LOS ANGELES — Some Stories, Jose Bonell’s solo show at Various Small Fires, is a blend of warm and cool dreamscapes, a dip into the silvery membrane between our waking and imaginary lives. The Barcelona-based Catalonian artist’s oil paintings traverse and reinterpret the world of folk and fairy tales. Appendages are featured widely in the works: feet, legs, a spidery hand with nine fingers. Bonell’s tales spin a scheherazadian web, not relying on classic narrative structure but rather telling bits and pieces of stories, allowing us to imagine what we cannot see.
A goofy frog wearing a crown dominates the canvas of “The Little Prince” (2023), an ode to the German fairy tale “The Frog Prince.” The frog gazes up, presumably at a princess who is about to kiss him or kick him against the wall — depending on which version of the story you prefer — and turn him back into a human prince. In “One Time” (2022), a turquoise foot pointing upward, against a blue background, wears a gold ring around the big toe and a beaded anklet, while “The Last Hour” (2023) features a gray foot pointing downward against a darker gray background, surrounded by shards of glass suspended in midair. Perhaps both are an homage to Cinderella, if the glass slipper broke. Similarly, “Tangled Hair” (2023) evokes the story of Rapunzel, with a wavy, luxurious mane centered on the canvas and several hands with painted fingernails reaching out to touch the messy locks. And in “The Candidate” (2023), a hand with nine fingers bears eight engagement rings; a host of possible suitors offer more rings along the periphery. The work comments on the narrative of the “fairy tale engagement” we’ve all been fed by Disney, and all of these paintings challenge the myth of the one and only “soulmate” who comes to the rescue.
The paintings are hung salon style, a storyboard of surreal enchantment with hints of sarcasm, contradiction, and altruism. The show points to the function of fairy tales as morals and lessons to live by, but the fables are interrupted in many works by lamps and campfires (a dozen small fires can be seen in the painting “Reunión” (2020), a nod to the gallery). They suggest that illumination may lie elsewhere, as they light the way back from the dream world to the real world.
Jose Bonell: Some Stories continues at Various Small Fires (812 North Highland Avenue, Hollywood, Los Angeles) through July 29. The exhibition was organized by the gallery.