When I am too scared to write the next sentence, for fear of what will pour out, I think of my old amigo Bonzo. I met her around 2001 when she was just kicking around her sketches and paintings. She was close friends with another old amigo Lucas Giles (killer musician and co-author of SONS & DAUGHTERS). My beautiful wife and I would spend as much of that year as we could with this brilliant pair. I remember sneaking a framed pencil piece Bonzy drew into a fine arts festival. She was fearless. You could tell she was inspired. We knew she had the spark of someone with something to say and nothing to hold her back.
A decade later, I was moonlighting, slinging coffee. Bone tired and weary, head down and distracted, I pulled shots and frothed milk and began the next order for a soy Chai. While making the drink, I heard a voice and then a laugh that was unmistakable. I looked over and saw my old amigo, now sporting long dreads, still the fiery sprite I had not seen in way too long. I was sure she would not remember me. I was wrong. Bonzo came back to the shop night after night, while she was in town. We caught up and talked art. The last I heard, she was in a commune in Chicago. She brought me up to speed and relayed what it was like to make protest art at OWS. She told me of her travels around the country and her plans to make Portland, Oregon a home-base for a while. She was the same girl I remembered, but now she had become something more. She was N.O. Bonzo. Every six months or so, we would trade emails. I followed her work at a 3,000 mile distance.
Hear her voice on KBOO Community Radio.
Her work will stun you out of your slumber. I can only imagine what it would be like to stumble upon it in person. With careful intention, N.O. Bonzo makes Street Leaves which make you feel like you’ve gone through the looking glass. Her sense of dimension is uncanny. Her detail is as loving as the result is caustic. Her color heart-bursts and her white & black purges. With her brutal portraits of Rose Red, Bear Girl, Deer Girl and her Promethean anti-art, N.O. Bonzo proves herself to be a strong female presence speaking out in the streets.
Get a clear picture at Portland Street Art Alliance.
Last month, a sampling of her paintings and prints were on exhibit in Washington, D.C. at the “With Love and Care” show. Last year, she was featured in a warehouse show curated by the Oakland Museum of California. But, gallery praise is not her goal and a commercial career is not where her heart is. After all, Bonzy is a child of the Situationists. Her work yells for the onlooker to wake up from the glazed-over modern alienation of our culture and take action.
N.O. Bonzo cares about the painting, the process and the psychogeography of what she is constructing. She’s literally changing the environment and the impact it has on the urban viewer, even if she under-plays that act.
“Everyone will see, no one will notice.”
Her installations take time and dedication. Bonzo uses hand-painted wheat-pastes. She developed her own vegan and environmentally sound screen ink which she uses in multilayer screen printed posters. She makes her own paper!
“Anything worth doing is worth doing right.”
Bonzo is a craft punk and a gifted storyteller.
“Been hand-painting and gold-leafing 13 ft tall archetypal figures to live in the city. Building screens now so we can print 9 ft tall pieces. Suffered through three full scale zombie attacks. Flown surveillance kites. In so many words: Never Bored. There’s something about Portland that agrees terribly well with my disposition.”
Bonzo is an amigo making meaningful spectacles.
“It can become a little lonely out here as my peer group is primarily concerned with the party culture that is so accessible in Portland and have praxis’ that seem to run completely counter-intuitive to my own, but I have had the fortune to have landed within a nest of my type of rowdies. I am not without a good reciprocal social network. The crew I run with are working on a copyleft project. Reclaiming abandoned newspaper boxes, refinishing and painting them to fill them with our own publications, art for the greater good style.”
“I was just completely trapped in a little nook blasting off a painting. On the heels of the protest of the Graffiti Abatement Summit, I’ve decided to test the waters and try and paint some murals here. With a bit of luck, these permission murals in spots the city abandoned, won’t get buffed. We’ll see. It’s weird out here. Here’s a progress shot, I don’t have any totally done shots yet. This space had been ignored by the city due to its proximity to a porn theatre and an anarchist punk establishment, been tagged, vomited on, and used as an outdoor restroom. Within three days we totally turned it around into a joy for the city.”
Go support N.O. Bonzo and spread her stuff around your town.
Make what terrifies you the most.
Believe there is more to life than the produce-to-survive / survive-to-produce system.