LSD Magazine interviews Bonzai

ORIGINALLY FEATURED IN LSD MAGAZINE
Issue Ten – Inception –  March 11th 2013

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The breakneck dynamics of Bonzai’s incandescent pieces crackle with gleaming electricity as they hurtle through abstract dimensionality. Heisting old school timelessness and furiously remixing it into the light speed rides of sprayed up science fiction, the movement, the energy, and the diamond edged gobsmack of his art is simply breathtaking. Vivid bursts of piercing colour fly down sublimely warped geometrics, lines accelerate away to terminal velocity and burned curves oscillate into awesomeness as ethereal hints of the figurative dart in and out of the angles and bad boy characters ruff up the attitude on the funky cutback You’d be well advised to get some shades on before losing yourself in Bonzai’s art. Rifling through space, tearing out of walls, liquifying the industrial, and turbo charging pattern with dazzling intricacy, his scope, his technique and his restless switch up through styles make him one of the most exciting writers and artists out there. We had a chat.

Tell us a little about your original pull into graff

I’m sure it’s pretty much the same story as most writers my age. Hip hop was still relatively new to the UK and quickly becoming really popular. In the 80’s it seemed everyone was into it. Graffiti started to appear around more and more (or maybe I was just noticing it more) – add Subway Art and Spraycan Art into the mix and that was me pretty much me hooked. I would also travel around as much as possible on the train to check tracksides and halls of fame.

How much did you feel part of a wider movement that went beyond the writing aspect

Graffiti is just one element of the Hip Hop movement. Everyone I was hanging around with was into hip hop back then and all its different elements. Knowledge was being passed around about the latest album, b-boy crew etc.. So growing up at that time I felt very much part of the hip hop movement as a whole even thought I was still young. I think what you’re into as a young teenager kind of moulds what you are for the rest of your life. And it certainly has with me. It was a great time because it was the beginning of something new and exciting in the UK.

Why is the letter form so powerful within graff

Letter forms have always been the most important part of graffiti. It’s what it’s all about. But, that said, it’s also about pushing the movement forward. I love seeing pieces with dope letters, and  just because I don’t always necessarily do readable letters that doesn’t mean I don’t like them. In the past, I’ve done pieces that are totally unreadable. It’s not everyone’s cup of tea, but for me I always want to try different things, learn new techniques and not just paint straight up letters.

When did you start to paint characters and how did you have to approach them differently to letters

I’ve been doing characters for a long time, although I tend not to do them that often as I love doing styles. For me painting characters and letters isn’t that different really. I’ll use similar techniques in both. More recently, if I paint a character I want to put a whole day or more into it, that way I can focus just on just that, and not have to worry about anything else.

bonzai-01How have your styles evolved over the years

I’ve painted lots of different styles over the years and every so often totally change it. I constantly want to evolve and try new things. I think it’s because I get bored very quickly of painting one style and have to move on, push myself in different directions, but at the same time take aspects that I›ve learned in the past with me. If you look at my work, each piece is I paint is slightly different from the last but hopefully still recognisable as mine.

How important is a sense of history in graffiti

I think it’s very important to know the history of the movement. When I was younger I wanted to know as much as possible about graffiti, not just the history, but everything that was currently going on within the scene, and still do.

How did the idea to remix old school characters in a new context come about.

I’ve always tried to inject an old school feel into my characters. But the idea to play with recognisable old school character came about when  I was painting in Cambridge and I was chatting to another writer about Bode characters. I hadn’t done a Bode character for years, so, I thought it was about time I did my version of one using the techniques I’ve learned. I went on to do a few more and I have plans to do some in the near future.

