12ozProphet Exclusive Interview: Risk and the Skid Row Freewalls Project

By - Sunday, January 20th, 2013

With a career spanning longer than most graffiti artists have been alive, Risk is without a doubt one of the most legendary and influential graffiti writers in Los Angeles. After participating in gallery exhibitions around the world Risk has been focused on making an impact in his hometown, add color to the drab streets. Through projects created by LALA Gallery owner Daniel Lahoda, Risk has had the opportunity to do just that while also continuing to leave his mark on the LA landscape. Recently, Lahoda’s LA Freewalls has fathered Skidrow Freewalls, a collaboration between the Skid Row Housing Trust and LALA Arts with the goal of bringing beauty and uplifting the residents in the area. Starting the series of murals the Trust asked if RISK would like to become the initial artist. The first property tackled for the Project was the Hotel La Americas. In a thorough process, Lahoda and RISK visited the residence and held a community meeting with the case workers and manager then with the residents. After hearing the stories of the people living in the property, Risk related their experiences to songs from Led Zeppelin, the lyrics of which are sprawled across the mural titled ‘Ye Sun.’ Stripped away from the lettering of his infamous work, the walls are left with an abstract piece filled with vibrant reds, oranges and yellows and punctuated with calming shades of blues. The mural’s bright colors contrasts with the gray and neutral environment. It both works with the building but rebels against the drab coloring of the surroundings into what he is calling the “Beautifully Destroyed” series. 12ozProphet photographer Birdman was there documenting the project with Todd Mazer for a video with MOCAtv, the LA Museum of Contemporary Art’s YouTube channel. We got to sit down and talk with Risk about his process and some highlighted moments of the mural captured in photos. 12oz: Tell us about your process in throwing paint at the wall and how it relates to your graffiti. Risk: The actual art of throwing paint is working really well. Because to me everything about graffiti is motion. I can look at lettering and tell if a graffiti artist does illegal pieces or has never done an illegal piece. By how fluid or choppy their pieces are. My pieces are always like dancing or fighting and they’re fluid and that’s because as a kid painting I was always looking over my shoulder. And everything had to be one line and quick. So I think motion plays a big part in graffiti and I’m trying to invoke the same motion with these walls. Throwing the paint creates energy. Some gets washed away, but there’s still a lot of motion and energy. 12oz: Are those song lyrics inside the sun rays? Risk: I really love Led Zeppelin and when I talked to the Skid Row people a lot of the guys talked about heart break. Not hard times, but girls that left them. Then of course drugs and all of the stuff you expect them to talk about. So the first thing that came to mind was Led Zeppelin ‘Good Times/Bad Times’ And I started thinking about themes of Led Zeppelin songs for the mural. And then I started thinking like damn some of the lyrics hit home. To me it’s important to not only work with the environment, but also be respectful. Continue reading 12ozProphet’s Interview with Risk on Page 2… {pagebreak} 12oz: Your daughter Stormy seems to be a big fan of your work. Risk: I love taking my her to murals. My wife calls her my shadow. She used to say after seeing any graffiti, “oh my daddy did that” She now is starting to tell the difference between Nathan (Ota) and Revok’s work. 12oz: What got you into lacquering your walls? Risk: Lacquering goes back to the low rider influence. There is something about it that pulls the colors together and makes it one, rather than separate colors. Even when I use clear lacquer I don’t really use clear lacquer, there is a tint to it. I don’t even know if you can notice it or it’s just something I can notice. I never use black, I always use black/red. 12oz: Low riders seem to be a strong influence in your work. There’s a sparkle in the wall after it’s been lacquered, is that influenced from low riders as well? Risk: Low riders were a huge influence on my graffiti when I started. When I was looking for a fill in for my graffiti, I looked at the classic cars. Back in the day they would call what I did an ‘inside border’ on my letters which was just mimicking the line work of low riders. It was just a natural progression to incorporate the low rider influence like metal flake into my work. 12oz: How do you and Remy Rough know each other? Risk: I’ve known Remi since ‘87; we met while I was doing a world competition battle. We became pen pals and would send each other photos of graffiti before the internet. We would have to wait almost a month for a stack of photos. Continue reading 12ozProphet’s Interview with Risk on Page 3… {pagebreak} 12oz: The finished mural looks beautiful, what’s your interpretation of everything in it? Risk: These rays obviously represent a positive outlook. And the clouds represent good times, but exploding represents stress. You think that everything is going to explode and you can’t handle what’s going on around you but if you look at the future it has a positive outlook. 12oz: Your murals have brought a lot of color to a gray area in Downtown LA, how do you feel about seeing your art change the landscape? Risk: I love seeing those shots. Defying the cliché of the concrete jungle when you see the pops of color. I want to see it peppered with color and then eventually see it all become colorful. People in LA have been so scared of any murals and any signs that it has become this grayness. People are slowly reacting and deciding to add color. People are becoming individuals again and paint what they want. Whether we like it or not. Eventually when you see it our city will become a city again. It will be cool to take these photos and see the growth. Two years ago none of this color would be here. Risk: These murals are the first steps; I want to do so much more. I am bombing the city with color. What people don’t see or realize is that this is just the beginning. The background stage, I think I have to do 50 of these to make a difference. Risk: Downtown is very important to me; I had a studio there for years. In USC when they would have us paint fruit bowls I would paint trains and buildings. The teacher would ask what are you doing?! I did it on purpose and I would argue with them like what is the purpose of a fruit bowl? And they would respond it’s a common beautiful thing. But to me trains and buildings were common beautiful things. Urban architecture is important to me. People would ask me what is beautiful and I would respond, cement, steal, rock and brick. While other people were saying roses, clouds. I spent a lot of time running around those areas and to be able to come back, give back and uplift the community is awesome. It is also a great testament to the power of art and for me personally, the “Beautifully Destroyed” series. Art has no boundaries it is a universal language that speaks to all demographics. Text: Keisha Raines Photo: Birdman for MOCA

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