As an artist your identity has largely been defined by street culture and graffiti is the foundation of much of your work. How has this concept evolved emotionally, and in scope, throughout your career?
I have defined myself as many things over the past 20 years of painting. My foundation is the streets, my roots planted. I feel like evolving sometimes leads you back to your roots. The journey of evolution has me studying more art and history, versus painting at times. Emotionally I feel as if I'm growing in my work some days and then other days I feel like the real challenge is to know nothing and draw like a kid. I ultimately just paint for freedom of self, for the same kid who started painting as an outlet.
The title of my show is more of a statement: "No Unsolicited Submissions" is the email you receive from galleries and museums when you email them trying to show them your work - the iron curtain holding you apart from the art world; the closed circle of decision makers. I just want kids to know that if I can do it, then anything is possible and to never give up your craft. I'm for the people.
You’ve identified Jean-Michel Basquiat and Keith Haring as major inspirations, particularly your project for Landmark Aviation (a commission to paint the complete surface of a private plane). Now you are showing at famed gallery Hamilton Selway alongside these same artists. How does it feel to be included among your idols?
When I was younger and first saw Jean-Michel Basquiat's work, I was like, "That's like us." It was free and messy and not perfect; it was like me. Keith and JMB definitely paved a way for artists like myself. Naturally if you know art and see most monochromatic designs they remind you of Keith Haring. So, when I go the opportunity to paint my "International Symbols of Travel" on a jet, I paid my respects. That is where cats like me that actually came from graffiti and the streets differ from a lot the new street art jokers. We had to earn our respect. As far as hanging on the same walls as my idols in a great gallery, it feels amazing. No matter what happens I give thanks and just keep getting deeper in my craft.
You’ve done a number of commercial commissions and installation works- the Landmark Aviation project, the Viper Room, and STK Miami, among others. How do you balance these more commercial projects within the authenticity of your personal work and narrative?
Doing commercial projects and finding the balance, well, that’s easy for me because I only take on projects where I have all the creative freedom and the client understands me and knows I will only create for the greater good for both parties. I don't compromise my personal brand for money so when it comes to creating I am always in control. I need that or it becomes a job I don't want and then painting becomes something not enjoyable: "No I won't paint your dog 10 feet tall in your living room. Thanks."
Both your biography and your work reference drug-culture, and your personal journey to sobriety is well documented. How has the topic of drugs, based on your personal history, impacted your work? What is the message you are trying to convey to your audience about this particular subject?
Drugs were such a big part of my life for so long that naturally they had a effect on my way of life which in turn affected my work. While spiraling down the streets of addiction I would always tell myself I needed to be in a dark place to create work that had a certain feel. With that said, I am a true believer that nothing affects your work more than life experience itself so be aware of your decisions and how they affect your mental state. I don't like saying I have any particular message to convey to anyone because I am always changing and evolving. I do know that drugs didn't work for me so I changed course. If I do alter my mind again it will be with psychedelics in a controlled environment for the purpose of creating.
You’ve talked in other interviews about being from Orange County, California. The surf and the diverse culture seem to speak through your work. What provides a feeling of nostalgia for you? What does the concept of “home” mean to you? Is it important for your audience to understand your biography and surroundings via your work?
Home will always be the beach and it will always be the love in my heart for my family. Home is also where you make it, where you wake up in the present and feel your surroundings. I’ve lived on the road since I was a kid it seems. I am a wanderer by nature. I explore and I find peace in the unfamiliar at times. I am an artist, I am a poet, I am a surfer. Seal Beach/Long Beach was a great place to be raised. Where the surf meets the turf.
On a greater level, as a contemporary artist, and in this cultural landscape, what does it mean to be an “American” to you in this day and age? How do you think this identity translates into the contemporary American art world?
To be an American means that all my ancestors did all the hard work getting here. I am Mexican, Italian, Filipino, Dutch, English - the act of migrating to better places is the same thing I'm doing with my art. Taking work from one culture, a small piece of a street society that many will never understand, and reverse engineering and serving my product back to the elite. My language represents my journey and my work translates to those open to a new movement of freedom. The old will die, the youth will rise, and my work will still be on this rock.
This interview was edited for clarity.
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