Artist Profile: Bedonna Magid-Wakeman

Thom Bennett

Locals with an active New Orleans nightlife or a respectable grasp on jazz history may already feel like they’re on a first name basis with the subjects of painter Bedonna Magid-Wakeman’s recent work. There’s Kermit, Snooks and Fats, for instance, or, going further back, Louis, Billie and Miles.

When Bedonna –– as she is universally known –– arrived in town seven years ago, the allure of the local music scene immediately struck a chord and has been her motif ever since. But while her subject choices may seem straightforward, her minimalist and abstract approach moves beyond portraiture and delves into the interplay of detail and space, of flow and pattern.

Examined up close, her colors appear unlikely selections, but from a slight remove, they resolve themselves as whole and vibrant representations. Like the performers they depict, these paintings can seem at their most animated in the dim light of clubs and night scenes, bold yet open to individual interpretation.

“I really can’t say how this style came about, but it’s been developing ever since I’ve been here,” she says. “You know your technique, you trust it, and then you just get magic from that.” Born in Detroit to first-generation immigrants from Russia and Latvia, Bedonna hit the road young, traveling extensively around the West Coast during the early 1970s. She lived in the San Francisco area for years, where she was active in experimental theater and conceptual art. In 1979, she moved to Europe and continued her work in Spain, Germany, France and England for more than two decades. In 2001, she decided to move back to the U.S. and settled in New Orleans, the home of her daughter, Vida, one half of the bluegrass duo Jeff & Vida.

A prolific painter, she works in the kitchen of her Faubourg Marigny apartment during the day. On the weekends, she shows her paintings from the fence behind St. Louis Cathedral on Royal Street at Orleans Avenue in the French Quarter.

Bedonna is currently working on a series based on the history of jazz and is conducting a series of solo and group shows in Chattanooga, Tenn., and Washington, D.C., during May and June. Closer to home, she now organizes shows of her own and others’ work at Ray’s Neutral Ground VIP Art Lounge, an arts program at the Frenchmen Street club Ray’s Boom Boom Room.

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