Pinpointing those attributes of art that tend to mesmerize isn't always easy. In his debut solo U.S. exhibit at Anno Domini in San Jose, Brazilian artist Bruno 9Li appears to have a knack for spellbinding viewers. In a world saturated with digital prints, 9Li's insanely intricate ink drawings on paper may at first appear to be computer generated. However, upon closer inspection the marker-thick lines filling in hypnotic scenes with detailed drawings of animals and various fantastical figures prove that, in terms of art and life, nothing is any good unless it's difficult.
Having cut his teeth doing graffiti, 9Li must be familiar with difficult circumstances -- street painting is considered a serious crime, severely punished in Brazil. Many artists try to one-up each other by painting higher and higher on a wall -- hanging each other out of windows and making human towers five men high to tag slightly higher than the previous artist. Though 9Li didn't actively participate in this form of competitive tagging, Brazilian law enforcement cracks down with a blind eye -- graffiti is always a crime, no matter how brilliant or artistic the work happens to be.
9Li's dreamy landscapes channel his influences -- alchemy, shamanism, art nouveau and his Brazilian roots. Deviating from the formalistic white gallery wall, 9Li painted a large mural behind his framed drawings. The mural started as a "simple embellishment" and became one of the busiest and most beautiful wall installations to show face in San Jose. 9Li's color palette is fairly streamlined, using turquoise, red, black and white almost exclusively, with a few other colors sneaking into certain pieces. Aside from the imagery, he also displays a few graffiti-influenced works that look like patterned, angular rectangles filled with color, which are actually a form of graf-style writing that can only be read by a select few. A particularly mesmerizing piece called Acorda Agora appears to be a design to the untrained eye but actually reads "Wake up now! Everything shakes here inside." The piece was created after 9Li embarked on a ritual retreat where he became inspired by the fact that, though sometimes very still, nature's cells are in constant motion.
It would take pages to describe the details of 9Li's work -- in Atomic Love, a Japanese Anime-looking girl with cat ears reigns over another figure's head, which is surrounded by crashing Tsunamis that recall the treacherous ocean in Katsushika Hokusai's famous woodcut print The Great Wave Off Kanagawa. Cranes and swallows fly towards the cat girl, and a black cat and a panda hide among mountainous craggy rocks in the background like little animal secrets.
In another drawing titled Purificação (Purification) a masked character throws a fist through the heart of another character who is composed of flames while spiky-horned creatures lurk in the background, watching the fight. The descriptions may sound drug-induced, but the drawings maintain an intuitive sense of mythical spirituality that is difficult to describe with plain old words. Speaking of words, many of 9Li's titles are quite lyrical, an example being Na Aurora é Nóis (At the right time we know what we are). So true.
Anno Domini is a two-part gallery and is also displaying sets from the cult stop-motion films by M Dot Strange. In addition, 9Li took advantage of his trip to San Jose (sponsored by gracious gallery owners, Brian Eder and Cherri Lakey) and painted a large-scale mural featuring a masked warrior on the outside of the building. Check out photos of 9Li painting on A.D.'s Flickr Page. The artwork (and the artist) are very nice to look at.
Bruno 9Li's Mysterium Tremendum runs through May 18, 2007 at Anno Domini in San Jose.