It was a very foggy morning, so foggy that while riding across the Burnside Bridge both the west and east sides of Portland disappeared. In place of the city all I could see was pure, white fog. When Bwana met me at the Chinese Garden the fog was still lingering thick and heavy. Why the Chinese Garden? Well, the dude’s got a full-coverage membership to both the garden and the zoo. He said on days that he doesn’t have money to spend, at least he’s got a place to go. Makes sense, right?
The name Bwana was given to him by his wife of nine years, Marny Spoons, in tribute to a gorilla they used to visit in the San Francisco Zoo. The name became concrete once Bwana started signing his art with it. The name "Spoons" is something that happens when two people care very much for each other. So much that they get married and change both their last names to match what they do best. Yes, that’s right, the Spoons spoon every night. It’s what they do.
Aside from spooning, Bwana makes art, publishes zines, curates art shows, and other craziness. He makes so much craziness that you’ve probably heard of him by now, and if not, well, the world is overpopulated and it’s impossible to keep up with everybody. Skimming the surface of Bwana’s many accomplishments reveals splendid zines like Pencil Fight, Soft Smooth Brain, Ain’t Nothin’ Like Fuckin’ Moonshine and many others. He’s also mastered the art of painting rainbows, large water mammals, birdies, panda bears, Lego people and any noodly characters with mixed-up, bold statements like "Love is Power" and "Please Protest Us."
Bwana’s work has popped off of gallery walls in Portland, Seattle and San Francisco, among other major art junkie places like Japan. Right now he’s working on creating a series of toys called "My Peeples," including forest natives, homeless yogis with brown bags for shoes, yoga girls, hummingbird airplanes and manatee-shaped buses on their way to school are some of the potential characters.
Bwana has also done writing and illustrating work for the Japanese toy magazine "Super 7." What’s with the toy obsession? If you know Bwana’s work, the toy influence is pretty obvious. Like most of us, he grew up with constant playing. After having abandoned his Star Warrior and Micronaut buddies for many years, he started thrift store hunting and began rediscovering playthings of his past. And although the new Japanese art-toy scene is digable, vintage toys take the top shelf in Bwana’s collection.
As you can imagine, a full-time artist, publisher and toy junkie is generally very busy. Having various projects buzzing, or as he says "scrambling" around his head constantly, one wonders how Bwana stays inspired and motivated enough to get things done. The hardest part, he says, with head hung low, is finishing the projects, because he gets bored. To keep his head in the game, Bwana stays interested with the help of constant distractions like dogs, cats, taxes, cookies and home birthing classes. But while distractions keep Bwana motivated, where does the inspiration come from? The answer is nature.
Being a Northwesterner leaves Bwana surrounded by awesome rugged nature. Some of his favorite places are the waterfalls in the Columbia Gorge. In Ain’t Nothin’ Like Fuckin’ Moonshine No. 14, Bwana wrote of the falls as "a great way to escape the heat, and gain true respect for the power of nature. Swimming near a fall is the best rush. It gives you a full body massage. The water is usually freezing, and the air near them usually more liquid than oxygen, leaving me gulping like a happy fish … go wet yourself." Driving is a thing Bwana likes to avoid, so memberships to the zoo and Chinese Garden keep him in touch with the growing and moving natural pulse of the world.
Motivation for tackling major projects, like curating "Plush-tastrophy" at the Compound Gallery and making a baby, comes as a byproduct of surrounding himself with amazing artists. To stay motivated Bwana relies on the support and inspiration from his friends, such as fellow artsy super stars like Martin Ontiveros, Chris Johanson and Chloe at Reading Frenzy among others.
Bwana considers Portland his nest because life here, he says while leaning against the pagoda wall, is easy. If he wanted to jump into the downtown bustle, it’s there every day and night, tooting about. If he wants to plant trees with the local nonprofit Friends of Trees, he can do that too. Other than Portland, the place Bwana would really like to live is up in the branches of a tropical banyan tree.
Usually when artists in the U.S. have the freedom to claim the title of "American artist" they exploit it by turning to drug use, and Bwana has a similar problem: sugar. Yes, sugar. Sugar in the form of cookies, bags of cookies in fact, which sometimes disguise themselves as dinner. He smiles a tooth-rotting, shit-eating grin, and I can tell, sugar has crashed against his teeth like waves against a pier. But hell, sugar keeps you sweet.
If Bwana Spoons were to get a "real job," you’d find him in a forest ranger uniform, as a landscaper or as an anthropologist in the Amazon. I asked him what he would paint if he had a job creating a mural on the side of a taco truck. He said he would paint King Taco of the long lost underwater Mayan city. But only if the truck served good fish tacos.
Until then Mr. Spoons’ll be lovin’ and livin’ the good life here in the Pacific Northwest, where one can be humble yet bold.