Randal Davis     About the grid      December 2010

This folio of ten mixed media drawings were packed together by the artist, confirming what is otherwise apparent to the eye, that they comprise an integrally related series. While image format of the drawings is identical, a 6 inch square 16-module structure, the paper sizes varied considerably and eccentrically, suggesting that they were originally executed on larger sheets and cut apart.

All seem to have been hung in the studio (pin marks), several in different horizontal and vertical orientations. None of the works are dated or titled. It is probable that they were made in 1985-86, based on some clear similarities to dated sketchbook materials, and more general similarities in palette effects to the subsequent 1987 Nepali Carpet designs.

As a means of structuration, the grid, loosely or more precisely constituted, was an almost constant presence in Bonnie Bronson's work, appearing as she transitioned away from her Abstract Expressionist paintings in the early and middle 1960s, and remaining in her last works.

Lucy Lippard's 1972 essay on the grid could well have been written with Bronson in mind. "The grid," she wrote, "is music paper for color, idea, state of mind….It is a handy but potentially overemphasized instrument by which to control the void…a way to violate the ominously blank surface. For the artist proving him- or herself against order, its perfection is temptingly despoilable."

And thus Lippard proceeds through a cataloging of what amounts to the grid's dialectical tensionings as a compositional device. But like many such essentially oppositional modelings, the message can rather take over; I'm hardly more convinced that Bronson was "proving herself against order," whatever that means, than I am of some of Lippard's other possibilities, but that is, perhaps, finally the point - that Lippard was trying to map the grid as a space of possibility, of potential.

Jasper Johns said it earlier, simply and more mysteriously, in what became one his most oft-quoted remarks, from a 1959 profile: "It all began with my painting a picture of an American flag. Using this design took care of a great deal for me because I didn't have to design it. So I went on to similar things like the targets - things the mind already knows. That gave me room to work on other levels."

The underlying 4 by 4 modular structure of Bronson's drawings is at once the common feature to each of the series, yet it is also at times itself hardly visible, an armature almost completely obscured by dense washes of color, or overhung with competing geometries of circles and diagonals.

What is extraordinary about these small works is how thoroughly they ring the changes on what might otherwise seem highly restrictive; the bilateral symmetry of the basic structure will obviously favor the kaleidoscopic tilings found in Untitled I, III and VIII. But this modesty of scale does not seem intrinsic to the more diffuse fields of, say, Untitled II, IV or IX.

The differences between these are in part what Rosalind Krauss called "centripetal" and "centrifugal" works - the former "a mapping of the space inside the frame onto itself" while the latter "compel[s] our acknowledgement of a world beyond the frame."

Different ways of looking at art, to be sure, but different ways of looking at the world as well. And, as Jasper Johns would have it, ways of looking at oneself and the world "on other levels."

Art lets us hold them in our hands.