Studio Visits: Briar Bonifacio
East Austin artist gives good face
Driving into Downtown Austin from South I-35, commuters are met with a vibrant billboard composed of four images: a marker-drawn monkey face, a rainbow happily walking its dog (we don't want to overdetermine the gender of a rainbow, now do we?), a smiling heart pumping "fresh oxygen," and a green-eyed black cat wearing a red bandana like a boss. The practiced unskillfulness of the figures is a hallmark of Briar Bonifacio's bestiary: stray kitties, candy corn, taciturn trees, and a Mexican E.T. – all signal an aesthetic equal parts Barry McGee of Beautiful Losers fame and your 8-year-old cousin who draws ninjas in his spare time. Austin-born and bred ("I was born in that Cathedral of Junk house. That neighborhood was like Sesame Street!"), Bonifacio (aka Matthew Rodriguez) lived briefly on a llama farm in the Ozark mountains and New York City, but came back to Austin because "it's so easy." Now the artist works out of his East Austin apartment.
Briar Bonifacio: I had a separate studio that I was renting in the back of a house on South First ... but I kept having to go back and forth between my studio and house because I would forget my materials. "Where's my hammer? Where's my tiny brush?" I'd lose everything, I'd forget shit.
Austin Chronicle: About how many things do you work on at once?
BB: I always have a bunch of things going. I started a piece for the Hunting Art Prize – and I'm still working on it. I've got to add the Astrodome to it.
AC: So you made a work that's all about Houston? For what? To placate the judges?
BB: I was trying to get them on that! It's all this Houston imagery – but I guess they didn't go for it. [Points to preliminary drawing of the Astrodome.] All my stuff is scrap paper, and I'll put carbon on the back of the paper so I can transfer it onto the surface I'm working on. So all my drawings are just scraps of paper.
AC: And when did you start working like that?
BB: From the time I was a little kid. I've got some of the drawings if you want to see – cats, rainbows, trees. It's actually all of the same material I still work with.
AC: What about for the bigger works? Do you use paper for those?
BB: Yeah, a huge roll of Kinkos paper, and I would just draw on that and glue them up on the streets. The city would always kill me; there'd be a gray square over my work the next day. They were out for me! They didn't like me – they would leave all the tags, but would cover this big bright thing.
AC: I know that didn't completely stop you from working in that way, but did it curtail your efforts?
BB: Oh yeah! Now I just draw small faces on stuff.
AC: And places commission you to do this now?
BB: Yes, the Wet Whistle – my friend owns that shop. He asked if I wanted to do something with the pole out front of the business. It's not finished yet because it cost so much money to go out to Pflugerville to get 15 Christmas trees. I still have yet to add the cat to the sculpture.