Bwana Spoons: On Zines and Doo-Doo

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Like some bizarre, forest-dwelling cartoon character, Bwana Spoons exists in a world of his own. No matter what medium, the playful surrealism of Spoons' work is marked by sincere abandon and a love of exploration. Born in LA, Bwana Spoons moved to Michigan when he was three. A few years later, he failed the first grade and his family moved back to California. Spending most of his time alone, he found solace in zany Hanna-Barbera cartoons like Underdog and Wacky Races and in the pages of MAD Magazine. Finding art-making a good way to meet people, he first got into zine culture in 1992 and went on to publish notable rags like Ain't Nothin' Like Fuckin' Moonshine and Pencil Fight. This quickly led to illustration work for the likes of Nike 6.0, Hewlett-Packard, Nickelodeon, Top Shelf, Dogtown, Hessenmob, Buster Design, and Vans.

Today, the Portland-based artist is immersed in many different projects. Avidly involved with zine-making, painting, and more recently, toy-making, he still finds time to hang out with his wife of 13 years, Marny, and their daughter, nine-month-old Hazel Millie Spoons. When he's not boasting about his Lego collection (which exceeds 200 lbs) or his love for tapirs, Spoons embraces modern zine culture and moody metal. All this from a man who vows he "didn't go to no fancy art school."

XLR8R: How did you first get into the work you do now?

I have always been drawing. I think making Ain't Nothin' Like Fuckin' Moonshine made me lots of art friends. I started getting asked to be in shows, and so I learned how to paint. These days, all I do is draw and paint, and sometimes sculpt or make comics and zines.

What artists inspired you as you found your own style?

After I graduated high school, I moved to San Francisco in '89. I met loads of rad artists at that time who were also getting their footing. My friend Jimbo and I would make Super 8 films and draw goofy characters. I would skate and hang out with broham Chris Johanson. It seemed that everybody was making art or playing music, and everywhere I looked there was rad shit on the walls. Dripping screws and giant horses.

Do you paint to convey a theme or direct message, or is it driven more by improvisation and intuition?

My works always come from inside my guts, so there is always something floating below the surface. I do both because I have two ways in which I paint. The first is a roughly penciled piece that I usually work out through a thumbnail and then map out. The second is putting down blobs and shapes in paint, and then I see what is coming to the surface, just pulling doo-doo out of my ass through layers until I get something that I really like.

Do you feel that your art is autobiographical?

My art is more a fantasy of the world I want to live in, rather than any type of direct take on what my life is now. Now if I lived in a banyan tree and rowed my canoe over to the mainland everyday to get a banana shake–that would be auto-bio.

How do you feel about the internet's takeover of zine culture as the majority of zines move to the online format?

It doesn't really bother me too much. I made lots of great friends pre-internet through trading zines and writing letters. Now we just do it in a different way. I laugh when people say that print is dead. I think there is a gap between indie magazines like XLR8R and the little mini-comic, but other than that, the print culture is effin' great. If anything, it has pushed people that do print to make their shit better. You can't just crap out a 60-page Xerox that you made in an hour and expect folks to dig it. Now everybody is using Gocco, silkscreening, letterpressing, and hand-binding. There is such an eye for craft, and everything looks so good.

Do you skateboard? Do you feel any connection to skate culture?

I still skate about once a month, when I feel the inspiration and have the time both at the same moment. All the cement parks here in Oregon are so effin' nice. I grew up with skaters, and skate art was a lot of my early influence. Neil Blender and Mark Gonzales are definitely early influences, and I flipped out when I got to be in an art show with Blender and met him some years back. I used to do boards for Dogtown back in the early '90s. Those graphics really sucked ass, but I loved that I got to do them. Now I do some for Hessenmob, and maybe a board for Krooked soon.

Do you have any moral qualms with using your art to advertise a product?

Not if I like the product. You definitely won't see my interpretation of the new H4 crawling over the earth, or one of my characters smoking a Camel Light. But if I like the product then it's fine. I love that Gary [Baseman] does all the Cranium art, and that [Lloyd] Dangle has his work on [that Airborne stuff]. When Charles Burns did the Levi's ads that was rad, too.

What styles of music are you into? Does music play a role in your artistic process?

With music, I am all over the board. It just has to be effin' rad. I love Prefuse 73, Juana Molina, Brazilian Girls, Blackalicious, Dudley Perkins, St. Tropez, Slint, Pretenders, The Clash, Spoon, AC Newman. I love good, moody metal too: Mastodon, The Melvins, Pelican, and my all-time favorite, Neurosis, who somehow keep getting better and better. The silly thing is that the more deep and oppressive it gets, the happier I feel when I listen. Lately, I have been listening to rainforest sounds for painting.