• UO Journal: Kung-Fu Muralist

    Urban Outfitters is proud to present Urban Outfitters Journal, a new print publication that represents the culture and stories behind the UO Men’s brand, available now at select Urban Outfitters locations. 

    Briar Bonifacio grew up on a llama farm in the Ozarks. As a budding graffiti artist, he spent his time running from the cops before ultimately painting his colorful characters into murals and other street art across the county. For more than a decade, he has been maintaining a mural on the side of what is soon to be UO’s Space 24 Twenty concept shop. With a lifelong passion for the martial arts and a love for Jim Henson, Bonifacio melds his wildly disparate interests into a charming style all his own.
    Words by Austin Bryant 
    Photos by Chelsea Fullerton

    Tell us about your early life, moving around, and how you ended up back in Austin, TX.
    I was born in Austin. My parents got me into all the art stuff, but my Dad got me into martial arts. My Mom is also an artist, mostly folk art. I lived in the Ozark Mountains for a while on a llama farm after high school, trying to save money for art school. My grandparents owned the farm, so I went and hung out there for a while. There were a bunch of freight trains out in the woods, so I would go and paint them in the snow.

    I came back to Austin never having saved any money for art school [laughs]. I kept painting trains, doing murals. I also lived in New York for a short while, doing graffiti there.

    How did you develop your style of artwork? Were you always drawing these characters as a kid?
    The characters have definitely stayed the same, but they just got better and better. Originally I was doing cats, little rainbow characters, and different little animals like birds—pretty awesome stuff. 

    As kids, we used to have a little skateboard gang and started to spray paint in the little ditches we were skating. At first, we’d just share a can. Eventually, our skateboard gang turned into a graffiti gang, and we would start going out every night looking for bridges and walls.

    Do you like that old-school tagging method from your youth or do you prefer doing big, official murals without having to hide?
    I loved feeling like a ninja hiding out in the woods, waiting for the train conductors to leave. We would get really elaborate—we’d have train scanners so we could listen in. Painting the big murals is also fun—getting a big lift and being able to paint something huge. 

    Did you ever get caught doing graffiti?
    We got handcuffed a couple of times. Cops would catch us, round us all up, and after seeing we were just doing graffiti they would say, “That’s all you’re doing? We thought you were breaking into cars.” They would usually let us go at that point. 

    When I was doing my first mural in the ‘90s out under a bridge, the cops came, we ran off, and they actually called us back saying, “No come back, it’s okay to paint here!” They actually gave us a job painting the police substation.

    You were also into DIY puppetry when you were younger, right?
    I’ve always been into Jim Henson, old school Sesame Street—I grew up with all that and always wanted to try it out. I went to film school for a while and made puppets and created little skits. I started doing DJ puppet shows, where I’d put up these tables with puppets where they would look like they were scratching. I hauled all that to Hong Kong in 2009 and set up a DJ puppet show for one of my art exhibitions. 

    Your Dad brought martial arts into your life—has that kept going into adulthood?
    My Dad was a boxer for the U.S. Army, and he got me into boxing, training me as a little kid. We ended up doing all sorts of different martial arts here in Austin—we got into Jeet Kune Do, Wing Chun, Jiu-Jitsu, Muay Thai. I definitely enjoy putting that stuff in my paintings.

    Aside from martial arts, were there any major influences that helped shape your work as you grew up?
    Mostly Jim Henson, Dr. Seuss—those two guys were really big to me when I was growing up. A lot of my art has their feel to it. When I was doing spray paint I loved Barry McGee’s work. I always loved seeing his pieces in San Francisco. I try to go out there every summer for at least a couple weeks and do street art and enjoy the weather.

    Do you have any big plans for the future? 
    I’m trying to make a book--either a children’s book with all my characters or a photo book showing all my street art. In terms of new work, big murals are definitely my goal going forward. I’m also working on characters doing all of the different Jiu-Jitsu throws with their names blown up huge.

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    Head to 2406 Guadalupe St. in Austin, TX on November 5th from 6-8pm to celebrate the opening of our newest store at UO’s Space 24 Twenty.