URBANA — Peter Bodnar: Painter, lover of all things, immortal soul; ended its life on August 10, 2021 in Vinalhaven, Maine. He left many unfinished canvases and things left unsaid. If he didn’t respond to your correspondence, know that he still cared.
He was born in Czechoslovakia on November 27, 1928. He was carried by his mother, Mary, to the United States, where his father, Peter, worked for the Ford Motor Company, in Detroit. They then moved to a small farm, outside of Mt. Morris, Michigan. He spent most of his fifth year at State Hospital in Ann Arbor, Michigan, where he suffered from acute osteomyelitis, poliomyelitis, scarlet fever, and chickenpox. He returned home with crutches, a brace and a scar from ankle to knee.
As a child, he spent most of his time drawing. He attended a one-room school. His works earned him a fellowship at the Flint Institute of Art. In high school, he became a bodybuilder. He hitchhiked all the way to Indiana to see his hero, Charles Atlas. He built his biceps up to 17 inches and could press 400 pounds. His classmates voted him most likely to become “The Strong Man, in the circus”.
In 1947, he won a scholarship to Western Michigan University in Kalamazoo to study art. He graduated in 1951 with a BA. During the summer he worked as a lifeguard on Potters Lake, where he met his wife, Phyllis Czuchna. (They fled in the spring of 1952). He taught in public schools for five years. A teacher in Flushing, Michigan, he taught 40 20-minute classes per week. He would carry all his art supplies in his car. His students called him “Mr. Art.” They liked the drawings he left on the blackboard: Indians, horses and Indian villages.
He often walked (and drove) slowly, always taking time to touch the ground and connect with the people and places where he worked and lived. Indian artifacts: arrowheads, knives, celts and hammers (many of which he found while walking through agricultural fields) lit his imagination. In 1955, he obtained an assistantship at Michigan State University and worked with John de Martelly in lithography. After earning his MFA in 1956, he headed to New York University, Plattsburgh, then to West Liberty State in West Virginia, and then to the University of Florida, eventually graduating. settled and taught at the University of Illinois, Urbana, for 32 years. years.
He built three houses; the first was a state-of-the-art cement block structure with a shed roof in Flint, Michigan; which he built almost alone. The second was a brick farmhouse, created with bricks from the Urbana Railroad roundhouse, demolished in 1961. He, Phyllis and his son Peter cleared, stacked and moved this brick into their 8.8 acres on Perkins Road in Urbana . His daughter Dawn sang songs, in her angelic voice, as they worked. He laid hardwood floors in the house, salvaged from a demolished church on Green Street in Urbana. His third home was built off the coast of the Atlantic in Vinalhaven, Maine, an island he, his family and many of his students have fallen deeply in love with since his first visit in the summer of 1968. was constructed from native spruce. trees that grew on his six-acre lot. The timber was pulled to the original site by horse, milled, and erected by Peter, his son Peter III, and his students at the Louisville School of Art in the summer of 1988.
Peter II was an essential catalyst for the change, growth and evolution of countless lives, a mentor for many artists in all creative fields. He emphasized the unique ability of each individual to add something creative and positive to this world. He believed that each person’s physical mark was special, an essential contribution to the universe and worth cherishing (authentic art). His philosophy emphasized a deep appreciation of the aesthetics of natural/organic forms: art as an integral element of life, woven into every fiber of its fabric. Although he saw little merit in narrative or illustrative artwork, he was fascinated by the great advances made in computer animation over the past 20 years.
His art is unique and does not fit easily into a subcategory of abstract art, but draws inspiration from Southwestern Native American pottery, jewelry, fiber art, hieroglyphic and pictographic forms of many ancient cultures, from the study of the Impressionist figure, from the never fully refined America, School of the Abstract Organism, Abstract Surrealism, and collective paintings by many Abstract Minimalists and Cubist artists of the first half of the 20th century.
His work, much of it done on canvas, is often small-scale and draws the viewer’s attention to an organic, monochromatic central form, surrounded by complementary design elements, varying widely in form, mass, volume and color. These secondary shapes provide the environment, framing and ambient spatial atmosphere for the central figure.
One cannot talk about his work without paying deep respect to his essential and sacred colours: medium and dark cadmium red, dark hooker green and dark Prussian blue. These colors are often underlain by ecru titanium white and naphthol crimson; which give layered colors more depth, opacity, nuance and radiant complexity. A supporting color palette including but not limited to cobalt blue, chrome green, phthalo green, pale green, light, medium and dark cadmium yellow, ocher yellow and sienna burnt, mars red, light cadmium red and alizarin crimson, microclimates provided, within the overall work, for a vibrant visual resonance. While its dark lines remain resolutely still, its colors can be perceived as vibrant, undulating and dancing.
