Studio Visit: Peter Bodnar
Studio Visit is a Q&A with a local artist. Here, a chat with artist Peter Bodnar, 85, Urbana.
Q: Have you been showing your work at other places besides here at the Cinema Gallery in Urbana?
A: The last big show was in Hawaii, and a former student, Tom Lieber, just called to ask me to be in a show in New York. A show in New York doesn't mean zip to me now. That part of my life I feel is over.
At 85, I just want to make another painting because that's the only thing I recognize.
Q: How old were you when you started making art?
A: Twelve, I guess. Helen Miller was the teacher at a one-room schoolhouse around Mount Morris, Mich., outside Flint. She and her sister took me to the Art Institute in Flint, and they included me in some of the classes there. I got hooked, and life went on. So I guess I owe all those people.
Q: Why do you use such a bright red color in your paintings?
A: I really don't know. Maybe those are the tubes I got. It works because of the line work. I found the red takes up the volume and deals with what I consider are the elements of art.
All my life I felt the obligation to be different and to be identified with myself because so many times artists have known people to feed off. I never did. I just became obsessed with my own marks.
As far as I know, there's no one else doing what I'm doing. At least I can handle that loneliness — most people can't. Shows and being recognized have never meant anything. Just do another Peter Bodnar.
Q: Did you work in a representational style before you began working abstract?
A: No. The one painting I call No. 1 I did in 1958. It's at the Aaron Galleries that used to be in Chicago but is now in Glenview. I remember that one and the one in my dining room — that's the biggest one I ever did.
Q: You are known for making smaller paintings. Why do you do that?
A: That was enough. I didn't want to use up all my red.
Q: Do you use oils or acrylic?
A: Acrylic. I don't know why. I decided acrylic was enough. Color was color to me. It served its purpose. Oil has its character but anything's good.
Q: How long did you teach art at the University of Illinois?
A: Around 30 years, until I retired in 1992.
Q: Did you enjoy it?
A: Oh, yeah. I think what I really learned was from the students and how their many lives were performed in front of us. They make a mark and you think, "Boy, that's neat." You don't steal it, but it becomes a part of you.
Q: What did you teach at the UI?
A: Everything. I started the lithography classes. Life drawing. And all the things that Curtis Stevens taught, including freshman orientation. I mostly ended up with graduate students.
Q: How often do you paint now?
A: Every chance I get.
Q: Do you have a studio at home?
A: My idea of a studio is two chairs. You prop the canvas up on one and sit on the other. That's my idea of a studio.
Q: How many children do you have, and did any of them become artists, too?
A: Five — three sons and two daughters. My oldest, Peter, teaches art at Spalding University in Louisville. My son, Steve, studied art and works in an Atlanta museum. Dave taught art in California but has come home to help us. Dawn, my daughter, and her husband produced the TV series "Cheers." She's still working in TV. My other daughter, Eden, does voice-over work up in Minneapolis.
Q: You were born in Czechoslovakia, right?
A: Yes, but I'm a Slovak. I was only a year old when I got here. I guess I'm an American.
My father worked in a factory, Ford Motor Co., and my mother just worked on the farm in Mount Morris, but they never discouraged me from becoming an artist.
Editor's note: The exhibition "Bodnar and Bodnar," featuring works by Peter Bodnar II and Peter Bodnar III, is on view through Saturday at the Cinema Gallery, 120 W. Main St., U. Hours: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday or by appointment. Call 367-3711.