Born in Okinawa into a US Air Force family and raised in the United States, Bonnie Kemske is an American living and working in Cambridge, England. She comes to her artwork and her academic research from a diverse arts background. As a young woman she trained in modern dance and ballet in New York City. This training and the sense of body awareness gained from it have been a consistent aesthetic influence in her life.
CHANOYU Her interest in the expression of the spiritual in secular art led to an undergraduate degree in religion from Goucher College in Baltimore, USA. Leaving university she travelled to Kyoto, Japan, to study the Zen Buddhist art form of chanoyu, Japanese tea ceremony. Chanoyu is a highly developed and complex art form that centers on the preparation and drinking of a thick green tea. The tea is served in a ceramic bowl, which the guest cradles in both hands as he or she drinks. The tactile qualities of the bowl are integral to the appreciation of it, and the handling of the bowl creates an intimacy between host, bowl, and guest, inducing a self-reflective calm. This tactile moment, the moment of drinking tea from what is often an irregular and sometimes rough-surfaced bowl, has been the impetus within Bonnie’s professional studio career.
LIVING IN BRITAIN Bonnie moved from Kyoto to London to marry Tony Holland, a young psychiatrist she had met in the US. After the birth of their two sons, Jake and Danny, she returned to ceramics, which she had begun to learn while at university, and established a studio in Cambridge, England. After ten years of studio work, she decided to further investigate her interest in ceramic textures and was accepted to do a PhD by practice at the Royal College of Art in London, supervised by Emmanuel Cooper. (Photo: The Three Graces)
WORKING AS AN ARTIST-RESEARCHER Shortly after beginning her research Bonnie realized that her interest did not lie in texture as much as in the experience of touch itself. That led to the creation of her 'Cast Hugs', sculptural forms made by the body and for the body. Commenting on holding one of her Hugs, a gallery visitor remarked: 'Snuggling up to an object that 'fits' with your body - quite intimate yet strange, as you are not the only person who 'fits' with that object...it's like sharing the same intimate moment, one that is experienced by many others but at different times in different places - people with different associations, experiences and backgrounds.'
WRITING In 2017 Bloomsbury UK published Bonnie's book, The Teabowl: East and West.
Told from her personal perspective as a ceramicist and Tea student, it presents the story of the iconic Japanese teabowl in its historical context and use in chanoyu (Japanese tea ceremony), and in its appropriation into contemporary ceramics.
Her second book, Kintsugi: The Poetic Mend, was published by Herbert Press (Bloomsbury Publications) in the UK in February 2021, and in the rest of the world on 20 April 2021.
'Everything with a shape, breaks.' Kintsugi, 'gold joining', takes the shards of destruction and creates new pieces with highlighted gold seams. This book introduces kintsugi’s technique and materials and its historical and contemporary perspectives, as well as exploring its strong metaphor of overcoming tragedy through creative non-fiction.
Bonnie Kemske has also written or presented academic papers for journals and conferences, including those in art, ceramics, art history, the science of touch, and the social sciences. She was Editor of Ceramic Review from 2010-2013. She has published feature articles and reviews for Crafts, Studio Potter, Ceramic Review, Ceramics: Art & Perception, The Art Newspaper, New Ceramics, and other publications. Her 2008 PhD written thesis, 'Evoking Intimacy: Touch and the Thoughtful Body in Sculptural Ceramics', is accessible through EThOS -- http://ethos.bl.uk/OrderDetails.do?uin=uk.bl.ethos.489168
OTHER VENTURES Bonnie continues to be an advocate for touch in our lives through collaboration and exploration. For instance, she is featured in one of Josh Morgan's podcasts, 'The Plural of You'. She also was a major contributor to a BBC Radio 4's episode, 'Mending Cracks with Gold' (kintsugi), on Something Understood. She has served as a PhD supervisor, academic examiner, and as a nominator and selector for many competitions and awards. She has been a guest lecturer and has conducted many workshops on kintsugi, touch, the human figure, and writing.
Click here to see references to publicity about Bonnie Kemske's work.