Bonnie WEST ’09, Artist

Bonnie WEST ’09 lives her life in technicolor. A dedicated painter and self-proclaimed life artist, Bonnie studied studio art, art history, and museum studies at Chatham University, where she was part of the last all-girls cohort in the school’s history. Armed with a vision and a paintbrush, Bonnie interprets her life experiences via colors on canvas. Her dedication to art is evident, as she works to juggle the creative and business sides of her craft, with her job as the Assistant Curator at The Westmoreland Museum of American Art in Greensburg, PA. With a go-getter attitude and signature Ellis girl hustle, Bonnie reflects on her art, her future, and how they’re both a work in progress.
Years at Ellis:Grade 6 to Grade 12
Location:Pittsburgh, PA
Occupation:Artist & Museum Curator
Education:B.F.A. Studio Art, Chatham University

What inspired you to become an artist?
I have been an artist my whole life. I’ve had some kind of coloring utensil in my hand since I was little. When I started college, I didn’t think art was a viable career option, so I went through a handful of different majors, before finally coming back to art. It’s always been a passion of mine—the way I look at the world is through color. I’m inspired by color and my childhood. Growing up, I loved Lisa Frank and all the rainbow and neon 90s toys and accessories. And now in my art, I use those same colors I was drawn to in my childhood.

How did Ellis fuel your love of art? Can you tell me about your art experience at Ellis and how that shaped you as an artist?
Ellis completely shaped me as an artist. My teachers inspired me, and the art classes taught me technique without being too rigid. At Ellis, I was encouraged to be creative in my own way and take pieces in my own direction. I could explore my own creative inquiries and desires, because I learned the correct techniques and design skills to back them up.

For Ellis students reading this: is there any wisdom you’d want to pass on to them? What would you want them to know?
Don’t be afraid to be who you are and take risks. When you’re trying to figure out what you want to do, put yourself out there and try different things, you’ll find what you love. If you try something and don’t like it, at least you know it wasn’t for you. Be true to yourself along the way and be kind to yourself, too. My biggest failures have been my biggest learning experiences. I still wear my class ring, and I always think about Ellis’ motto “Esse Quam Videri,” and what that means. I think it really is a trend amongst Ellis girls, to live those words.

As an artist, what do you find the most difficult about having a creative profession? What do you find the most rewarding?
The most difficult part is balancing my other jobs with making art, and then finding ways to get my art out there and finding people to buy my art. The most rewarding part is being creative. Being able to paint every day and create art as a means of living is the goal, and I feel really lucky to be working towards that.

As a female artist, do you feel like there are more barriers to break?
I’ve been really lucky to have so many amazing women in my life that I haven’t experienced that much first hand. There are definitely women in the art world who have lifted me up. My teachers at Ellis, my professors at Chatham, Barbara Jones, the Chief Curator at the Westmoreland. In the museum world, it can seem like an old boy’s club, but that seems to be changing in my opinion. I think the confidence thing is always there for women, that “is it good enough?” It can be intimidating to approach men in the art field, but you have to build connections and network in order to get your name out there.

If you could do anything now, what would you do? Why?
A show at the Museum of Modern Art. There’s something incredible about a having a space to fill and curate. My background is in art, art history, and museum curation, and sometimes they seem separate, but they’re actually very closely linked. I’d love to curate my own space and make the art on the walls as well.

How would you describe yourself in three words?
Lover of color.

Tell me about a project or accomplishment that you consider to be the most significant in your art career so far.
My senior show at Chatham was a defining moment for me as an artist. It really pulled everything together that I love about art— art itself, museum curation, and art history. Designing the entire gallery space, creating art pieces unlike anything I’d ever made before, and putting them into the world for people to see— it was kind of like my introduction if you will.

Who is your favorite artist?
I would have to say Georgia O’Keefe, she has been my main inspiration since I was little. When I was in fifth grade, I did a painting based on one of her paintings, a giant sea shell, and one of my friends’ mom loved it and in return gave me a Georgia O’Keefe book. That was really amazing to me, I was so happy that she liked it so much. It really fueled my love for art.

What is your favorite museum?
MoMA in New York City.

What is the last book you read?
The Last Painting of Sara de Vos by Dominic Smith.