Interview with Matthew Briar Bonifacio
Interviewed by Zuzu
Briar Bonifacio is recognized as Austin’s first street artist. Today he’s a local muralist, martial artist, and goji berry farmer. We had the opportunity to hang out in his studio and ask him some questions about his art and the Austin art scene back in the 1990’s. See full interview below. Learn more during our upcoming gallery exhibit with Sloke One, From the Ground Up :: The History of Austin Graffiti Art on Saturday, May 7th 2016.
SprATX :: Who you are and where are you from?
BONIFACIO :: I’m from Austin, Texas. My name is Matthew Rodrigez AKA Briar Bonifacio. I used to write Broke, Alive, Pickled Pete, World’s Smallest Man, and a ton of other names.
SPRATX :: What made you stop writing Broke?
BONIFACIO :: My mom, she would tell me that word was a negative way of thinking. She always had a positive way of thinking. She would tell me that I was going to be broke and that things were going to break around me. So I told her fine I will stop writing Broke.
SPRATX :: When did you first begin doing street art?
BONIFACIO :: In 1994 I was writing with Nate (Sloke One) and all of those guys. We use to have a skateboard gang. We drove around and skateboarded everywhere. One day someone had a spray paint can and we started spray painting over the Toy’s R Us hill. After that day we decided we needed to do this more often. Nate actually wasn’t a part of the skateboard gang, he was actually older than us and a street artist we looked up to. Nate built a wall that use to be a skate ramp in my friends backyard. So my friends and I started hanging out over there and practiced painting.
I first started creating characters alongside my graffiti artist friends. I would put characters in between their murals. I’ve created and worked on characters my entire life. Each character has evolved over time. I’ve gone through many different characters and I’m still developing new ones. I’ve always painted cats.
SPRATX :: What artists were hitting the streets and creating quality work back then?
BONIFACIO :: There was Worm, he was a skater who use to tag a lot and Temper, a good friend of Nates who was also a skater. He had a bad temper, that’s how he got his name but he transitioned to Jibs now. Bruise, was another guy I grew up with.
Later NBK got older and more established and we started spray painting trains and started another crew, A2M. Then we had all these guys from Houston and San Francisco that moved down here just to paint trains. Guys like NEKST, Vizie and Erupto.
SPRATX :: Do you still rep NBK?
BONIFACIO :: Yes, we had a 20 year reunion last year. We all got together and painted.
SPRATX :: Is there any significance behind the characters that you choose?
BONIFACIO :: They are just characters I like to draw, they come from my personality and my past.
SPRATX :: Tell us about the “Wasabi Blob?”
BONIFACIO :: (Laughs) I love wasabi. I just thought that would be a great character, it’s an easy character. It has no arms nor feet, it’s just a blob.
SPRATX :: If you could meet any artist past, present or future who would it be?
BONIFACIO :: I would’ve liked to have met Jim Henson because he is an awesome guy. When I was a kid my mom would always say I was going to be the next Jim Henson. She would tell me this over and over again. I love watching the old school Sesame Street. I feel like I grew up on Sesame Street in my neighborhood because it was culturally mixed. My mom would even call our neighborhood Sesame Street for the same reasons. It was cool.
SPRATX :: Now describe your art in three words?
BONIFACIO :: Funny. Bandana. Cats.
SPRATX :: Do you have a spirit animal?
BONIFACIO :: I’m a dragon, it’s my Chinese sign.
SPRATX :: What are you currently working on now?
BONIFACIO :: At the moment I’m working on a show I’m going to have in San Francisco with Michael Sieben in July at Needles and Pins. I’m also working on paintings at my house.
SPRATX :: Who do you look up to in the art world?
BONIFACIO :: I guess it was in 1994 all the graffiti guys said that I should check out Twist. I asked myself who is this guy? I then looked him up and I really liked his art and I ended up working on some shows with him, he was a great influence on me. He now goes by Barry Macgee now. You should check him out.
SPRATX :: What’s your dream project?
BONIFACIO :: I want to do some murals with a lift. I’ve never painted on a lift.
SPRATX :: Describe yourself in three words?
BONIFACIO :: Kung Fu Artist.
SPRATX :: Why do the cats have bandanas?
BONIFACIO :: That’s just something funny I made, I think it makes the cats cooler.
SPRATX :: Do you mostly do brush work even when working on murals?
BONIFACIO :: Yes I used tons of spray paint for years. I finally gave up on it though. I now do mostly brush work.
SPRATX :: What is art to you?
BONIFACIO :: Art is just a way to express yourself without having to talk.
SPRATX :: Tell me about your recent switch to the name Dear Ninja?
BONIFACIO :: My father and I use to train in martial arts when I was a kid for fun at a ninja school in Oak Hill, so my father and I are certified ninjas. I came up with that name for Instagram.