Paul Wonner was born in Tucson, and moved to the Bay Area for the first time to study at California College of Arts and Crafts in Oakland (now California College of the Arts), where he earned a Bachelor’s degree in 1941. After military service in Texas, Wonner moved to New York, where he worked as a package designer and briefly continued his training at the Art Students League. He returned to the Bay Area in 1950 and by 1953 completed Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees in fine arts at UC Berkeley. Wonner then worked as a librarian at UC Davis in the late 1950s, until his move to Southern California, where he taught at the Otis Art Institute in Los Angeles and UC Santa Barbara during the 1960s.
He enjoyed collegial support for his work from originators of the Bay Area Figurative style, including David Park (1911-1960) and Richard Diebenkorn (1922-1993). He painted in a brushy manner similar to theirs until the late 1970s, when his style turned crisp, emphasizing bright light and sharp shadows, and he concentrated on still life themes.
The Dutch Baroque still life tradition served as a historical source for Wonner, but he typically painted objects from everyday contemporary life. His mature pictures distinctively portray things as separated by almost surrealistically vacant distended spaces. Acclaimed for his distinctive mature style of still life painting, had numerous solo exhibitions in New York, Los Angeles and San Francisco. Major museums throughout the United States have collected his work. In recent years, he returned to painting human figures in vaguely allegorical arrangements and settings.
Image courtesy of Frank J. Thomas and the Frank J. Thomas Archives