I met Raj Bunnag at my solo show opening at Runaway in Durham, NC last October. We talked about 90s anime and manga, comic books, and then some of the more philosophical aspects that these things evoke in some of us. It was a really solid conversation to be honest. I have since had the pleasure of spending some time with Raj, who is coincidentally one of my new favorite artists and just all around awesome human beings. I have been making frequent trips back to NC this year for family and art reasons, and getting a chance to link with him is something I look forward to. He is a prolific, hard working, bad ass, print maker and all around art maniac. He really breathes a lot of energy into the creative climate in Durham and beyond, and is truly starting to make his presence known with talks and print workshops at Universities nationwide, a show coming up in Atlanta, GA, and a work ethic that makes me feel like I am sitting on my hands watching time go by.
I have had the pleasure of hanging out and experiencing his studio on a two occasions now, and both times I was floored by the work I saw. He took me on a chronological journey through his life, his art making, his process, and where he wants to head. Each chapter visually depicted by massive prints, handmade frames, ephemera, wild drawings, nostalgia, signs and signifiers of his personal narrative. Explosive energy, and deep rooted life force abounds here. His work is loose and gestural, yet hyper detailed, cluttered, and insane in the best ways. His work for me was akin to Albrecht Durer and Ralph Steadman having a DMT baby. The tropes and narratives he embraces emit so much personal resonance to his character and view of the word around him. His work is a fully realized deafening wave that comes from the deepest reaches of his mind and core of his spirit. His work is investigative, honest, personal, and nightmarish at times.
His focus is obsessive, his love of his craft is unshakeable, and his desire to keep studying, working, and creating is impressive. It came as no surprise after seeing his work and getting to know his ambitious personality that print making legend Bill Fick seems to whole heartedly believe in him. His massive prints create waves of time and darkness, dealing with literal narratives like the drug trade and war, enveloping all in its wake. He deals often with aspects of humanity at its worst. Yet at the same time to pull back from these prints, the amoebic waves of forms and details often feel like a thick calming blanket of reassurance that life constantly wraps us in its unstoppable power. Much like the ocean in its seeming endlessness, his work for me is both terrifying, comforting, and liberating, helping me to have no other option that just to be in acceptance of the beautiful chaos of existence.
For all the visions of dark violence, and the obsessive sleepless nights of carving out expanses of lino, all the marathons of rolling out inks and producing epic pieces of art, Raj has an extremely warm heart and sense of empathy and kindness. He loves animals like few others I know, as he and his wife have a household of four legged friends who all seem to get tons of love. He is someone that truly loves experience and connecting with people in a genuine way. We have gotten to know one another over some bowls of Pho at Mekong in the Research Triangle Park outside of Durham, and I am all the better of a human being for these moments of breaking bread with him. He cares about creativity, honesty, hard work, character, and being a stand up, open minded person, and seems to expect the same from those in his circle.
Raj is the real deal. The day he stops making art I would imagine will be the day he hits the dirt. He is constantly digesting books about history, art, art theory, and the inter-workings of the bizarre world we live in. His personal narrative and history is intensely interesting and it conveys in his work and how he lives his life. It is as if he has to tell his story and the stories that surround us all that fascinate him, that he feels need to be experienced as he sees them or else he will literally combust. He is currently working on a series of drawings and prints investigating street food carts in many different forms, and the stories and energy they and their commanders and surroundings carry with them. I for one, as a new fan of his practice, am super excited to see where it all goes and to continue to keep up our dialogue long into the future.
Raj’s work can be found at https://www.rajbunnag.com as well as in Hi-Fructose at https://hifructose.com/2019/04/24/the-massive-linocut-prints-of-raj-bunnag/