Interview: RISK – "Evolution of Graffiti Day" at Boston Museum of Fine Arts
Last Sunday, The Boston Museum of Fine Arts held their first annual “Evolution of Graffiti Day“, and 12ozprophet was there to observe. As a part of the MFA’s new found interest into aerosol art, they invited a panel of Graffiti artists, curators, historians, as well as collectors for a lecture on both the history and evolution of the art form. Guests included Roger Gastman ( Associate Curator of MOCA’s “Art of the Streets”, Producer on “Exit Through The Gift Shop”, Co-Author “History of American Graffiti”), Caleb Neelon (International artist, Co-Author “History of American Graffiti“), and RISK (L.A Graffiti Legend); each of whom have accumulated far over 20 years experience in the graff world. The 3 speakers offered individual viewpoints when fielding questions on the evolution and growth of Graffiti styles and awareness (being that they all discovered art in three different parts of the country; Roger in D.C, Caleb in Boston, Risk in L.A); though their answers matched seamlessly around topics of street “ethics” and hard edged graffiti mindset vs the museum / art gallery point of view. It was amazing to see such a vast audience: from writers, to art history teachers, to gallery owners, to students, all there to further educate their eye to the evolving characteristics of graffiti, and the important place it now holds in the contemporary art world.
We at 12ozprophet still had some questions after the lecture, and caught up with RISK for an interview
12oz : Where are you originally from?
RISK: I’m originally from New Orleans
12oz : When did you start writing? Was it in Louisiana?
RISK: I started writing in Los Angeles in 1982.
12oz : I heard you say that your style was influenced by early N.Y graffiti; How did you become aware of these writers and styles from the west coast?
RISK: When I started wrting, I hadn’t seen Subway Art or Wild Style yet. I was just this kid who surfed and drew waves on everything. Sometimes I wrote the word surf, or phrases depending on the time of year. like Happy Halloween, Merry Christmas etc. My books and desks were my canvas. occasionally I would sneak in early and hit the chalk board, etc. Then one day when I was doing this desk piece, this kid came in and said, “What you write” I was like what? I draw all kinds of stuff, waves, Happy Halloween, Merry Christmas, wipe out, etc. etc.. He asked me again, naaaa, “WHAT YOU WRITE…WHATS YOUR TAG…” after we went in circle a few minutes he told me he was from NY and he broke it down to me…I was like wow, people write on trains that’s the shit!!! That day went to the hardware store and racked a few cans of Red and White paint. I was so pumped up I couldn’t even wait till night time, I came back to the school at dusk and did a huge ugly surf piece with white semi square bubble letters outlined in red. from that moment I was on a mission. There were no writers or scene yet, so I searched everything I could find that remotely looked like graff. I had a friend who said his cousin had a friend from NY that had flicks of graffiti. He lived in Oxnard, which was about 2 hours away. We went to check him out. He wouldn’t let go of any of the flicks so I had to steal a few. I was amazed by the colors and how much of it there was. Slowly but surely I roped together a few of my friends and a tiny scene developed. We traveled the city looking for spots and more grtaffiti. Subway Art, and Style Wars made its way to the West Coast, and then what seemed like a huge scene started because the city had about 40 or 50 writers.. (Laughs).
12oz : You made the jump from “vandalism” to art galleries a while ago, without any loss of respect from the graffiti community. How were you able to bridge the gap without the backlash that some other writers face?
RISK: I can do more drugs than them, have a prettier chick , and can beat them up…. (Laughs) …No I think its simple I still get busy, nothing has changed about me except I added another few dimensions to my career. I obviously can’t paint in LA like I used to, because all the bullshit going on down here, but I’m doing my best to give them hell. It’s real important to fight the city and end this BS. Not just for writers but for everyone. When I travel I do my thing. I love to go meet different writers and paint. Its what I do, I think writers know the difference between someone getting paid after years of putting in work and someone just coming on to get paid…
12oz : You’ve had some amazing collaborations this year: from the Heal the Bay house with Retna, to your nationwide tour with Sever, MSK / AWR pieces. What do you find the most valuable about working around so many different artists / styles?
RISK: Painting to me is like a chronological calendar. I have no concept of time. I forget how old I am, all dates etc. But I can look at a piece and tell you where I was at that period of time in my life, who I was with and what I was going through. Collaborations are kind of like reunions to me. I have been paintiing with people I have had a long history with. Nathan Ota, Cooz, Retna, and Sever are all crew. I have grown up with these guys and its great to be able to kind of do something that represents now and then so to speak. So I guess its not so much that its valuable as its just really cool painting with people who you have a history with from back then to now is looking at where people have gone, and sharing what you both have learned. Writers have always gotten up together, just now with the recent success of shows like MOCA’s Art In The Streets, its pumped up a lot more. Shit doesn’t really change that much, Don’t believe the hype! Keep the movement moving!!!!
12oz: Whats next?
RISK: Sky’s the limit!!! oh shit we just did that……