The Story of Graffiti Artist Bonus Saves

Almost a decade ago, Patrick Hershberger packed up and left West Michigan for the Windy City — this was the genesis of his tag name: Bonus Saves.

“I moved from Kalamazoo to Chicago back in 2006 and discovered street art and graffiti,” Hershberger said. “I have a photography background, so I did what came naturally and photographed everything. I had stopped making art other than photography, but seeing all these new art forms on the streets pulled me back in.”

Hershberger was fortunate to meet and work with a number of talented artists in Chicago who showed him the ropes. Soon he had moved back to Kalamazoo and began broadening the scope of his work, doing more with outdoor surfaces including a large outdoor installation for ArtPrize and six murals for Comstock Northeast Middle School, made possible by a grant through the Arts Council of Greater Kalamazoo.

And while he still enjoys some smaller projects and the use of acrylic paints, Hershberger admits he prefers a large wall and cans of spray paint.

“I enjoy painting canvas work, but there’s something special and peaceful about painting a wall,” Hershberger said. “I lose track of time and it really fulfills me.”

A recurring character in a lot of Hershberger’s work is the skull bunny. The idea came to him over a period of reflection on how he viewed life itself, and particularly, the mortality of every living thing. Animals act as a muse for Hershberger and offer the reminder that the beauty of life is not possible without the inevitability of death.

“They represent the vivid wonderfulness of life, yet the reality that anything alive will die,” he explained. “They are my thoughts on the natural order of things. They’ve taken many different looks in my art: Animal riders, little Aztec warriors, historical figures.”

As for how he creates the critters, Hershberger said he uses a different technique for the animals he creates. Instead of solid colors and line work, he uses layered and patterned short lines to invoke a feeling of motion in the fur or feathers.

“I love combining science and art — working environmental themes into the animals I produce,” Hershberger said. “The heron I created for ArtPrize in 2013 was centered on the Enbridge Pipeline disaster in the Kalamazoo River and how it impacted both man and nature along its banks.”

Over the years, he’s worked both solo and collaboratively, from Chicago to Detroit, but he’s remains driven and optimistic about his future. Recently he’s worked on walls in Kalamazoo for the Vine Neighborhood Association. He’s also preparing for this year’s ArtPrize and hopes to travel down to Miami Beach for Art Basel.

Last month he did a live show dubbed Enter the Vortex at One Well Brewing in Kalamazoo. While some painters feel intimidated creating in front of an audience, he said he loves the opportunity to perform for people.

“I mentioned the fact that I lose track of time when painting a wall,” he said. “Live demos seem to put me way into that zone. I love painting for people. Some people are really hesitant and feel pressured painting for an audience. I thrive on it. Put some music on and a spray can in my hand and it’s like Christmas presents loaded under the tree.”