Blythe Bohnen is an American artist who was born in Evanston, Illinois in 1940. Bohnen studied at Smith College and Boston University before receiving her M.F.A. from Hunter College in 1972. This same year, Bohnen became one of the founding members of A.I.R. Gallery, the first cooperative exhibition space for women in the United States.
Bohnen’s work exemplifies her interest in capturing and recording human movement. She began exploring this topic through graphite drawings, limiting the gestures she drew to certain motions and angles and accompanying each work with a descriptive title, such as One horizontal motion left and right of center points, overlapped by two adjacent diagonal motions right (1974). Bohnen’s interest in freezing the motions of her body soon shifted from movements of the hand to movements of the head, marked by a shift in medium from graphite drawings to photography.
Her self portrait series, created in the 1970s and 80s, allowed her to continue exploring human movement by capturing her own body. In these portraits, Bohnen photographed her head moving in various directions, leaving the camera shutter open so as to record the entire set of motions. In this way, Bohnen reduced complex human gestures to single images.
Bohnen also took pioneering steps in the use of the diptych, often pairing a graphite
drawing with a photograph of her hand creating it or with a self portrait that reflected the same movements. In this deeply meditative procedure, Bohnen paired her final, abstract products with evidence of their production, thus binding them to daily life and its processes.
Bohnen’s work has been included in many notable group exhibitions, including Annual Survey of American Painting, Whitney Museum, NY (1971-72); American Women Artists, Kunsthaus, Hamburg, Germany (1972); Matrix, Wadsworth Atheneum, Hartford, CT (November 1975); Documenta, Kassel, West Germany (1977); Head-on/The Modernist Portrait, Artist’s Choice: Chuck Close, Museum of Modern Art, New York, NY (1991); The Serial Portrait: Photography and Identity in the Last One Hundred Years, National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC (2012); and Artistic License: Six Takes on the Guggenheim Collection, Guggenheim, New York, NY (2020).
Many public collections hold work by Bohnen, including Dallas Museum of Fine Arts, Dallas, TX; Guggenheim Museum, New York, NY; Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, NY; National Gallery of Art, Washington DC; San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, San Francisco, CA; and Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, NY.