When Carrie Bonnet was in high school, she undertook an experiment. Prefiguring her interest in abstract art, she decided to try painting with her left hand. “I knew it would be challenging,” explains the right-handed Bay Area artist, “but I loved what happened when I tried it. It made the results even better, cooler. What ended up on the canvas was unexpected and genuinely exciting. That was when I started learning to love the accident, to let the paint drip and love the drip.”
There have been many artistic endeavors for Bonnet since then, but you can draw a straight line between this experience and her current work in mosaic, which she was drawn to because “even when you’ve mastered the technique, you can’t predict or control what happens when the tile breaks,” she says. “I love venturing into the unknown that way.”
Her embrace of this entropy is a clear departure from her work in communications management, in which, she says, she must “predict the unpredictable.” Mosaic, then, is in some ways a counterweight to the demands placed daily on her left-brain functions. “The pieces I create tend to be abstract,” she explains, “and I frequently don’t even care about ‘proper’ technique. I reject the limitations of what’s ‘allowed.’ I might let the forms flow outside the frame, use multiple grout colors …There are no rules, no wrong answers, no bad choices – it’s a matter of letting go and trusting the random.”
Carrie’s desire to “color outside the lines” may also be attributable to the exotic forms of expression she discovered while traveling with her family, the creative artifacts unbound by Western convention. “My dad was in the jewelry business,” she says. “He went overseas to source stones, metals and other materials, and we’d go along. We went to places like Indonesia, Morocco and India.” She has since visited India a dozen times.
Her attraction to abstraction, however, may have been formed closer to home. “My sister is a very talented artist,” she says. “She can look at something and draw it with incredible accuracy. I remember trying to draw things – dinosaurs come to mind – and they would never end up looking like what they were supposed to be. But my sister always encouraged me. Then, when I was in fourth grade, a teacher introduced me to abstract figure drawing, which opened a whole new world to me.”
Carrie later enrolled at the University of California Santa Barbara to study communications, but she minored in art history, developing a particular fondness for modern art. She also took art classes, including one devoted to sculpture. She increasingly found herself agreeing with sculptor and conceptual artist Robert Morris that art is defined not by the nature of the art object itself but by the viewer’s relationship with it.
She recalls an assignment to represent change. Her response was to fill a Plexiglas box with balloons. Over time, the balloons shrank; they existed in a sustained state of change. Carrie titled the piece “What Stays the Same Is That Everything Changes.” Equally as important to her, however, was the viewer’s relationship to the box of balloons: “Because the balloons shrank at different rates, their size and position varied. Someone observing the box from one angle would have a different relationship to it than someone observing it from another.” “What Stays the Same” was selected for the university’s undergraduate art exhibit.
At UCSB Carrie studied with Gary H. Brown, also serving as a T.A. for his Creative Visual Journal class. “I was a very Type A student,” she reveals. “Gary helped balance that out and reinforced my earliest association of art with pleasure,” reflected today in the satisfaction she takes from laying down the grout lines in her mosaic pieces. She undertook post-graduate study with Michael Markowitz at 23rd Street Studio. Carol Shelkin and Ellen Blakeley have also influenced her development as an artist.
Carrie makes art primarily in the studios of Sausalito-based Heath Ceramics, one of the few mid-century American potteries still in operation. She frequently assists her mentor Lisa Bookstein at various mosaic workshops. “Lisa is the HR manager at Heath,” Carrie informs. “She called me as a reference for a job candidate in 2009 and mentioned that she led mosaic workshops. I was intrigued, so I signed up.”
“At the time, I’d been painting and drawing,” she continues, “and at first I couldn’t quite figure out this new medium. When I grouted my first piece, the outcome was such a surprise.” That sense of discovery continues to drive her. She’s reminded of a lesson learned from Markowitz; “Imagine being a two-year-old picking up a crayon for the first time, moving it along the surface and seeing what happens,” says Carrie. “Sometimes what you create is not a conscious choice – it’s just what happens. I’m inspired by the possibilities.”