowly. I would say my work concerns exclusively people. I am ever curious about the human condition, I am in turns amused, shocked, horrified, amazed by humans and I try to get something of that into my work. A recurring subject is couples and their relationships. I hardly ever set out to work specifically on a particular subject. What I normally do is sketch, sketch and then sketch some more until a subject starts to emerge from the sketches. It normally does after a couple of (very frustrating and panicky) days. With newspaper work I normally work digitally.

3) Describe your workspace? What is the one thing there you can’t live without?

I live in a partly converted house in Attard a block away from one of the finest Renaissance churches on the island. My studio is on the first floor. It’s an odd, longish 5-sided room with two walls fronting the streets. It has plenty of natural light and I absolutely love it as a work area. I spend most of my working hours here ever since I’ve gone freelance and it can get lonely at times too. I cannot live without my pc and internet – it’s that simple. It’s my gateway to the world and my means of communicating – not least with several artist friends. I admit I’m a bit of a Facebook junkie in that way. For me it’s a necessity.

copyright © Steve Bonello
copyright © Steve Bonello

 

4) Tell us what you do to get creative? Stay creative?

I believe one has to absorb from one’s environment all the time. By that I mean that one has to read (not necessarily art books) all the time, look at and absorb new (and old) art, visit exhibitions and museums when one can. It all adds up. On the personal level I believe that doodling and sketching – every day preferably – helps trigger the creative process.

5) When did you decide you wanted to be an artist? And has the internet become a good or bad aspect to life as an artist?

I have been interested in the creative process since my teens. However due to job pressures I had all but abandoned working with pen and paper from around 1997 to 2011. In the latter year I suddenly realised I wanted to try working with pens again (because digital media can be so corrupting in taking you away from traditional media) and surprisingly I found my old love had never quite left me.

I find the internet priceless. It helps to expose my work to an audience which previously I could never reach so I’m not complaining about that. Sending a cartoon by email against taking it to the newspaper by hand has probably saved me thousands of hours…

copyright © Steve Bonello
copyright © Steve Bonello

 

6) What do you like most about the art world?

The fantastic variety of talent one comes across everywhere, whether when visiting new museums (I recently saw great examples from the medieval Cologne school at the Wallraf Richartz Museum in Cologne – exquisite stuff) or finding that one exciting artist on Facebook or Pinterest. The world of art has never been this close to our fingertips…

7) What do you dislike about the world of art?

I am suspicious of the artists and stuff major galleries decide are ‘must have’ artists. I fail to see the greatness of Damien Hurst for instance – but that’s me. Start casting your stones now if you want to…

copyright © Steve Bonello
copyright © Steve Bonello

 

8) What is the toughest thing about being an artist?

It must be the unpredictability of it all. I produce two cartoons a week and never know what I am going to draw next. I complete one or two detailed works a month and never know if any of that will sell… I spend long hours on my own in my studio and that can be trying at times when inspiration doesn’t come and deadlines are looming. It can be tough but as I said earlier it is a fair price to pay for obtaining my freedom from the 9 to 5 job life.

9) You have been given a room in a house to paint! Each wall has to be a different colour! Which colours do you choose and why?

Tough one this. I’d probably go wild with orange, blue, yellow, red but then it’s debatable whether I’d live in it…!

10) You are being sent to a desert island and are told you can decorate your hut with 5 famous paintings. Which do you choose and why?

I’d make a raid on the Prado in Madrid and carry Bosch’s Garden of Earthly Delights, Rogier Van der Weyden’s magnificent Descent from the Cross and Goya’s Burial of the Sardine. Add Munch’s Madonna (any version will do thank you very much!) and perhaps a Gauguin featuring Tahitian women. Need one ask for more? I consider the first three among the world’s greatest paintings. Van der Weyden’s Descent is the epitome of beauty while the Goya and the Bosch have that streak of madness which makes them unique. Incidentally I have been to Madrid once but haven’t been to the Prado – the one time I was there the Prado was on strike for the three days I was in the city. I have never forgiven the Spanish for that.

copyright © Steve Bonello
copyright © Steve Bonello

 

11) You are asked to draw an image of your favourite animal as the next painting. Which animal do you choose and why?

I don’t normally draw animals and to be honest I struggle a bit when I do. I am an animal lover and cannot live in a house without cats. But if I had to draw a favourite animal it would be either donkeys or cows. I find these animals’’ eyes so expressive and docile. In the past I have toyed with the idea of drawing a flying cow with people stupidly gawping up at it in awe but never actually did it. Now maybe I just might…

12) You’ve been asked to hold a dinner party for famous painters. Which 4 would you invite? What would b on the menu?

I have no idea to be honest. I would like to know how minds like Gauguin’s, Francis Bacon’s and Munch’s worked but I’m not that sure I’d have liked them as dinner partners. I have always imagined that Gauguin was an insufferable boast in his lifetime – mind you his work merits that. If they accepted the invite and I’d have to cook it would have to be pasta because that’s practically all I can cook. You can imagine Gauguin sneering….

Having said that, last year I was lucky enough to spend two days with some of Europe’s finest cartoonists/illustrators at an EU sponsored event in Strasbourg – people like the Guardian’s top notch cartoonist Steve Bell, the Italian illustrator Alessandro Gatto (some exquisite work) Portugal’s Cristina Sampaio, Austria’s lovable Gerhard Haderer and the French legend Plantu. An amazing experience I will cherish for as long as I live. A bunch of amazing, down to earth people. The food was better than pasta too…

13) What’s your message to the World?

Oh really! My freelance life has made me rethink life’s priorities. Money isn’t everything, one’s happiness (or the search for it) is. Life is short and we live just the once. Make the best of it and keep hate and jealousy as far away as possible. We are indeed the lucky ones in a world with so much misery. I think I’d better stop here… (stands down from soap box)

copyright © Steve Bonello
copyright © Steve Bonello

 

14) Which is your favourite POD, and why?

Society6 is my favourite – it’s the only one where I make the occasional sale. The Maltese art market is a very limited one and the locals do not really value prints but would rather pay more for an original. But knowing some of my prints have ended up in places all over Europe, in the USA and South Africa has its satisfaction – and that is more valuable than what S6 pays really. I love the community feeling S6 provides and I can honestly say that I consider a few S6 artists as very good (if virtual) friends.

 

For more information and to see Steve Wade’s amazing work, visit his website: Steve Bonello, or contact her here: email!

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