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Wicked One: Bonzo

What do you like about living and working in Hackney Wick?

It’s like a little village, and it’s arty here. I like it because it has changed, the world has come to my place, where once upon a time I had to go to the world. The people are nice, it’s a proper little community. I know a lot of people round here, because I sit on the wall outside and chat to them, especially during the lockdown. You see that guy, Gordon [from Trowbridge Senior Citizens Club] who you interviewed in the last paper? That’s my guy right there! We need to be looking after the people like him because they are the good people. I can’t go past him without stopping to say hello. But this is my community, I want everyone to feel safe here.

How did you start as an artist?

My journey of art was a great journey, from childhood. It got blighted as a teenager because I had to go to work. I’ve been doing art for about 16 years now. I see myself as a child in this, I haven’t hit the man stage yet, everything I create
is about my childhood. Sometimes I sit in the Pearl or the bike shop just doing my art, and people go past and just watch. I have so many pieces all around my house; pictures, mosaics, I don’t stop. 

What first made you get into it?

I loved metal work and woodwork at school. I am a hands-on person; I used to be a mechanic when I was 15, just keeping out of trouble. But I have always had a love for art. Two Jamaican ladies that I met in hospital a while back properly got me into art. One of them was a good impressionist and she came to stay with me for a while. I was inspired, so I’d go to my bedroom, draw something up to show her and she’d say ‘nah’ – she was so frank! One day I showed her a piece and she said it was nice, but I didn’t really know what medium I wanted. I tried pens, pastels, chalk, but I felt more could be done. One day somebody put acrylic paint in front of me, and I liked it. But it dried too fast. I went to paint with a homeless organisation in St. Johns Church for a while, and they had everything. I used their oils and I realised that was the one. The paintings I did before were nice, but I didn’t like the flatness, I wanted texture. Then one day I picked up a palette knife, and started layering the paint on the canvas, and I liked what I saw.

What do you want people to take away from your art?

I just love to inspire others. When my son was about 8, I used to have him here doing art just so that one day it can come out in him too. Everything I do is for my son and daughter, there’s so much stuff here that I collect for them. Because
one day you’ll need your bitcoin or assets and your money is suddenly not gonna work. I think that’s what it’s coming to.

So do you feel the world has got a little too crazy right now?

I never ever thought the world would be like this. War? It’s all mad. I don’t understand how human beings can kill other human beings. I can understand a small punch up, just not the killing concept. I remember I was living in Sweden when the Berlin Wall came down and I couldn’t believe it, but it had to happen. It was so sad what I saw in Germany, it was like a tale of two cities. I was there in 1987 and East Germany looked exactly like it did during WW2. I was so glad I didn’t live in a place like that. We don’t know war, I’ve seen it in other places, but I’ve never experienced it and I don’t want to. Life is meant for living, and the maker will take it if he wants to take it. We are all here for a reason and a purpose, it’s all entwined. I believe there is a higher power, whoever they are, they’re great. That’s what I believe. I’ve had certain experiences and I had an out of body experience once. I just remember looking at myself on the bed and a voice saying, I could either get up off the bed, or die. If I carried on down that path, I wouldn’t be here to tell the story today, and I’m glad that I can. That’s when I went to Narcotics Anonymous, and the people there couldn’t believe my attitude. I try to be positive in life. The people I connected with there were amazing, I still see some of them to this day.

What inspires you?

Van Gogh is my main inspiration, I want to see his works at the Courtauld Gallery. I love Van Gogh, some of my friends call me Van B. He was mad as a hatter, but his art and the colours he used, it’s just to die for. Cézanne and Monet too, their colours are awesome. I remember when I first saw Monet’s Waterlilies, and it blew my mind. I’ve been to so many exhibitions.

I remember seeing Ai Wei Wei’s sunflower seed exhibit at the Tate and that was awesome, I’ve never seen anything like that.

I get a lot of my ideas from my childhood. I like leaf prints – I used to do leaf rubbings and drain cover rubbings when I was a kid and so now I use leaf prints in my ceramic works. I like texture, I want people to touch my paintings. I’m not one of these moany people that won’t let you touch art. Obviously be careful because things can be fragile, but I want you to feel the works, and hold my ceramics. I had one lady cry when she picked up one of my works. And I felt sad in one breath, but also just shocked at what art can do to people. That’s the power of art. 

Over the past decade, The Yard Theatre has experienced a stratospheric rise, expanding to two more meanwhile use sites in Hackney Wick and East Village, and offering space for community events, programmes for children, young people, and residents, as well as a theatre, bar, kitchen, and night-time venue. After being granted three years funding by the Legacy List in 2012, the theatre shifted from a project with a temporary outlook to one seeking permanence. As Miller reflects: “An audience is a long term relationship that requires a bedrock of trust built over time. It felt irresponsible to start these relationships without thinking through permanence.”

What is one of your favourite local memories?

I took a girl out of Hackney, who had never left this area in her whole life. I took her to recite a poem in the Victoria and Albert Museum. That was probably one of the best days of my life. She must have passed away around six or seven years ago now, but she was in her 50s at the time. I’ll never forget her. But 50 years and she had never left Hackney. I can’t explain the words for how I felt that day.

What is the goal for your art?

I just want to be at the top. I tried to put my work in the Royal Academy once, but it didn’t work out. Only 25% of their Summer Exhibition is for local people, the rest is reserved for their alumni. Maybe it just wasn’t my day, I didn’t take any big things, I think it was just a mosaic. My last exhibition was at Tate Modern in 2009, that was part of a collaboration. It was there for a week and then it went to Tuscany for a few months. The people that run that show were called The Museum of Everything, and that’s where my artwork is now. There’s everything there it’s like a Tardis. But I’ll keep trying for the Royal Academy, I’m not going to stop. I wanted loads of money too, but I realised it’s not about the money, it’s about creating. Money will come and go. The real artists create.

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