12ozProphet Exclusive interview: El Kamino
El Kamino was born to be wild and it undoubtedly comes out in his style. Raised in Virginia, El Kamino began his graffiti career as a teenager immersed in the great outdoors. Running through the creeks and backwoods that permeate the Virginian landscape, El Kamino honed his skills on the walls of underpasses and the cold steel of freights which provided an open space to build the early foundations for his unique style.
As he began traveling across the country and taking in the sights and experiences that the American landscape had to offer, he would soon begin to paint the abundant wildlife and imagery that colored the places he has lived in. In the process he began to develop a seamless harmony between style, originality and technique as he started to integrate other mediums besides spray paint into his work.
Today, with a 3 inch purdy as his primary weapon, El Kamino continues to come correct and put up amazing work that both writers and the public at large can admire. 12ozProphet had the chance to sit down with El kamino to talk about his come up in the game, style, and his experiences traveling across America.
What do you write? How did you come up with your name?
I been writing El Kamino for a little over ten years now, and it was an evolution of having written Elk for about ten years before that. I took the name Elk from the book Black Elk Speaks. I read it as a kid, and it had a profound affect on the way I viewed the world… As painting became my focus, I began to live like a damn gypsy. The name El Kamino reflects this way of life.
Where are you from and when did you first get into graff?
I grew up in Virginia, and most of the spray paint action we had was satanic stoner shit. It was skating and hardcore music that served as my introduction to the world of graffiti. I made a few early attempts in the late 80’s, real toy stuff along the railroad tracks. By the early 90’s I started to take it serious.
Who/What were some early influences for you coming up in the game?
Thrasher and Mad magazine got me drawing as a kid. As far as graffiti, the guys who I came up watching were Cycle, Demon 202, and the NAA crew.. They all were forward thinkers, and they all had their own unique ways of applying paint. I spent a lot of time goin’ to DC for hardcore shows in the early 90’s, and all those guys were killin it back then. The hall of fame/L’enfant plaza was such an amazing place at that time, I am thankful I was able to enjoy it in its heyday.
Do you have any favorite spray paints/medium of choice?
Nothing beats big tags with a rusto fat. But the toxic fumes have really fucked me up over the years, and so I have switched from spraypaint to house paint. Now my weapon of choice is a 3 inch Purdy… Switching gears was a slow and difficult process, but it was the right thing to do. My whole approach to graffiti had to be reworked, and there have been ups and downs along the way. But the road less traveled tends to prove fruitful in the long run. So here’s to the long run.
You have a really unique style that seems integrate a wide range of artforms, techniques and mediums. What does Style mean to you? How do you think the mediums and techniques that you gravitate towards and utilize affect your style?
Style is everything. Whether its painting, skating, surfing, playing music – whatever the case may be, style is what separates the good from the great. It’s difficult to pinpoint what makes one guy have more style than the next, but you sure as hell know it when you see it… When I use spray paint, everything is fast and loose, big sweeping lines whipping into shapes. With a brush, its more like sculpture. You kind of build your piece, and then shave it down. The friction of the bristles on the wall dictates how fast or slow you can paint, and that comes across in the finished product.
What are regional styles like where you are from? Have they affected your own style in anyway?
Its not so much what the local styles have been, as much as what was on the local menu… Early on, I had all these creek spots with giant smooth walls under the highways. So at that time it was all about wildstyle pieces and elaborate backgrounds… When I lived in the Midwest, I was dead smack in the middle of the freight train universe. I had lines rolling through from every direction, pieces coming from all over the country. Trains were my life while I lived there… Down in Alabama, I had coal cars for days. Since most folks don’t mess with them, the lines are mostly graff free. So even a simple hobo streak will stand out as the line rolls by. I was catchin’ all my Richmond homies down that way, so i started sendin’ streaks back to them.
It seems that certain elements from nature inform and influence a good amount of your work, where do you pull inspiration from?
I grew up running around the creeks and woods in my neighborhood. As I got into graff, I spent endless days painting the underpasses along those same creeks. Hiking through the woods, seeing birds, deer and foxes, crossing creeks filled with fish, frogs,turtles and snakes; all of this was what surrounded me as I was learning how to paint graffiti. So as different as the two things may seem, to me they have always been connected.
Writers usually got a thing for travelling. Do you think travelling is important for graff? Where has graffiti taken you? Has travelling affected your style in anyway?
There is an old proverb which goes something like, ‘Tell me where you have been, and I will tell you what you know.’ I’ve spent my entire adult life travelling this amazing country, and I still have so many places that I want to see. I have always been drawn to towns that have been abandoned by industry, and yet somehow people find a way to stay and live out their lives. There is an understanding in communities like this; nobody has time for bullshit. People do what they must, and you gotta learn to roll with the punches. I have tried to make art that reflects this mantra, steering clear of sarcasm and conceptual nonsense. I want to make work that is straight forward and honest. No bullshit.
What’s your favorite city to paint in?
Home is where the heart is.
Any chase stories or weird things you seen while painting?
Awhile back I was creeping on this freight yard, way out in the sticks of Missouri. Deep sticks. The yard serviced an old Ford plant, so it was nothing but giant flat boxcars. Being in the middle of nowhere, I had to hike through all these farms and fields to get there, hopping hotwire fences along the way. When I finally found it, it was surrounded by chest high wheat fields. So I just sat still for awhile in this little cluster of trees, making sure nobody was up in the cut. I slowly started to make my way through this ocean of wheat, when all of a sudden, everything around me came to life. There was all this screeching and yelping and all the grass around me just exploded with these giant swirling black goblins. They were running and flying, half attacking me, half running for their lives. It was like a damn horror movie… As the initial shock wore off, and I was able to stand up and see what the fuck just happened, I realized I had walked into the middle of a sleeping flock of turkeys. They all went beserk and just launched into scramble mode, flying up into the trees. Scared me half to death.
What’s in the works for El Kamino in the future?
The past few years I been constantly making work and showing it as much as possible. Atlanta, Seattle, Oklahoma, the Carolinas, it’s been a rad yet random grab bag… I’m now shifting gears to focus on quality rather than quantity. I plan on making more involved pieces, and being more selective with when and where I show them. I’m trying to get to a point where what I paint on the wall, is what I hang in the gallery, it’s what pays my bills, and it’s what I do in my free time. I feel like I’ll be working towards this goal for the rest of my life.
Any words of wisdom for the younger generation coming up in the game right now?
Leave the iPhone at home, and go paint a wall. The only way to get better, is to get out there and paint. Let your work speak for itself.
Text: Benny Blunt
Photo: El Kamino