Interview with artist Bob Bonies on October 29, 2012

Bob Bonies

The interview was conducted by Marjan de Visser in his home and studio in The Hague. We talked for more than two and a half hours about the use of acrylic paint, technique and the artistic intentions of Bob Bonies.

More artist interviews can be read on artist interviews & artist interviews.

Short biography

1955-1960 ca Art Academy The Hague and Stockholm.

1960 first exhibition at the Observatory Gallery in Stockholm.

1962/63 visits the US and paints abstractly.

Bob Bonies and his universal visual language

Bob Bonie’s paintings are a universal visual language, which makes them multiplicable. It is a standard product and therefore accessible to everyone. The idea is that uniqueness is removed from art and that art can integrate into society. The first time Bonies came into contact with acrylic paint was in 1962 in the US. Then he makes his first experiments with the paint, but really works are not yet achieved. In that period he mainly works with gouache and oil paint.

Bob Bonies artist interview


In 1964 Bonies paints optical paintings (Opart) using pre-prepared linen with alkyd paint from Flexa or Histor. He buys this paint from the local paint shop in Wassenaar, where he lives. He uses the colour fans for the choice of colour. The colour palette used is: red/yellow / blue and green in two shades. He does not like this paint very much. He has some works from this period in the depot. I looked at four of them.

paintings from 1964 with Alkyd

Happy Days Haags Gemeente Museum (Kunst Museum)

Around 1965 Bonies makes multiple of metal and a bent perspex sheet. He bends and welds (spot welds) the metal himself, as well as the paintwork for which he uses Sikkens car paint. The perspex plate is interchangeable and has the colors red/yellow and green, so you could adjust your artwork to taste every time. A copy of this hangs in the studio and in the living room. At the time of the interview with Bob Bonies (October 2012), this multiple hangs in the Happy Days exhibition of the Haagse Gemeente Museum (Kunst Museum). Currently, in 2021 there is another exhibition about the works of Bob Bonies in the Kunst Museum and in Heden in The Hague.

Design drawings

In his office, Bonies has a design drawing with the dimensions of all his works. All sorted in folders by year. From the design on paper, the next step is a miniature model on a board or MDF. These models are neatly stored in crates and boxes. Bonies went to the galleries with these models. The MDF boards are cleaned/degreased in advance with TRI (available from the do-it-yourselfer) and no benzene because then it remains greasy and the gesso does not adhere. In the beginning, Bonies varnished some panels with Lascaux acrylic varnish matt, but he did not think the result was good enough and he stopped doing this.

Bob Bonies artist interview
studio view Bob Bonies

Acrylic paint from Lascaux

After 1966 Bonies paints with acrylic paint on canvas. He paints directly with the Lascaux brand. He got this paint from Max Bill, who received it directly from the manufacturer Diethelm. Bonies has also used Smincken for a while, but that did not smear well. Bonies stretches his canvases himself, first with staples on the edges (see the works before 1965) and later with staples on the back. Sometimes he prepares his canvas before stretching, and sometimes after stretching. In the first years, Bonies painted on ‘cotton-duck’. Prepared this yourself with 4 coats of universal primer from Lascaux. After the first layer had dried, only the second could be applied and so on. The layer was then sanded for better adhesion with the acrylic paint. This was a very time-consuming preparation. At the time, Bonies consciously chose to prepare the cotton duck themselves. A universal primer on which you could paint with acrylic did not exist at that time. Claessens in Belgium, a company that prepares linen, then only used an oil paint primer. This primer is absorbent and not suitable for acrylic paint. Only when Claessens also applied universal primer to her linen in 1980 did Bonies start painting on it. This is very valuable information that the Bob Bonies interview brought me.

The four points of the compass

The paintings are painted horizontally. Here Bonies uses the method of the 4 points of the compass. This means that he paints each color field in 4 layers. Each layer in one direction. First, each layer has to dry before the next can be put on. This gives a good cohesion, and no brushstrokes are visible, because this is what he has in mind. The structure of the carrier is important, it provides the correct color intensity. A surface that is too smooth will not give the desired intensity. The universally prepared linen medium-fine from Claessens Belgium, which he uses since 1980 *, has the right structure for the desired colour intensity and brightness. * (Occasionally Bonies still used cotton-duck after 1980).