How much planning do you bring to a piece and how much do you let it take you with it

I went through a period of free styling a lot of my pieces, but I wasn’t always totally happy with the result. I now feel to achieve the best results (for my walls anyway), I need to plan the wall before hand, even if it’s just a rough sketch it helps. Each time I paint I want to produce the best work I can so it seems only right to be prepared. The only thing I don’t plan is the fill on my pieces, I never really know what the fill is going to look like until I’ve started. I tend to paint one full letter and then I can get a general feel for how the fill and overall piece will look. 
How do you play with dimensions in a piece I love playing with dimensions and depth in my work and it’s become an important part of my style, Along with movement. I like my pieces to have a feeling of coming off the wall in some sections, while other sections feel as if you can put your hand inside it.

Tell us a little about the squares – the building blocks in your recent pieces

The squares started when I painted a piece early last year in the south of France. I painted a very basic version of it as part of my piece and I’ve been working on it since, both on walls and in sketch form. It’s something I’m still working on and as soon as the weather gets better and the days longer I’ll be having a bash at painting some big walls using this style.

How much do you like to smuggle figurative bits like abstract faces into your letters

Some are added in consciously as part of the work but a lot of these happen by complete accident, and I don’t notice them until a couple of days later or people point them out. I really like that people can see all sorts of things in my pieces. I was painting once and a child came up and asked if I was painting a helicopter, then straight after someone asked if it was a cricket.


Is there a moment when you just wake up and think fuck – I’m getting older, I’ve been doing this for years and I really need to be able to earn out of it somewhere along the line

It wasn’t so much I need to earn from it, it was more about following my passion. But yeah, I do this full time and it’s the best decision I’ve ever made.

What techniques do you use to inject movement and energy into a piece

For me, it’s important to have a lot of movement within my work. The more movement the more energy i think. Using Astro caps helps a lot as they create big flares with creates the feeling of movement. I try and make some of my work look at if it’s travelling at speed.

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How much of an artform is it to blur certain parts of a piece while other are crystal clear

Again, it›s all about the Astro caps (extra wide caps). It was just a matter of experimenting with them figuring out how they would benefit my pieces, and not getting too carried away as this just ends up looking like a mess. I tend to paint all the tech details first then add the loose ‘blurred’ effects after, then go back in and tidy up. I want to create big areas of blurred colour coming into small areas of intense detail.

How much do you shift your colouring when you’re shifting styles

I really like mixing all sorts of colours together. When I’m getting my paint ready Ill take a few different shades (light to dark) of a main colour and then just add a load of random colours, then when I›m at the wall I can experiment with mixing colours together. I’m a big fan of dirty colours next to really vibrant colours. These no real specific colours schemes for separate styles.

Can you appreciate your own work in its immediate aftermath

Yeah, I’m normally pretty happy when the piece is finished. I normally won’t look at the photos of a piece once its finished until the following day. That way I’m looking at it with fresh eyes as it were. It’s then later that I start to see the places I could have improved on. But, I’m sure this is the same with every artist. I normally just want to get out and paint the following day to try and better myself.

How do you balance confidence with self doubt

Haha, I always used to get a little uncertain while painting, worrying about the outcome of a piece and putting pressure on myself. But nowadays I’m a lot more relaxed while painting. I’ve realised that my walls take time and can’t always be done in one or two days. I think it helps to not try and worry about the outcome of the whole piece in the early stages and concentrate on one section at a time.

What have been the really influential collaborations for you

I’ve been really lucky and had the opportunity to paint with some amazing artists from all over the world. It been pretty well documented that painting with Nash from LoveLetters was a big turning point for me as I learned a lot from him. It’s always great to hook up with my good friends from Ghetto Farceur (France) as they really opened my eyes to new ways of painting. And of course, painting with my good friends and crew (SMUG, DEAD, KAK and EPOK) Infamous Last Words. Its always a great to see these guys and paint with them as they really push me to produce my best. 4 of the coolest guys you could meet and each one of them is super talented.

What goals do you have set for the upcoming year

At the start of each year I set personal goals for myself and my work. 2013 is a big year for me, I have a lot of plans and want to travel as much as possible. So all I’ll say is watch this space.

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LSD Magazine Issue Ten – INCEPTION