YOU MAY HAVE already encountered the murals of N.O. Bonzo—under bridges, on the doorways of condemned buildings, or, for a while last year, on the wall of the Templeton Building. Her main motifs are nude figures with open chest cavities, stony eyes, and wavy whorls of hair. This month, the anonymous street artist will release DrownTown: Love Letters from a Degenerate, a book that documents her recent works.
The Pieces—"My work portrays strong archetypal female figures within shared public places. It's heavily illustrative, using natural earth pigments accented with metal leafing. I integrate anatomy with floral growth and chthonic creatures [wormy things—Ed.], and I celebrate structures that are specific to woman-bodied people. I border with arches, halos, and detailed crest work to try and build an iconography of women as independent and autonomous individuals."
The Process—"I mainly look for sites that have succumbed to blight and decay, that have been forgotten by the city or have been marked as uninhabitable. My installation process is pretty site-specific; in some areas, I've had to set up ladders the night before, or create staircases down into pits. In others, I've had to carve 12-foot arches out of moss to create frames.". The materials I use are specifically made not to leave any detrimental effect as they distress. My glue mixture and paints are primarily made from plant or starch-based adhesives. Each piece can take anywhere from 30 minutes to two hours to install. Certain walls are smooth and have a perfect texture, others are crumbling and I have to work the heavy weight of the paper into each nook and cranny. Due to the size of my work, everything is a pretty intense and physically exerting process. But I never had another choice."
The Book—"DrownTown: Love Letters from a Degenerate documents my work from 2012 and 2013. There are photos of each piece, plus notes on the accompanying narrative, process, studio work, sketches, context of installation locations, and more... I'm really trying to present my personal vision of Portland, which is still doom and gloom, police brutality, poverty, systematic disenfranchisement, all within the frame of a truly beautiful city. I want to show Portland re-imagined as 'DrownTown.'""The work I make is fully integrated with its installation site, and I feel like the two can't exist independently from each other. So with this book, I've really tried to present the two as parallel, show the creative process and a vision of Portland that isn't easily accessible."
"Pass; I can't say anything nice and they retaliate [shiver]."
"Public art, whether sanctioned or not, is the only logical self-defense against the absolute visual assault we experience on a daily basis from paid marketing and saturated brand proliferation. Public art empowers individuals to actively engage and interact with public space, creating dialogues, which would otherwise be ignored in the corporatization and privatization of our shared visual landscape. Public work exists outside of the money fetish that's applied to art in our culture. Most visual work derives its validity through an arbitrary assignment of value, whether it's $40,000 to place a billboard or $600 to sell a canvas. Art for the sake of art opens up our ability to convey ideas with an immediacy and power that we don't often get to experience in our culture, and that absolutely translates to the viewer."
Fifty24PDX Gallery, 23 NW 5th, opening reception and book release Thurs May 1, 6 pm, art show runs Mon-Sat 11 am-8 pm, noon-6 pm, through June 1