Color sounds

Bonies his works are colour sounds and have a methodical structure. Each field is set against the other, and never superimposed on each other. The edge of each field is covered with 3M crepe tape. Other tapes have been tried, but never better than 3M. Then he first paints the edges with a smaller brush and then the field. For this he mixes the paint with a medium so that the paint becomes slightly thicker. Because that way the paint does not penetrate under the tape. He paints towards the tape (Bonies demonstrates it to me). He paints all 4 points of the compass one after the other. Where the color fields meet, a dike is created consisting of two colors. This dike scrapes Bonies away with a loose Stanley knife to which he has glued tape. He holds this between thumb and index finger. Beforehand, the blade is sharpened on a cream-coloured whetstone. Bonies gently scrapes and cuts away the paint dike very professionally, he also showed me this technique.

Pure colors

Bonies usually use white, red, and blue but also yellow and green. All colours are pure from the tube, never mixed. Bob always applies the paint in 4 layers. He lengthens the paint per layer with a medium or water. Bob uses different mediums from Lascaux and tap water. The most important thing is to mix well. Because that is the trick of good and smooth paint. Bob achieves this by pouring the mixed paint and sieving her with a pair of pantyhose. He keeps these mixtures in separate pots. The colors white, red, and blue are opaque, the green and yellow cover less. To still achieve the desired colour intensity, Bob mixes the first layers with white in green and yellow fields. The first layer the most and the next two less, the last is pure.

Bob Bonies
Color tests Bob Bonies


In addition to works of art consisting of one canvas, Bonies also paints works of art consisting of 2 or more canvases. The artwork from 1964 in the collection of the Stedelijk Museum Schiedam is an example of this. The name for a work of art that is composed of 2 or more parts is ‘shape’. In order for the colour intensity of the fields to work optimally, the artworks must hang 3 cm from the wall. Bob does this by turning large metal eyes in the stretcher frames at the top and bottom.

Bob Bonies, Verschoven rechthoeken- Stedelijk Museum Schiedam

-S-00000422.1-2 1964, Alkyd op linnen, 180,0 x 110,0 cm.

‘Collection presentation Art after 1945’ Stedelijk Museum Schiedam

In the exhibition ‘Collection presentation Art after 1945’ Nov 2012, this work was shown by the Stedelijk Museum Schiedam, as can be seen in photo A. This turned out not to be the correct arrangement according to Bonies. The blue point must point upwards, see photo B. Colling Huizing, curator of the exhibition, has adjusted this accordingly. This mistake arose because several indications of directions were provided on the back. However a black and white photo in the SMS taken in 1964 shows how it was intended. This work was purchased by Hans Paalman when he visited Bob Bonies in his studio a few weeks before the exhibition. (This was one of the reasons I conducted the Bob Bonies interview.)

Documentation material about the exhibitions of Bob Bonies in Stedelijk Museum Schiedam. An undated black and white photo of the exhibition, by Bob Bonies. The blue dot is at the top, and the red is at the bottom.

Cleaning paintings

Bonies cleans his paintings himself. He also does this for the people who have bought work from him. In 1981, for example, he restored his works from the ICN (now RCE) collection, this was for a retrospective in the Van Abbe museum Eindhoven, period 1965-1981. If it is a smoked painting with tar deposits, he cleans it with a soap solution: washing-up liquid in tap water. Then the work is cleaned with tap water to not leave any soap residue. He uses a tea towel or tissue to blot the remaining water. He also uses the hair dryer to dry the painting. If a cleaning fails, or is not feasible because it is too dirty, Bonies will paint the field in question.

Intentions of Bob Bonies

Even when Bonies can no longer paint the work himself, he wants others to do it for him. Bonies believes that his wishes – and those of the artist in general – when it comes to conservation and restoration of his works should be respected. For Bonies, the ‘integrity’ of the image determines the expressiveness of his intentions. Any element that could distort perspective should be avoided, so scratches and smudges are not acceptable!

painting no 10-V from 1964 with alkyd paint and staples on the side, photographed during the Bob Bonies interview

Models and models

Scale model

Paint and medium in the studio

All photos of the material and the studio were taken during the Bob Bonies interview.

★ I like to share my knowledge of paintings and love for conservation with colleagues and clients ★

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