FINALLY! Another “Special Art Post”! The last one was ages ago, so I thought it was about time to write a new one, and as I wanted this comeback to be special, I’ve chosen none other than master of desaster, king of graffiti, legend of the aerosol and one who’s pretty high on my neverending list of favourite artists – RISK!
In a career spanning 27 years, RISK has impacted the evolution of graffiti as an art form in Los Angeles and worldwide. RISK gained major notoriety for his unique style and pushed the limits of graffiti further than any writer in L.A. had before: He was one of the first writers in Southern California to paint freight trains, and he pioneered writing on “heavens,” or freeway overpasses. At the peak of his career he took graffiti from the streets and into the gallery with the launch of the Third Rail series of art shows, and later parlayed the name into the first authentic line of graffiti-inspired clothing.
Before he’d ever heard of graffiti, RISK was unconsciously writing it. As a kid, he filled sketchbook after sketchbook with images, not just of people and things but of letters too. He even had spray paint in his hand before ever applying it to a wall, using it to paint BMX bikes. “Even back then I think I was addicted to spray paint,” he recalls. “I just loved painting with it.”
In 1983, his family moved to Los Angeles, and 16-year-old RISK enrolled at University High School on the city’s west side. RISK made the high school his personal canvas, tagging his name everywhere during the day and returning at night to do pieces. He turned some of his buddies onto graffiti and started a crew, Prime Crime Artists, with them. In 1985, RISK was painting in mid-city when RIVAL approached him and asked if he wanted to start a crew. Just like that, West Coast Artists (WCA) was born. One night, RISK and fellow writers RIVAL and MINER were sitting on an overpass above the Pasadena Freeway just north of downtown L.A. when RISK decided to hit one of the signs hanging over the freeway. To get to the sign, he had to shimmy across a piece of wood supported by two cables. His friends, scared for his life, begged him to come back to the overpass. RISK didn’t listen, and managed to get his name up.
The next phase of RISK’s career came out of the Hollywood lifestyle he was living. He partied with rock stars, and he found himself being asked by some of them to get involved in Hollywood projects. His first was a photo shoot for Hot Rod magazine, and after the issue hit newsstands, he started getting more recognition as an artist outside the graffiti world. RISK continued to work on movie and music video sets, including the film Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure and videos for the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Ice Cube, Bad Religion and Michael Jackson.
In 1988, RISK went to New York and painted subway cars, making him the first L.A. writer to have his work run, and probably the last (in 1989, the New York Metropolitan Transit Authority mandated that all subway cars be free of graffiti before they ran). The following year, RISK and SLICK were invited to travel to the U.K. to represent the U.S. at the Bridlington International Street Art Competition. They won the competition and took home a silver cup and silver spray can as trophies.
Back in L.A., RISK was determined to keep pushing the boundaries of graffiti, and he and fellow WCA writers embarked on a series of tours: “Bum Rush,” an all-out bombing effort in the San Francisco Bay area; “Planes, Trains and Automobiles,” a quest on which they hit everything from Elvis Presley’s limo to private planes; and “Hitting Metal,” a tour aimed at vehicles, street signs, heavens and any other metal objects they could find.
Meanwhile, RISK had started putting his graffiti on canvases. Along with DANTE and SLICK, he created Third Rail, a series of gallery shows. Knowing that many of the people at the shows couldn’t afford his canvases, RISK started making T-shirts to sell. RISK turned Third Rail into a successful clothing brand, with RISK winning designer of the year awards and sponsoring celebrities like Kid Rock. While other clothing companies tried to co-opt graffiti images to present themselves as streetwear, Third Rail prospered from its authenticity.
Today, RISK is still involved in graffiti, surrounding himself with writers and supporting them in their art. WCA evolved into other crews, first CBS and then AWR and MSK, and both are proud to have him as a member. “I’m probably one of the only writers who’ve come full-circle with generations,” RISK says, “to see what I started go where it went and then be a part of it.”
Dig In Magazine Interview with RISK
Dig In Magazine: Thank you so much for the opportunity to interview you for Dig In Magazine, RISK!
RISK: Thanks for having me!
DIM: So, it seems that street art is being more legitimized, how would you explain this?
R: I think it was only a matter of time before people had to recognize street art as a real art genre. Many older art critics dismissed the art form as craft rather than an artistic movement, however some of the young people at that time had grown up along side this movement, watching it evolve the whole way. It was like the changing of the guard, years later when these young people were in higher positions and able to place the art in established reputable galleries and or museums they did. Once that happened it became “legitimate”. Its kind of funny the majority of people are like sheep, they never really paid attention to Graffiti, they drive by various murals daily and never look, but now that it’s in Museums, they can’t get enough of it.
DIM: More street artists and their artwork, which have been traditionally marginalized, are being shown in museums like the MOCA in Los Angles and galleries like White Walls in San Francisco, CA lately, do you feel that you’ve been a part of this evolution of street art and the fact that it is beginning to be considered a legitimate art form?
R: Sure I believe everyone who played a significant part in the foundation have played a part. It’s a two part deal, one is people who have “put in work” so to speak, and the other is the guys who came and took it to the next level. Persistence and talent.
DIM: You are involved in a street art group show now at the Los Angeles MOCA that runs until August 8th, what is the theme of this show and who are the other artists involved in the show?
R: The show is a historical survey of graffiti originators and street artists who have successfully crossed over to gallery artists as well. There are so many great people involved.Off the top of my head…Revok, Saber, Cartoon, Lee, Futura, Shepard, Banksy, Craig Stecyk, Chaz, Retna, Henry Chalfant, Estevan Orial, Martha Cooper, Barry McGee, Espo, Reas, Pure, Ramelzee, Keith Herrring, Kenny Sharf, Swoon, Mode 2, and MANY more…
Malibu Magazine: Ten Questions
What do you consider your most marked characteristic?
My most marked characteristic would be my artistic ability.
What historic event do you find most interesting and why?
This is a hard one to answer because I believe history changes daily, and as I evolve, I discover new things constantly. Most recently, I have been thinking about Native-Americans, for many reasons, though none of them listed here. However, since we are on the subject, it baffles me that when I was younger, I was taught that Christopher Columbus supposedly discovered the Americas. Not only did the Scandinavians find and settle in Northern America years earlier, but Christopher Columbus also stumbled onto it looking for a route to Asia. I would call that far from “discovering” America. Furthermore, did the Native-Americans not know they were already here? I think Columbus Day is a very overrated faux holiday considering it was really a theft that caused the demise of millions of Native-Americans. America is all about freedom, and I have always wondered why this was taught with a positive spin? This is just one example of why I tend to rethink and re-evaluate historic events.
What natural gift would you most like to possess?
I would like to be more of a people person. I’m rather reserved. I was more outgoing when I was younger.
As always, all pictures belong to the artists involved.