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Artist Bea Bonanno

Updated: Jul 12, 2021


Bea Bonanno’s work is an exploration of the human psyche through the interaction of texture, color, and shape. Patterns emerge from the synthesis of the invisible self given visual form. Motifs repeat, transforming with each iteration, like a memory being remembered. Thought-forms made solid colliding and interacting with one another over a background of feeling tuned by color.


Bea is a fiber artist living in Lawrence, Kansas. She has a BFA in Textile Design from The University of Kansas and produces her work in her home studio. Each of Bea’s pieces are woven using multi-harness looms that allow her to create intricate patterns imbedded into the fabric. Her material selections are based largely on color and texture to create relationships between forms that intrigue and challenge expectations of traditional tapestry weaving techniques.



Tell us a little bit about yourself and your background in the arts.


I grew up in New York and New Jersey with family in the Midwest and abroad that I would visit frequently throughout my childhood. My mother was passionate about theatre, films, and art; but most of all reading. There were many days spent visiting a museum or seeing a play but no matter what, we almost always ended up at a bookstore for at least an hour. What has stayed with me from those days isn’t so much the particular shows or pieces of art or books I leafed through, but the feeling of the spaces. Everything from the smells and lighting, to the textures of the surfaces, the other people in the space and even the mood I was in, enrich these places in my memory. The essences of these memories often appear in my work, captured in color, abstracted down to the shape of a feeling.


My father worked in restaurants and even had his own for a few years. He is Italian and would cook elaborate meals many nights of the week. I would frequently put off doing my homework to help him cook, picking up new skills every time I was allowed to attempt a new task. I consider cooking to be my first creative passion; I enjoyed the drive to create something I was craving and sharing it with others. Learning to cook developed within me a sense of confidence to experiment with ingredients that’s similar to the way I play with color and texture in my art. I’m often inspired by a form or color and I’m driven to create them with a desire that feels very much like hunger, building up visual flavors with layers of pattern, washes of color, and textured shapes.


Another significant creative influence I had growing up was my mother’s sewing. She would make me clothes and costumes, things for around the house, and from time to time, a dress for herself. Learning to sew even the simplest things was such a thrill to me and I remember being so proud to “know how to sew” even if I wasn’t very good. Since I had such an interest in sewing, my grandma taught me to knit when I was a teenager and I loved that as well. I even started a knitting club at my high school! It was this rudimentary understanding of sewing and knitting that inspired me to study textile design in college.


Up until my decision to major in textile design I didn’t consider myself creative at all. I had a very narrow view of what it meant to be creative and I felt that since I “wasn’t good at drawing” I wasn’t artistic. And yet I felt strongly that textiles was going to be the right place for me. During my time in the textile department at the University of Kansas I learned to design and produce fabrics for a variety of purposes. I eventually focused on embroidery and screen-printing to create my senior work. I intended to pursue a career in fashion after graduation and would often make the fabrics I printed or embellished into garments and accessories, but I was also inspired by fashion photography and created a series of embroidered figure drawings on intricately detailed backgrounds.


After graduation I had a few jobs in fashion and design, but I quickly learned that those worlds weren’t for me. So in the Autumn of 2010, I decided to keep my creativity for myself and pursue a life as an artist. I began this new practice with watercolor and pastel drawing; while it wasn’t what I studied, I didn’t have any looms yet and I had to work with what was available to me. Plus I had to fit it all in my apartment!


In my early paintings I experimented with both figurative and abstract work but eventually I began to make pieces that I loosely considered “weavings.” I would draw warps and wefts, creating tapestries with ink, pastels, and paint. At this time I also started doing collage work, a practice I have integrated into my process as a means of working through a piece and to clear my head. I often joke that working on a collage is like putting together a puzzle without a picture. I love the process of striking the perfect balance with my carefully collected components.


I got my first loom seven years ago and it took about four years of learning and experimenting to find the technique that I currently use; and roughly an additional year to develop my style of mark making in the fabric.


What kind of work are you currently making?


I am primarily weaving tapestries using a technique called supplemental weft. This is a process that allows me to create freestanding forms against a sheer background fabric. I can build up texture or keep things sparse, which gives me room to play with density and the way light enters a piece. Each tapestry is made row by row and the process of weaving them is similar to a printer moving back and forth across a page depositing colors in thin lines.


While I am often inspired by particular forms or textures and will plan a piece on paper, the underlying meaning of each one isn’t clear until I am able to see the work off the loom. I follow my nose and focus on balancing colors, forms, and textures trusting that the meaning flows through me and into the fabric, leaving a chronicle of choice influenced by experience and emotion. Every piece is a reflection of the world within me that’s been shaped by the world around me.


What is a day like in the studio for you?


The best studio days are the ones where I do a bit of everything I love. I’ll start to work in the morning and warm up with a drawing or play around with collage forms If I’m not diving right into the weaving with a definite plan. Sometimes I’m lucky enough to have left off at a point where I know just what to do and I can’t wait to get started again. I have two looms that I keep active and throughout the day I’ll work on one or both depending on my goals for each piece. I’ll work until the early evening hopefully having woven several inches and worked through a plan for the next time I’m in the studio.


What are you looking at right now and/or reading?


Instagram, Gossip Girl, and The Nanny.


Where can we find more of your work?


My website is bbpaperandfiber.com but I’m much more active on my Instagram @beabannas. I also have a fun pet project account called @bae_dreams_ where I post sensual figure drawings!





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