BRATSA BONIFACHO, Inside Habitat Pixel
Art Gallery at Evergreen Cultural Centre, Coquitlam
February 24 to April 7, 2012
By Beverly Cramp
About 15 years ago, Bratsa Bonifacho turned on his computer to see his screen fill with indecipherable machine language. Looking at the crowded rows of letters and symbols caused by a computer worm, Bonifacho was mesmerized and delighted. “I immediately saw beauty in it,” he says. “Even though it was the beauty of creative destruction.”
Bonifacho was already creating paintings inspired by his emotional responses to destructive world events. The “deep layers of chaos and confusion caused by viruses” as Bonifacho describes in his artist’s statement, were an apt new muse for his art practice. He began his decades-long series Habit Pixel, the subject of a retrospective of his work at the Evergreen Cultural Centre opening February 24.
The Habit Pixel paintings feature letters, numbers, symbols and signs, often set in grid patterns. But within this linearity, Bonifacho mixes up the elements. His backgrounds are often in a variety of lush colours, but some utilize an austere black and white palette, or shades of gray. The symbols are not all science-based; some are playful hearts, chickens, and stars. Even the grid arrangement is not a fixture in Habitat Pixel. The orderly configuration is forgone in some of the works for the warmer pattern often found in quilts or batik textiles. And a few pieces in the series lose their orderly quality altogether and the letters and symbols are strewn about as if cast from a container onto the floor.
The use of text in art has been an important part of the modernist period, even in the early 1900s. From cubists’ use of newspaper clippings through to contemporary conceptualists’ appropriation of traffic and road signs, logos, and retail signs, the symbols of language are abundant in 20th and 21st century artworks. Bonifacho is part of this tradition, expanding it to include the representation of digital text as well as other print media.
Viewers might wonder how much can be accomplished with this muse of Bonifacho’s. Yet after more than two decades he continues to riff on the theme — life in all its infinite variety plays out in the Habitat Pixel works, and the virus continues to mutate. In recent years, Bonifacho has developed several sub-series under the Habitat Pixel umbrella. One of the most recent themes- within-a-theme is In Nucleo, and several of these pieces will be in the Evergreen show. These works contain whole segments of found text in addition to the ambiguous strings of letters and symbols common in Bonifacho works. He’s eliminated the strict perpendicular grids, and replaced them with swaying, organic lines of text.
In the large-scale oil on canvas work Exit No. 4, a collection of what looks like newspaper or magazine headlines sits alongside jumbled letters, some upright and some upside down. The image of a mountain scene is placed near the middle of the painting. Two phrases jump out: “Can you handle the truth” and “Electronic simulation is an illusion”.
Don’t be misled that Bonifacho is issuing specific dicta. That’s not his intent. “I don’t like to explain my work,” he says, a common sentiment for most artists. But he does admit to dropping plenty of clues. “There are lots of messages in my paintings. They relate to whatever I dream about, whatever I am investigating, these are the things I take to the people.”