There is no hard line dividing positive and negative space in his work. These spaces merge or merge. Although his paintings never attempted to employ the illusion of three-dimensional perspective, through his use of color tint, intensity, shading and brushstroke, the surface of the canvas almost flat becomes a 2D-plus observation screen. Although the artist did not intend to be narrative or illustrative, Peter was content that his works were considered non-normative, Rorschach inkblot tests. (What the viewer got from viewing his work was the correct conclusion for that individual).
Critics and colleagues respected his art/life. After his first exhibition in Chicago, art critic Fran Schulze called him “the new authentic surrealist”. Jerry Uelsman, photographer, wrote: ‘I have always cherished my Bodnars above all else – May I join in the justly deserved hymns of this praise. In the beginning, P. Bodnar created and created and created. On the occasion of his retrospective at the Illinois State Museum, Robert Evans, curator of art, said, “The paintings are small but mighty, they display a richness and intensity of color that makes them leap at the viewer. In his book, Notes for a Young Painter, Hiram Williams states, “Can there be warm geometry? Peter Bodnar’s work makes me believe there may be. …It is good to know that art is always positive, dynamic and a celebration of the individual creator. James B Byrnes, director of the New Orleans, Isaac Delgado Museum, wrote “Peter Bodnar belongs to a small group of 19th and 20th century artists, inventing and enriching an intensely personal visual vocabulary, largely linked to poetic imagery .”
Peter had an exhibition at his gallery, Gallery 103, on the island of Kauai, Hawaii, with an alumnus, Tom Leiber, in 2009. Peter and his son Peter III exhibited together at Urbana’s Cinema Gallery in 2014 He completed a series of eight paintings in the spring of 2021. He has had 40 solo exhibitions, 47 invitational exhibitions, and 14 grants and fellowships. His work is represented in 20 major art collections and museums.
Professor Jerry and June Savage will be hosting a celebration of Peter’s life from 2-5 p.m. on Sunday, May 29, 2022, at their home, 2137 County Road 1100 N, Sidney, IL 61877.
Peter is survived by his wife, Phyllis, who still lives at their Urbana home; sister and brother-in-law, Dr. Howard and Loralee Knotts-Murad of Marina del Rey, California. Peter and Phyllis brought five artistic/poetic children to life: Peter III, who is a teacher and artist, in Louisville, Ky.; Dawn, an actress, writer/editor and mother, married to writer/producer and father, Phoef Sutton, they have two children, Skylar Sutton and Celia Sutton and one grandchild, Mallory Wise, and live in South Pasadena, California; Eden, actor, voice-over artist and mother, her husband Kevin, writer, actor and father, and their three children, Arial Klein, Emerson Klein and Tiernan Klein and live in Minnetonka, Minnesota, Stephen, artist, teacher and father and his wife Heather, artist and mother, they are raising two children, Silvey Bodnar and Elizabeth Bodnar, in Scottdale, Georgia; and David, singer, actor, photographer, breeder, and caretaker of Phyllis and Urbana’s farm.
A poem by David Bodnar:
“Artistic and Human”
So they say “He’s gone”, “He’s gone”,
“He left this mortal plane of existence” –
I wouldn’t agree.
Although his body is no longer with us,
Much of Him is firmly entrenched, steeped and
Entangled in this world; in our memories
And our very existence.
Those he touched will never forget him,
Those whom he taught will always follow his words and, moreover,
Follow the philosophy and the way of being that they encouraged.
Those he helped to create,
Those whom he encouraged,
I can’t help but be overwhelmed and supported
By its genetic dispositions and
Her gentle persuasiveness to arouse love and admiration
Likewise the coldest stones among us.
Perhaps my father’s body has now returned to its elemental forms,
But he is still in good health,
Strong, brave and daring,
Alive in every atom of My Being.
For those of you who remember him and
And who value his creations, Artistic And Human,
He lives in you too.
Quoting George Hardiman, director of the graduate program in art at the University of Illinois, Champaign: “It is important to note that he is a teacher of exceptional merit and dedication. Bodnar’s students are the beneficiaries of the same responsiveness and commitment that he exercises in the realization of works of art. One of his main goals is to share his knowledge and understanding of art through teaching. His imprint on students is lasting, not so much because of his sensitivity or his consideration for others, but because his character is part of the richness of his art and his life. Bodnar’s path with art is one with his path with people – wisely informed, serious in purpose, and deeply compassionate. Bodnar’s attitude towards life and his unique humanistic style of living it truly exemplify the claim that a man’s life is his greatest work of art.