James Bonk AKA Mr. Bonkers has been one of our favorite artists since this site began, and has been a contributor, sticker designer, and all around friend of the TACO for years. His art has taken many forms, from walls to digital to tattooing, and now he takes another step with a gallery show of his photography that opens tomorrow (Thursday, Dec 22) at Eastern Projects. We caught up with Bonks to talk about tacos, LA, and his approach to life and art..
What’s your favorite taco spot?
There’s all kinds of new places popping up all around LA. Everyone wants to add all kinds of random stuff to a taco and overprice the shit out it. I’m a simple guy so I stick to simple things. Los 3 Cochinitos on North main street. This place makes me feel like I’m in my parents little pueblo in Mexico, where you go to someones house and they make you food straight from their house kitchen.
Where did you grow up? What keeps you in los angeles?
I was born and raised on the east side of the LA River. Lincoln Heights to be exact. I’ve ventured into other places, and will continue to do so, but there’s nothing like Los Angeles. L.A. is where my heart is.
What were you like as a kid?
I was the kid that your parents didn’t want you hanging around with. Some people loved me, but most people hated me. Not a lot has changed but I’ve learned to live with it.
How long have you been taking photos and what got you started?
I started taking photos at a really young age. I grew up in a gang infested area so there was always gang graffiti on my street. I was too young to buy a camera, so I would ride my bike over to the Thrifty on Avenue 26 and boost as many disposable cameras I could and go back to my block and take photos of everything. I wasn’t thinking about subject matter or composition at the time. I just liked taking pictures of my homies and graffiti.
Who are your idols?
My parents. I’m fortunate enough to say i have both my father and mother. They are my backbone. They are my life. They are my heroes and to answer your question they are my idols.
How long have you been doing graffiti?
I must’ve been in the 3rd grade the first time I wrote on a wall. My neighbor ‘Beaver’ said i looked like the character from the game ‘Bonks Adventure’. Everyone laughed at me so thats been my name ever since. I hated the name so I chose to write Dyno. Why would a 3rd grade kid choose the name Dyno you may ask? I had a Dyno bike at the time. That didn’t last very long.
How do you feel about graffiti now? Do you consider yourself a graffiti artist?
I have a love and hate relationship with graffiti. I still keep my eyes on the streets as a reminder of where I came from and of the progress I’ve made, but the act of graffiti doesn’t excite me anymore. The LASD took the word graffiti from me. And that word is all they can have. They didn’t take away the artist in me and they will never take it from me. All they did was open my eyes to a whole other creative side I thought never existed. I’m not a “graffiti artist”. I’m an artist.
Every graffiti writer has some crazy stories about a mission gone wrong, can
you share one?
My friend and I went out painting one night. We championed one spot, We champion spot number 2. We were really hyped that we did 2 really good hot spots with some nice full color burners. It was about 4a.m. when it occurred to me that we should do 1 more spot before the sun comes up. Like a true friend that he is, he quickly agrees. We drive out to check out the spot I had in mind. It’s a ledge on Hollywood and Argyle. It was beautiful I tell you. The sun was about an hour away from showing its face so we go for it. We climb up and get straight to business. We had totally forgot about all the people that were up early heading to work. I was done with what I had to do so I was about to climb down when my friend tells me to help him finish. With no hesitation I grab a can and i get to work. Next thing i know, I look back and theres a LAPD car at the red light. We drop to the floor and hope he didn’t see us, but it was too late. They drove up next to the building and quickly get on the bullhorn, “WHAT THE FUCK ARE YOU GUYS DOING UP THERE, GET DOWN NOW!”.
We ignored them for a couple of minutes hoping to god they would just go away. Minutes passed and more guns were drawn. Finally the sun started to come up and we finally stood up. There was nowhere to run. There were a total 7 patrol cars, a helicopter, and a fire truck waiting for us. Not to mention the crowd that gathered around to see what the whole commotion was about. It was a good spot but we spent the night in jail. We never even got to see a picture or our spot. it was gone by the time we got out of jail.
What does this show mean to you?
This show is the transitional point in my career as an artist. I’m really excited about sharing this genre of art with everyone. I’ve shot many photos but I’ve never shown them to the public. I’m giving the audience an opportunity to step into my world and see life through my eyes. I’ve put a lot of time and positive energy into this and I hope everyone enjoys it.
What would you change about LA?
Got any shoutouts?
My Family. Eastern Projects Gallery for giving me the opportunity to display my work. My childhood friends on 19. Darwin Boys. My squad, Brrrrrrrr! Everyone that enjoys what I do, I really appreciate them for their love and support. Last but not least, Everyone that said I would never amount to anything. What better motivation than them.
See James Bonk photography this Thursday (December 22, 2016) at Eastern Projects Gallery.