Published on December 22nd, 2022


Brian Wagoner, known in the art world as Bunkt_, is no stranger to the brutal and ugly parts of life. His artist statement online cites a litany of personal demons — “addiction, anxiety, depression, Crohn’s disease, cancer, divorce, etc.” — and says, “These experiences nearly broke me.”

Then, a few years ago at age 44, he discovered art. “Through destruction, building things from ruin, taking trash and making it whole, I have found a way to heel [sic] and to express myself,” he writes. “My end product is often ugly, bruised and beaten. But I feel they are also whole again, mysterious and interesting.”

With his pursuit of this passion and no previous forays into the field, this self-taught outsider, the PureHoney featured artist for December 2022, draws closer to the ever-moving targets of happy and healed. “Art is limitless,” Wagoner says in an interview with PureHoney. “It helped me discover a whole new part of myself and makes me feel free.”

Brian Wagoner / BUNKT

A teacher and counselor by education and professional training, Wagoner previously spent time as a wilderness counselor for children who struggle in standard school environments. He was good at his job, skilled at reading people and building relationships. But the work was often grueling: Kids working through their own demons would spit on him and kick him, using Wagoner as a punching bag. The emotional, physical and psychic demands of his role led to burnout and fueled other pathologies.

As a new dad and husband he at one point found himself with a stark choice between family and addiction. Art that reflects on his battles helped him find a path to sobriety and stability. His portfolio is populated with demented-looking, monstrous figures which represent his own demons and ours. Some of these monsters are symbols of politics, religion and the tug of war around basic human rights that plays out daily in our intensifying culture wars, Wagoner says. Others embody greed, power, fear, and things that haunt and chase all of us through our lives.

Cat Caught

One concern represented in his work is the threat to his young daughter’s right to her own body posed by the Supreme Court’s reversal of Roe v. Wade, which established abortion as as right. Jagged-toothed creatures chasing each other in his canvasses express his fear of the country’s direction and his anxiety about political disagreement turning violent.

This focus on aggression and systemic breakdown is further manifested in materials that Wagoner breaks apart, tears up, burns, rips, and then staples and glues back together. Oftentimes these repurposed materials are old paintings that no longer have any use to him and become part of something new. Wagoner finds things that he forgot about altogether then reuses them for finished pieces; in a nutshell he creates visual representations of how he feels about his experiences and his environment. “I hit rock bottom in life and am picking up those pieces to rediscover myself as a creative person,” he says. “I find the ugly pieces and do something interesting with them — it is a thrill for me to rebuild myself.”

The process of rebuilding a life ripped apart is not pleasant or pretty, which is why Wagoner’s work aims to be the antithesis of those characteristics. Tempting though it might be to aim for beauty and perfection, its opposites are often where art produces insights. Wagoner has said he is not interested in viewing, or making, art that doesn’t have something important to say beyond its aesthetic likability. And why would he? Wagoner is drawn to messier things, like the crumbling walls of Boston’s street art scene that spoke to him even before he became an artist himself. Wagoner finds his best work is done in chaos, blasting the music of the punk rock trio Minutemen in his studio.

Where there is pain and trauma, there is also opportunity for catharsis. Viewing a Bunkt_ allows the viewer to work through their conflicts, finding power and meaning in the cardboard scraps and rescued trash repurposed as elements of art. We’re invited on this journey with him, through suffering, despair and — ultimately — recovery. The work and the story behind it are his own, but they resonate with us all.

Find Bunkt_ at and Veronica Inberg


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