RISKY BUSINESS: A Conversation With Graffiti Writer, Risky

A few weeks ago, I virtually met a graffiti writer and painter by the name of Risky, whose work spans all around New York City, New Jersey, and Philadelphia. To preserve his anonymity, Risky and I communicated solely through Instagram Messenger, making this undoubtedly one of the most unique and intriguing interviews in my experience. And while I may have never figured out his identity, our conversation left me with something much more.

Read our interview with Risky below! 

Photo Credit   : Rob Yaskovic

Photo Credit: Rob Yaskovic

Let’s start with a simple (or not so simple) question: Who are you, or better yet, how would you like to us to know you? 

Haha. Oh, man—I’m still developing that day by day. The thing about this path is you really let your actions speak and that’s something I’ve always been attracted to with graffiti from the start. Graffiti has enabled me access another frame of mind to communicate to the world around me. I’d like people to recognize my work over the years as a graffiti writer from New Jersey first and foremost. Just to be remembered and to be a part of the culture paved by so many others has been a true honor.

Well, just hearing your introduction tells me that your passionate about your art. Do you remember a moment in your life when you knew that this is something you wanted to be involved in?

I had always admired things I’d see on class trips into NYC and catch around NJ for sure, but the exact moment I self-actualized being a graffiti writer was probably in the summer of '06 or '07. One of my first big interests was skateboarding. A bunch of older kids hosted a skate competition. Long story short, I won. Needless to say, I was extra stoked and was then invited to an art show/afterparty—there, I saw a gathering of kids out back who were hitting tags. The ink was yellow and it was dripping! Like the tags I saw in NYC, I immediately went over and they just as quickly dispersed from the area—leaving me alone to watch the ink slowly drip and dry... After, I headed back to the art show where I was introduced to two guys at a merch table—I was introduced as the winner of the contest and was gifted a DVD—that DVD alone was Day In The Lyfe. That DVD single-handedly blew my mind—and after watching, I recognized one of the writer's faces whose face was blurred out and voice distorted, as the person who gave me the DVD. Since then, the dots have continued to connect down a seemingly endless path that is graffiti.


That’s amazing! I was actually going to mention that aside from the visual appeal of it all, my favorite thing about graffiti artists/writers is that while they’re expressing themselves, they also maintain their anonymity and such a sense of mystery. It’s so intriguing!

I agree. In an age of Snapchat/Facebook/Instagram live, transparency anonymity always will be cool.

Photo Credit   : Rob Yaskovic

Photo Credit: Rob Yaskovic

With that said, let’s dig in deeper: What are your favorite things to tag? Is that something you just decide in the moment?

Any party of the female anatomy, fresh walls, anything that moves (trucks, dumpsters, trains), visible high spots and street level tags, rusty stuff with whiteout pens/kilz—I mean, whatever. Its graffiti! 80% in the moment, 20% peer pressure/its just too good a spot not to hit. Over time, I’ve become much more picky about what I do and don’t hit.

Screen Shot 2018-09-11 at 4.15.56 PM.png

How so?

Oh early on it was “anything goes,” but over time, you learn about "THE BUFF" and you start to get smarter and pick spots that will last years as opposed to weeks. Also, what states, cities, town, streets, corners and times—all of this becomes a rolodex in your mind when choosing when and where to hit.

So, what about your favorite cities to hit?

I haven’t really traveled much—Philly for sure, Montreal, and NYC for sure.


Now going back to your name, graffiti itself is risky business. How do you go about doing it successfully? Is there a certain time of day, or way that you have to do it?

It most definitely is. Well, night is perfect cover, so most occurs late night. 1 AM-6 AM is a vandal's witching hour for sure. You should be as meticulous, cautious, planned, and prepared as possible—but life doesn’t always offer up those windows, so improvisation is a good skill to have. Oh, and a combination of brazen idiocy, determination and stoic stubbornness go a long way, too...


Any crazy or memorable moments you recall from the witching hour?

Way too many—and many I don’t recall at all, but have proof that they happened. This could be a book. Every writer has their “fishing stories” for sure.

Photo Credit   : Rob Yaskovic

Photo Credit: Rob Yaskovic

I hope you know that only made me more curious... Let’s retract a bit. People obviously have their own subjective interpretations, but how would you describe your visual style? What does your work mean to you?

