A Fiercely Original Artist

David Rago on Rhonda Bigonet

I knew Rhonda Bigonet about as well as any relatively straight-laced boy would be allowed. I wasn’t a biker, an artist, or a radical in any meaningful way. And I didn’t live in New Hope. Rhonda was fierce. You could walk down Church Street ten minutes after she passed and a vapor cloud of patchouli would still sting your nose. Heard long before seen, both arms fully clad in silver bracelets, her long wallet chain brushing against faded denim, clinking as she walked, worn jackboots thumping the pavement. She was a beautiful woman, beneath the biker accouterments worn for both statement and defense. And she was an exceptional artist, minutely detailing sexy, serious, often puzzling work rife with irony and innuendo. In my small Lambertville gallery, another lifetime ago, I held an exhibition and sale (well, we didn’t actually sell anything) called “Rhonda Meets George,” with her art shown alongside Ohr pots. Since I first met Rhonda in 1980, I’ve never not owned something she made, though the intensely detailed nature of the work resulted in very limited production. Her premature death in 1996 marks each surviving example a palimpsest of the New Hope art scene in the 1980s. James Martin understood, and was a part of, such things, and included in his collection is one of the few remaining original works by Ms. Rhonda Bigonet not already in private hands.