David Bonagurio used to paint more often. His style was realistic—proportioned bodies, attentive to muscles and skin, accurate colors. But it wasn’t too realistic, as his works often featured surreal elements, impossible backgrounds and impressionistic lines, like abstract scenarios played out in plausible ways.
But Bonagurio wasn’t satisfied with that style. The images in his head weren’t about odd scenarios; they blended reality with surrealism in more chimeric way, merging organisms together with nothingness.
And that, essentially, is why he chose to work with graphite.
“Graphite is a unique and varied orientation of carbon,” Bonagurio has said, “and so are we.” In chemistry, carbon is the building block for the cells of every living organism, making the element in its crystallized form—graphite—a strikingly human, organic material for artistic creation. Just as his images merged together life with nature, so too does his chosen medium.
These days, Bonagurio starts each of his pieces with a layer of powdered graphite. He then adjusts the image, erasing parts and forging others to resemble an idea from his sketchbook, before adding layers of gesso, then sanding and burnishing the result to match his idea.
“As the piece develops, I make changes to the composition and to the imagery itself,” Bonagurio says. “It’s pretty rare that a piece ends up just like the sketches. Sometimes an idea only reads the way you intend when it’s in simple line work on a page no one was intended to see.”
The results are evocative, finely detailed figures, often encompassed by darkness. The cumulus-like swirls of his “Plumes” series erupt like volcanoes, while the surreal images of “Thunder” mush together humans with nature, skulls with dust. The end goal is always the same: to expand our perceived boundaries of reality, erasing the lines that divide us from the shadows and fog.
“The farther we go, the more complex the boundaries we meet become,” he says. “I don’t want to be curled up in the corner having one existential crisis after another, nor do I want to have my head in the sand pretending I know everything I need to know.”
The Houston-born artist lives with his photographer wife and their young daughter in Utica, New York. His work can currently be found on exhibit at the Anthem Gallery in the Blue Star Arts Complex in San Antonio, Texas, with his next show debuting at Triangle Lab in Utica. For more information, follow David on Twitter and Instagram (@dbonagurio) or visit his website at www.davidbonagurio.com.