12 Questions With "Rip Man" OI Holy Tag Crew
What’s your name and what crew do you represent?
Rip: I write Rip Man and I represent 2 crews right now, first off my crew, which is called Optic Illusions Crew. The other crew, which is painting and getting up a lot more recently, is with my good friend KASP, and it’s called Holy Tag Crew. Holy Tag Crew was just started and we’re trying to get the name out there and make it reputable because KASP and I are, as it has been said by other writers around the island these are not my words, two of the best graffiti writers in all of Puerto Rico. We decided to come together because somehow God decided our paths needed to cross and we needed to spread our message and our graffiti together.
1. How did you choose your name and why?
R: My name doesn’t really have a story per se, when I first started writing I would tag DUS. I chose RIP because I was young and in my mind the concept of Rest In Peace was really awesome, and it just kind of gave an illusion that at that time made me feel like I was a boss. It made me feel like I was the man and really cool because of the name, so I stuck with it.
Then afterwards more people started recognizing my tags and knowing who I was so I added the ‘Man’ at the end to try and do something a little bit more artistic. There wasn’t any special reason why I chose it, it just happened and I became very well known with that name and I don’t any reason to change it. It wouldn’t make any sense to write a different name because people wouldn’t know who it is.
2. How did you first decide that you wanted to paint graffiti?
R: When I was little kid my older sister took me to a house party, and at that party there was a kid with a black book and he was doing tags and showing everybody. I thought it was so awesome that I just spent the entire party asking him about it and trying to find out how he started painting. I liked it so much that I asked if he would teach me how to graffiti. It was a complicated situation because he was in his last summer before going to the Air Force, so he only had like 2 months to help me out before he was gone.
Within that time frame he tried to show me the basics of writing. He told me what kinds of caps and cans to use; those were the days when everyone used Krylon. He taught me a few things but then he had to leave, so I was left all alone with this new obsession and just minimal training on how to do it properly. I kept getting more and more interested and I kept painting, I just had this drive to keep developing my art and my style.
What really blew my mind about graffiti is the fact that we are creating art using a medium that was not designed purposely to create art. It’s just amazing to see the level to which a tool that was not made for a specific use has adopted by people used to bring this art to such a global and iconic level. That’s what really got me hooked.
3. Do you prefer painting letters or characters and faces?
R: Well, when I started painting, my main objective was to do characters and with those characters I wanted to make them as realistic as possible. That’s why my crew’s name is Optical Illusions. It’s that illusion of you creating something that looks so real, even though it’s made with spray paint, that people have to stop and ask themselves whether it was really made with spray paint or not. That was the whole concept when I started and I really just enjoyed doing characters, it’s what made me feel accomplished.
I liked letters, but they didn’t give me the same satisfaction to paint as characters. In these last few years I’ve really focused on doing more letters and I feel that I’ve gotten a lot better, but there is always room for improvement. I want to bring my letters to the level that my characters are at and be able to consider myself equally as talented in both areas. Once I’m able to do that I feel like I could safely call myself a complete graffiti artist.
4. Is it harder for you to paint letters or characters?
R: Both. I want to work hard and improve on all aspects. In terms of letters the important part is always the style, because I already have an idea what colors and schemes I’m going to use and I’ve gotten pretty good at coming up with effects on the spot. I feel like I have that down, but I really want to develop and improve my style so I can have a repertoire of letters that is considered ‘cool’ and ‘vanguard’ by others.
A lot of writers fall in this hole of doing the same thing over and over and always using the same letters with the same flow, while my goal is to always be changing and keep evolving. I don’t want people to get bored or grow accustomed to me having the same letter style always. It’s the same thing with characters; I just want to keep developing my abilities so that each time it looks more and more realistic.
5. Why did the Holy Tag Crew get started and what are you trying to accomplish with that?
R:The purpose of Holy Tag, and personally KASP and I, is to promote a positive message. It goes further than just painting a wall because we enjoy painting, or painting because of the egocentricity of saying afterwards that I’m the one that did it and it looks awesome. I’m just trying to spread a positive message and the Bible provides us with so many positive messages that we decided we wanted to combine graffiti with that aspect that is Christianity.
My religion is just about spreading a positive message, and now a days society, whether its on TV or the radio, constantly promotes a very negative message. What we wanted to accomplish is that moment when someone stops to look at a wall and they are appreciating the art that somehow, despite whatever it is we painted, there is some sort of positive message being transmitted to the spectator.
We can do this in several ways, such as putting a bible verse on our mural that says, for example, “you can still have hope and faith or whatever you want to cling to that helps you keep moving forward.” Or even the most basic idea behind religion being that the lord is your friend and he is always in your heart and always available when you need him. That’s the purpose behind Holy Tag, but our goals as graffiti artists is to always take our work to the next level and as far as we can push it. I want people who look at our work to stop and think to themselves: these guys can do anything with a spray can.
