Happy Accidents: An Afternoon with Bonny Lhotka and Russell Brown
Cascade, TSP Heavy Duty Cleaner and Oxy Clean, along with an aluminum plate and a hot steaming dishwasher are just the recipe for a “happy accident.” At least that’s what experimental artist Bonny Lhotka calls her concoctions in the kitchen. Whether she’s sanding a plain sheet of silver to create a glittery, almost crystalized surface or “cooking” her aluminum plates in a roaster, Bonny’s artwork harkens back to the vintage Tintypes of the past. Sometimes the journey to an artisitic masterpiece is rather serendipitous and Bonny is truly surrendered to the process.
“I ran across this effect almost by accident…when phosphates in dishwasher detergent were hurting fish, the industry removed it from the product. I put my pie tins in the dishwasher and they came out with a black and rainbowed effect with the new detergent. So I thought to myself, what if I did this on purpose? I wrapped them in aluminum foil, tried Cascade and TSP and found there could be many different looks for my metal plates. I cook them in an electric frying pan, literally boil them, sand them, laser cut templates and use my own SuperSauce™ solution to dissolve images onto the aluminum surface.”
This weekend Bonny Lhotka and Russell Brown will host free workshops for art students in the Annenberg Foundation offices in Los Angeles. Bonny is one of the featured artists in the Annenberg Space for Photography’s Digital Darkroom exhibit, the author of “Digital Alchemy: Printmaking Techniques for Fine Art, Photograph and Mixed Media” and producer of the Digital Art Studio Seminars series of instructional DVDs. Together with Russell Brown, senior creative director and Emmy award-winning instructor at Adobe, they will take students on a creative journey. It all begins with plenty of props and costumes for shooting fun images with their mobile devices, Russell’s expert tips for refining and printing their photos and getting their hands dirty with SuperSauce and aluminum plate “cooking” techniques.
Russell and Bonny met in 1997, when Bonny was co-organizing “Digital Atelier”: A printmaking studio for the 21st century” at the National Museum of American Art of the Smithsonian Institution. As the always- pioneering and uber-creative Russell was exploring the art of lenticular imaging, the two discussed the 3D approach and found a common bond in their appreciation for experimental technology and mixed media.
Bonny has a traditional print making background and prefers the hands-on process of integrating photographic images with surfaces like glass, aluminum and silver plates. She created her own SuperSauce that dissolves the coating on film for a full emulsion transfer onto any media.
“The substrate is just as important as the image itself. The photographic image then becomes the object. Digital inkjet on paper doesn’t feel like a whole meal to me. Not that I don’t appreciate the exquisite detail of compositing, but for me, the substrate is very important.”
When asked if she’s worried about giving away her secrets in this workshop, Bonny replied, “I learned this from the great Jerry Uelsmann who believes in complete sharing. Historically, artists have shared secrets. Without the process, the work doesn’t hold up. When my youngest son was 15, I sent him to a class with Jerry Uelsmann and that completely changed his outlook – when he was exposed to the magic of his process. If he was just working alone in his studio, without the gift of this workshop, it wouldn’t have given him the experience that then impacted his craft. It’s always good to give back.”
Bonny’s next project is to build a solar oven in her backyard. She wants to recycle her old glass windows and use a combination of black lining and the Colorado sun to “cook” her aluminum plates. Like a scientist in a laboratory, Bonny continues to invent new ways to bring her vision to life!
Visit the Annenberg Space for Photography to see more of Bonny Lhotka’s work at the Digital Darkroom Exhibit, along with the 16 other talented artists who each have their own unique and amazing processes.