With broad and dramatic splashes of glowing color, the works of artist Rhona LK Schonwald turn into a magnificent and joyous celebration of life. They’re also testament to a charmingly eccentric personality who rediscovered art later in life and has become acclaimed nationally for her paintings, organic sculptures and her nature- oriented photography.
Schonwald offers some marginally concrete descriptions to even the most abstract of her works (Gold Canyon, Transcendence or In the Beginning). But the artist says the vibrant swirls and swoops of blazing color, set to canvas in an entirely improvisational fashion, are designed to be subjects of speculation and interpretation for her customers and their families and friends.
“There’s so much technology out there, and I find that as a result people don’t use their imaginations anymore,” she notes. “The best painting I do is when it’s almost like I’m not there at all—I’m sort of in a trance, and the work comes naturally.”
Schonwald had been an avid and multidisciplinary creative type as a child and adolescent, even lying about her age to get into a jewelry class at the age of 11, but she says her family did not exactly encourage her unique artistic temperament.
“My mother’s advice to me was that I should do dog portraits,” she says, laughing. “They never did quite get who I was.”
Her rebellious spirit also continued in art school, where an institutional emphasis on realism clashed with her abstract sensibilities. “The conventionally accepted form of art at the time was not what I did—I splashed paint everywhere and looked for forms in the colors, and everything and every way you looked at it was different,” she says.
Schonwald majored in art and art education at college and worked as an art teacher, but eventually she entirely set aside her creative side to raise her kids. Later, when divorce disrupted her domesticated existence, a counsellor suggested she go back to painting and sculpting as a therapeutic outlet. Her subsequent rebirth as a full-time artist has seen her develop an extensive catalog of large-format prints, in addition to original paintings, sculptures and photographic work.
“The prints are useful for people who love art but have never bought original artwork before, so it’s partially an educational process,” Schonwald says. “I’m also glad that printing technology has vastly improved, as I used to have printmakers tell me, ‘Hey, lady, your colors are too bright for us to work with.’”
Asked to interpret her use of those extremely vibrant and vivid colors, Schonwald offers that her palette embodies her own particular, very inclusive worldview.
“I’m a big believer in the concept that ‘no man is an island,’ and my use of strong primary colors becomes a metaphor for human and global relationships,” she says. “Sometimes I try to consciously use and blend absolutely disparate colors to create a sense of harmony. I know a lot of people use their works to do deep, meaningful protest, but I prefer to create joy and build great relationships. And I do love it—the reactions I’ve had from people have been great.”
That wry sense of humor is part and parcel of Schonwald’s somewhat unusual relationship with her many customers, who are spread across the country and around the world. Many buy her works sight unseen, trusting her instincts and oddly instinctual sense of what will appeal to new patrons. It’s a curious arrangement, perhaps, but just part of Schonwald’s one-of-a-kind persona and her imaginative creative process.
Andy Stonehouse is a writer and editor based in Northern Colorado, specializing in automotive, recreation and shelter stories. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.