6. You told me that before the interview you were preaching and painting how does that work?
R: Well, we have a ministry through which I travel around and visit different groups of children and adolescents, whether it is in a church or an orphanage or even a juvenile rehabilitation center, and I preach to them and try to explain my message through the things that I paint. At the same time that I’m talking and preaching to them I’m painting something that is related to the message that I’m trying to get across.
Obviously it’s much more simple and not the same as working on a piece for several hours or days. I feel that it’s a way we can have an impact on the youth because they don’t always see people doing graffiti, and if someone is preaching a positive message they are rarely ever also painting about it at the same time. This is just the plan that God has for me and I’ve been lucky to be doing this for the last 3 years and I enjoy it a lot.
7. What is your process like when you’re going to paint and preach about something, do you already have a verse in mind and then move from there with what you’re going to paint?
R: Yes, it’s exactly that. Let me give you an example. If my message for the day is to let God into your heart and to help you heal I’ll obviously start out by drawing heart. Then inside that heart I can put cracks and lines making it look like it’s broken, and I start talking about how God can help to mend and restore that broken heart. As I’m talking about healing your heart I start doing shines and continue with other details that are making the heart prettier and whole again. These drawings are always done freestyle, just whatever pops into my head at the moment and based off what I’m preaching about.
8. For many people bombing and ‘vandalism’ are an essential part of the graffiti culture, does this conflict with the positive message that you are trying to promote through your art and do you think it takes away or adds to the graffiti culture as a whole?
R: First off I’m not against bombing, I understand and am 100% aware that bombing is how graffiti got started. What I don’t understand is when people bomb on private property, even if they do something on that looks really good. If it’s an abandoned building or wall that I know won’t bother or hurt anybody then I’m all for it. Like I said, I love graffiti in its entirety and every aspect of it from bombing to tagging, block letters, burners, stickers, everything.
But there should always be rules so things don’t get out of control, and obviously nothing that catches the eye of the government. The innocent always end up paying for the actions of the guilty because when they go to buff they cover up everything bombings, tags, and murals. To those of us who like to dedicate ourselves to creating more murals and works of art that take a lot of time and money to complete we are paying for crimes that others have committed. There has to be some sort of order and rules to keep people in control so it doesn’t get out of hand and they just decide to crack down on all of us.
9. How did you learn the majority of the effects, styles, and different tricks you know about graffiti?
R:The hard way, practicing, practicing, practicing, practicing, and even today 2013 I’m still practicing because I don’t feel like I’m a complete graffiti artist yet. I think I’m just going to be like that my entire life because they key to becoming a better artist is always pushing yourself and testing the limits of what you can do. I usually finish a piece and look at it and think that it’s pretty cool but next time I want it to look even better. I’m going to take this out, this I’m going to keep.
What I usually do when working on a mural is I take a picture of it and go back home and study the picture. My rule is I never finish a graffiti in one day, not because I can’t do it, but because I want to look at it in a picture at home and see if it has any errors or anything that can be improved or done differently. I do it all for practice.
Part of what motivated to stick with graffiti, even when I was painting by myself, because people usually paint with others. It’s a good way to look out for each other and encourage one another to keep going, but the majority of my painting when I first started was done totally alone. The first writer I met after the dude that was tagging at the party with my sister was when I was 16. I had just started painting and drawing, because I didn’t use to draw before I started doing graffiti, so both of those things kind of evolved at the same time for me.
So the guy who saw my black book from that moment in time when he saw it he made this face like he had eaten something really sour. He told me that it was his recommendation that I just stop trying right then and there because I had no talent for graffiti. I told him that I really liked it and wanted to keep going but he was just insistent that I had no chance to make it as a graffiti artist. I actually ran into him like 2 years ago and he told me he was happy that I didn’t stop painting because now I’m better than he is. That was just one of those moment man. Sometimes the very thing that is intended to stop you can be the motivation you need to keep going forward. Perseverance is the key aspect of anything you want to accomplish, if you give up you’re never going to make it to a professional level.
10. How was the graffiti scene when you first started compared to today?
R:The biggest thing is that there is still the same level of hostility that there has always been between writers. In my mind graffiti in Puerto Rico should be recognized on a global level. There is no doubt in my mind that Puerto Rican artists are just as good, or better, than anyone else in the world, they have nothing or no one to be jealous of. The problem is we have never been able to let ourselves be recognized worldwide.
