˙Sel WCA: An Old School Los Angeles Graffiti Master Speaks
The highly unique and iconic Los Angeles tagging and masterpiece lettering style has influenced many, both in the US and internationally. Artists were looking elsewhere, outside of the New York styles they had referenced decades prior. Many could do some version of New York tagging, and straight bar East Coast train letters, but few could decipher the tagging and complex technical masterpiece secrets of the legendary LA style. From Australia to Israel and elsewhere, the current style manual, no longer strictly in the hands of NYC, instead, some inspired by the letter proportions and illustration styles pioneered and invented in Cali.
In the mid 1980’s, prior to MSK, crews like STP (“set the pace”), WCA (“West Coast Artists”) and K2S/STN (“Kill to Suceed / Second to None”), USK (Using Street Knowledge”), and UTI (“Using The Imagination”) OTR (“On The Run”), DTK (Down To Kill) and the L.A. Bomb Squad; were planting the seeds of what later would grow into the signature, iconic LA style. They were taking bits of gang art, tattoo illustrations, tiny glimpses of what they had seen from the emerging NYC train graffiti revolution, and merging it into something completely unique and fresh.
Los Angeles artists were pioneering a profound, highly complex version of the same art form with a new, clean, modern, beautiful and compelling style of graffiti uniquely their own.
Pryer WCA, MarioeOne, Sel, Path, Drew OTR, these are just a few of the original West Coast graffiti art pioneers. Guys like this are responsible for what LA graffiti is today to the entire world, as they are the ones who taught the guys who helped perfect and popularize the now famous Los Angeles style. These are the LA natives who literally fought on the streets to bring art to what was until then a gang culture. Thanks to these tough originators, around the mid 80’s, people were inspired to have fun doing spray can art in LA and trying to make masterpieces, not just using spray cans to mark turf. Tagging was now about art, and not just gang banging and murder, thanks to many including these legends.
Los Angeles graffiti history is now a scholarly subject, as graffiti as an art form itself has been legitimised as the one and only original American art movement. Books and museum shows are devoted to the subject of LA graffiti. Independent clothing lines can’t get enough of the gangster LA style. It’s changed the nature of global culture through illustration, tattoo, graphics and it’s notable influence on personal style.
American counter culture has been deeply impacted by the Los Angeles graffiti art movement, personal, social and cultural styles have emerged through it’s influence. However, its’ real history and the guys who brought it forth, are actually seldom spoken of. Before the cholo fonts became the rave, before Dia De Los Meurtos, styled tattooing, illustration, black and white hard edge illustration style took off, before the more complex and mechanical geometric masterpiece style of Los Angeles graffiti lettering, it was pioneered by the first artists to take Los Angeles graff into its own. Fighting and turf will always be a part of Los Angeles graffiti, so it’s no secret that LA writers can throw down; not because they want to, but because they have to. We grabbed some wisdom from one tough customer who fought to make LA spray can art and style what it is today, LA graffiti legend SEL 1 WCA:
When did you first see graffiti?
It was back in the early ’80s when I’d seen images of New York subways with big bubble designs and block letters but never up close since it was always in the background of some TV show or movie. Then the book Subway Art dropped and it kicked my world open. I was finally able to see what was on those trains and could not get enough of it. To this day I love looking at all the graffiti sites and blogs and couldn’t have imagined how far it’s come.
What was the first time you tagged?
One night I was hangin’ out at Mar Vista park with a bunch of heads where all the punk rock kids on the west side would meet up to get rides to all the gigs. Someone pulled out some spray paint and my friend grabbed it and passed it to me because I was one of the kids that drew. I put up all our names, a big skull, and the name of the band I played in “The Beer Nuts”. I went back the next day and remember getting this huge rush from seeing what I did.
How did you get down with WCA?
I was spending a lot of time at the Pan Pacific. It was a huge abandoned auditorium that’s a landmark in L.A. graffiti history and the birthplace of the West Coast Artists crew. Back then I was writing Vice and later changed it to Sel because that’s what everyone had always called me since it was the last half of my government name: “Marcel”. I’d been hangin’ out with Risk, we went to high school together, and he was the one that introduced me to Rival, P Jay and Miner who founded the crew. They liked what I was doing and that was pretty much it.
What are somethings you remember from the early days of the graffiti scene?
Those early graffiti days of going out and getting up were a lot fun. Most of the graffiti at that time was gang related so our pieces were a big surprise to people who hadn’t seen it before. You also had to be careful not to go over any gang placards. One night I remember painting at Venice beach and I believe it was P Jay, Rival, Risk, Miner, Dim and myself. We about done and the cops showed up so we bolted like cats, everyone taking off in a different direction. The cops didn’t know which way to run and we all made it out. This was way back before the Venice Walls and even the Pavilion. The only pieces running at the time were done by Zephyr, Sharp and Brim outta New York.
How did it feel to be included in the Getty?
For me it was huge. I’d been kicked out of school, had run-ins with the law and was told I was wasting my time doing graffiti because it wasn’t art. Even some of the art teachers agreed. So having a piece included in the Getty Blackbook was a massive vindication for me. The book will live on way beyond my life time documenting Los Angeles graffiti forever.
What takes up your time these days besides art?
I’ve been a graphic designer for years doing commercial work for the music and entertainment industry. I do some illustrations, gallery shows, and even a wall or truck every now and then. Also, I religiously study Aikido and Kyusho-jitsu, which has been a great addition to my life. It keeps me centered and has taught me to stay focused. I’m a bass player but don’t play in bands anymore, I just get together with friends for jam sessions. I’ll find my moment of zen riding my bike at the beach, cruising around,occasionally stopping to draw.