Real/UnReal, botanical studies

READ Exhibition Introduction, The Denver Botanic Gardens

Look closely.

Which flowers are real and which ones are fake?  Are you sure?  Look again.

Often considered a faithful documentation of the natural world, photography has historically enabled artists to record reality. Despite this narrowly defined function, artists have consistently pushed the limits of the technology’s capabilities. Photographers controlled the film’s exposure, manipulated the lighting or created fictional scenes in front of the camera-all with an eye to altering reality.

Recent developments in digital photography have greatly expanded the ways that artists can influence their images. The possibilities are bound only by imagination and John Bonath has a tremendous imagination. He purposefully challenges our conceptions of truth and fiction. The series Real/UnReal: Botanical Studies focuses on specimens that have interesting colors, shapes and textures. As often as he finds subjects during walks along  a river, Bonath also finds subjects while shopping at convenience stores. His sources are often unexpected.

The artist has noted, “Although my work is surreal in nature, it is more correctly placed in the movement of Magic Realism, which is less coincidental and not a fantasy set in the unreal. In a fusion between physical and psychological states, mundane elements are endowed with deeper meaning while staying grounded in physical reality. My style relies on the psychological assumptions that are the inherent nature of photography-the assumption that photographic reality is a representation depicting what was in front of the camera and therefore true in some way.”

Ultimately none of the flowers in the exhibition are real. They are all creative inventions.

Please enjoy John Bonath’s view of reality.        

Kim Manajek, Exhibition Coordiator,Denver Botanical Gardens

READ Exhibition Review, Westword Magazine

Really Unreal

John Bonath’s new exhibition just might blow your mind

Drew Bixby | December 11, 2008

“I want something to happen in people’s brains as far as their questioning of reality and what they’re looking at and what they’re assuming,” says John Bonath, whose newest exhibit – Real/UnReal: Botanical Studies, currently on display at the Denver Botanic Gardens – combines photography and digital manipulation of flowers, both real and fake, with oil painting to create (touchable) three-dimensional pieces that stretch the imagination.  “Most people,” Bonath explains, “when they first look at a piece, they assume that the flower is real.  But once they realize that one of them isn’t real, they begin to question their assumptions about the others.  The ‘unreal’ flowers, in many cases, are more real than the ‘real’ flowers.  The fact is, the only thing that is real is the object on the wall.”

Prepare to have your mind blown.  The full installation features 42 large (42” x 42”), wide-format, hand-worked, digital canvas prints assembled as individual images with modular frames.

“When you walk into the space, it just completely fills you,” Bonath says.  “It’s not like you have one picture over there and another over there; it becomes an entire peripheral and perceptual bombardment of experience.  I like to joke that it’s like you’ve walked into an eye-candy store.”

Real/UnReal shows in the Gates Garden Court through January 4.  Join Bonath for an artist reception today from 1 to 3 p.m.  The Denver Botanic Gardens, 1005 York Street, is open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily; admission is $10.50 for adults, $7.50 for seniors and $5 for students.  Get more information at or 720-865-3585.

Installation Shots

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    Copyright John Bonath 2019

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