The problem with the writers and the scene here on the island can be compared to a bucket full of crabs. If you’ve ever seen a bucket full of live crabs you realize that if they all worked together they would be able to make it out of the bucket, because the top is always open, there is always way out. Since they are all trying to get out at the same time none of them are able to accomplish that goal. The same things happen with graffiti, in reality many things in life can be seen like that, but right now we’re talking about graffiti. In Puerto Rico most graffiti writers are like the crabs in the bucket, they all want to make it to the top as fast as possible and they bring others down to try and reach that goal. What ultimately ends up happening is that none of them can get out.
This hasn’t changed since I started writing 14 years ago. We all try to get out and no one makes it because we’re pulling each other down. In my case, and I’ve done this with many writers either through the internet or any way I can, I try to tell everyone that I love their stuff and that it looks awesome. I try to do that with every graffiti writer that I get asked about even if they don’t get along with me. I try to get along with everyone even though there are some that don’t like me. I try not to say anything negative about any other writer. Even if I don’t really like his/her style, not that it’s poorly done or ugly or dirty just that I don’t like the style, I’m not going to bring them down because of that.
If someone asks me I’ll say yeah that person has a lot of talent and talk him or her up. That’s just really been my thing trying to not bring down anybody, just saying good things about whomever I’m asked about. Obviously with my crew I talk even better about them whenever I get the chance, good friends of mine like KASP, SPY, and CAO. Puerto Rico is kind of like the saying “there’s enough cake for everybody” you know what I mean? That’s just part of what my opinion and my beliefs are, it’s written in my heart.
11. How do you feel about kids who have just started writing and go out to buy Montana’s to use on the first graffiti they ever do?
R:When you paint you have to be very wise. Part of being wise is that many graffiti writers who have more experience are able to do our fill-ins with cheaper paint, and obviously details are done with nicer cans. I’ve used tons of different types of brands of spray paint. I’ve heard that there are some Mexican made cans that are awesome. I’d like to use them some day.
I would recommend that if you’re going to fill in you should do it with Painter’s Touch. Other writers I know always tell me Quick Color is great to go out and bomb. You go out and paint a bomb with a cheap Quick Color fill it all in then you can do the outline with a Montana so it comes out clean, that’s the most important part, and it still looks awesome. But yeah you just have to be wise, because if not you’re going to lose all your money buying expensive cans and painting something you don’t like.
12. How does writing graffiti and trying to spread this positive message help to make you feel accomplished about what you’re doing? Do you think it’s been working?
R:My wife also gives talks and preaches but she doesn’t do it while painting graffiti like me. Instead she simply goes out to talk to different groups of kids and adults. One time she came home and told me a story about a beach where the tide rose so high that all the starfish got washed onto the sand, and when the tide went back down most of the starfish were left out of the water, slowly drying up. A man came upon the starfish and started throwing them back into the ocean, but there were so many that it would be impossible to throw them all back. As he’s throwing the starfish back into the ocean a kid comes up to him and asks why he bothers to throw any at all if so many are going to die. The man answers that if he is at least able to save one or two that would be enough, because the species would still be alive.
That’s the same way I feel when I preach to kids about the lord through my graffiti. If I get to save at least one of them, if at least one of them comes out a better person than before, maybe that kid was going to be a thief, or a murderer, or a rapist, or an abusive parent. There are so many things that can happen to any kid in today’s world because we have no idea what’s going on most of the time in their lives. If at least one of them comes out a better person and a positive member of society, that’s more than enough. That’s why I do it with so much love.
The Bible says to preach the gospel to all creatures, and that’s a message from, whom I believe, is Jesus Christ. If he tells me to do it then I’m going to do it, I’m going to spread the good word doing what I enjoy doing, and what I enjoy is graffiti. At the same time it’s something that the kids enjoy and I don’t have to force them to sit in a church for a two-hour mass every Sunday. The only thing that you accomplish from forcing them to do that is making them feel bored and pushing them away from religion.
I’m just trying to do it in a way that they like and they are attracted to. Another thing that is really important to me and I feel passionately about is putting the Puerto Rican graffiti scene on the map, on a global scale. I want the island to be known as a mecca of graffiti in the same way Paris, New York, Los Angeles, Germany, Spain, and all those places are known. People already know plenty of writers from those cities and countries, if we can get at least five writers from the island to be recognized globally, and then they help out even more writers who aren’t well known, then we’ve accomplished something.
Any shout outs before we’re done?
Well, obviously my boy CAOTIC who’s always there for me. SPY. KASP. Every graffiti writer in Puerto Rico whether you like me or not. I don’t have problems with anybody, but I know there are a few guys out there who aren’t very fond of me that I’d still like to give a shout out to and a God bless. My intentions are never to make enemies only friends; the Bible says to be at peace with everyone else. Everyone on the island who paints you guys are the best, keep painting and keep representing.