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Through the Glass Darkly - Portraits of Empowerment by Bonnie Hopper

Updated: Dec 15, 2022

- Written by Sally Vermillion, SPACE Volunteer

The 12 faces gaze out from their canvas constraints, compelling you to stop and stay, to study each portrait’s presence. And in the exchange that occurs between painting and observer, in engaging with these magnificent subjects, one encounters powerful beauty, resilient grace, and dignified self-assurance. Welcome to the Magnuson Art Gallery’s exhibition of Bonnie Hopper’s portraits of African Americans, Through the Glass Darkly: Portraits in Black and Brown.

One can’t look at Hopper’s artwork and not notice her love of fabric, textiles, and costuming!

Whether the clothes reference the Antebellum South, contemporary street fashion, or the

custom of “Sunday Best” dressing, her delight and interest in details of dress and rendering

pattern and design add a layer of complexity to Hopper’s portraiture style. In the serene

“Reversal of Fortune” we want to touch the burnout velvet shawl and glistening pewter buttons, as we imagine her story. Combining collage with oil painting adds a tactile dimensionality to the African textiles and mid-century prints Hopper favors. Her subjects garner agency via self-expression through their clothing style.

In lush color and gorgeous attire, Hopper’s portraits mirror the kind of confidence that comes

from life experience and self-knowledge. In her painting of an elegantly turbaned woman entitled “She’s All That” the subject’s uncompromising expression inevitably cues us to whisper, “And More!” It seems these subjects have been there, seen that, and come to terms with who they are, who they want to be. Their journey is universal, transcending race, background, creed - it is the journey of empowered men and women who have actively defined their lives.

Hopper’s collection of handsomely rendered, large-scale portraits compels us to consider the inextricable interplay between fashion and identity. Indeed, it seems they heed the advice given Alice in Through the Looking Glass: “Remember who you are!” Magnuson Art Gallery is pleased to exhibit Bonnie Hopper’s portraits from September 15 - October 29, 2022. The gallery is open Thursday, Friday 11-3 and Saturday 12-3. There will be a reception with Hopper on Saturday, September 24, 2022, from 2-5 pm.

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