Paul Wonner

(1920 - 2008)

About The Artist

Artist Paul Wonner is best known for his colorful still life works, painted in a loose figurative style. Born in Tucson, Arizona, Wonner moved to New York City in 1946 after being discharged from the United States army, where he worked as a commercial artist. There he came into contact with the work of the Abstract Expressionists and attended lectures at the studio of Robert Motherwell. Wonner later relocated to San Francisco where he studied at University of California, Berkeley, graduating with an MFA in 1953.

His work from the 1950s focused on traditional subjects such as bouquets and male bathers, painted in bold hues. These paintings led to his association with Bay Area figurative movement, along with peers such as Richard Diebenkorn. Wonner then spent the 1960s in southern California where he taught at the Otis Art Institute and UC Santa Barbara. His work there focused on the rendering of objects arranged in specific settings as well as on closely-cropped figures. In the 1970s, he abandoned his style of representational painting in favour of starkly delineated work employing bright light and deep shadows. While Wonner’s work matured into this new hyper-real mode, he continued to favour still life subjects and these paintings depicted small objects like fruit, jars and pitchers.

These subjects were inspired by the meticulous compositions of 16th century Dutch still life painting, though Wonner deliberately depicted everyday things, evocative of contemporary life. His representation of space is almost surrealistically distended, exaggerating the gaps between carefully-placed subjects in a way that is redolent of Paul Cézanne’s distorted perspectives. Wonner’s mastery of form and color is as apparent in his figurative works as in his intricate still life paintings.

Wonner’s late work received great acclaim and has been included in numerous important exhibitions across the United States. His paintings are in the permanent collections of important public institutions including Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York; the Smithsonian American Art Museum, Washington D.C. and the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art.