New York

Keiko Bonk

Piezo Electric Gallery

Keiko Bonk was born in Hawaii. She attended college there, in California, and finally in New York. The colleges can be read as stopping points on a journey to the Lower East Side, where she has been performing and exhibiting regularly since 1983. Typically Bonk’s earlier paintings depicted young lovers (alone or in pairs) against backdrops of volcanoes, jungles, moonlit rivers, or fire. The iconography was pure soap-opera cliché, while the colors were MTV lurid and the content syrupy and one-dimensional. The paintings’ minimal charm resided in their pose of innocence and overt romanticism. The images were specific enough for the viewer to get the drift of the narrative immediately, yet vague enough for overdetermined critics to read more into them if they wanted.

In Bonk’s most recent paintings, the only thing that has changed is the imagery. Peace symbols in a landscape of roses or skulls, barbed wire, Harley Davidson motorcycles, and other macho paraphernalia are described in a flatfooted, straightforward manner. The colors are inky, and almost tattoolike in their tonalities. These images call up the ’60s Vietnam era; all were already cliches in their own time, and even more so now The artist may want her audience to take them seriously, or perhaps as ironic social commentary but I found them inadvertently cynical. It isn’t the cloud of nostalgia or adolescent romanticism hanging over them that bothers me. It’s the fact that they seem like large mock-ups for record jackets. Bonk’s paintings derive from that realm of glitzy commercialism, and the stunted emotions it sells. They pay homage to an arrested development.

John Yau