Well “style” is regional in graffiti. The true essence of “style” can be traced back to the early 70’s NYC graffiti, where writers started reinventing letters and using colors as a sort of unique expression to set themselves apart from one another. The most pure form is the “tag,” or a “John Hancock." It’s a signature that is ubiquitous of that writer. My tag has developed over my lifetime to become something that evokes speed, grace, precision, originality and legibility. It formed organically and has direct influence from writers I saw coming up. A great tag is one with flow, be it chaotic or thought out. Originality, like in art, is almost a unicorn since all writers are a product of influence. A great style or tag stands apart and evokes in an instant, a writers purpose: “Here I am. I did this here." The place/time can be deciphered or debated among the viewed in their own time/space—but the overall impression should have a lasting and impactful effect. The how/why are almost inconsequential to the immediate effect of the viewer to the tag. Therefore, I am unable to express, nor understand, my own style. It is for the other, only—never to be discovered by the writer. That phenomenon is what I enjoy most; I am both creator and onlooker to what I create, but will never truly understand the individual impact of my mark. My work is myself, therefore I cannot comment on it without defiling or raping the meaning of my actions. Simply put, my work is as it. I am wholly in control of the chaos I choose to immerse myself in.

Do you find graffiti becoming more socially acceptable now, or no?

Absolutely. It’s really not a point to be contested. It’s in branding across the board, and rarely do these companies give back/support the culture in any way, which is fine, 'cause it’s graffiti—it’s meant to be wild, intangible and in the streets, not bottled and sold to mindless consumers.


I feel like there’s a sense of danger that, to me, is an integral part of it. You mentioned an age of social media earlier and I feel like it’s made so many things evolve. Now you’ll see people modeling on Instagram using random graffiti they see on the street as a backdrop, for example. It’s quite interesting.

Everyone loves a gangster. Nobody wants to pay the tolls to haul the body haha.

Screen Shot 2018-09-11 at 4.17.44 PM.png

Have you, or do you, practice any other forms of art, or has your focus always been solely on graffiti?

I’ve always drawn since a young age and was naturally gifted artistically. I was kicked out of an after-school art class my mom enrolled me in due to the fact that I wouldn’t follow direction. I see skateboarding as a form of art, and that was the vehicle that also drove my eye for aesthetics, music, and advertising in my teens. After high school, I pursued Graphic Design and really enjoyed and excelled at it. I was lucky to have great peers and professors, as well. In my 20s I left home for college and the graffiti bug bit. I was now seeing more and learning more, while jumping into the mix myself. After a year or so at school I had tags all over campus and was getting up all over NJ with tags and stickers and eventually met writers who’d share their knowledge of that culture. That spring-boarded into more of everything, really. I lived across from a park with train tracks and a massive wall that had a load of history from 90’s writers, so I’d take influence from them and began to unknowingly form a more unique tag, and paint more intricate pieces based off of what I saw, and from sketching with my crew mates/other writers I’d meet over the years. I still love design and have began painting canvas, but this influence will always be rooted in my graffiti.


I’ve always loved how skateboarding and street art/graffiti have always kind of coexisted. There’s such a juxtaposition of rebellion and community involved in those two worlds that I find fascinating.

This is true. I’d say more so in skateboarding, for sure. Graffiti has more drama than I can stomach these days.


In what sense?

Mental illness combined with egos mixed, for starters. Haha.


Woah. So would you say there’s some sort of tension or competitive nature involved?

Absolutely. I mean, the urge to write on things socially deemed as private property is a bit odd when you really look at it. And, yes, just a bit of advice for anyone thinking of initiating themselves into this culture: get ready for the drama—haters hate—it just important you know the rules, progress, never snitch, and stay true. This isn’t a half-steppers club haha.

Screen Shot 2018-09-11 at 4.19.55 PM.png

Wow, I think I may have an idea for MTV’s next hit reality show... What’s your favorite project you’ve worked on so far?

Well I’ve been honored to work for the Paint For Pink project which raises awareness to breast cancer through empowering the youth in Newark. It is also a collaboration with Ironbound USA, a project started by Gary Blore. He’s been open to enlisting some of NJ’s finest graffiti artists to back his idea. It’s been a real pleasure to give back to the community and show the youth to be engaged and invest in themselves. I’d love to do more community work and keep art/community working together.

That’s awesome! Any projects at the moment?

I am compiling a zine of collected images both graffiti and non-graffiti related to get out by this fall. I’m also working with a photographer for a year-long project documenting myself that will result in a gallery showing and feature high-definition images. The guy shoots amazing, honest photography and utilizes low light in a very unique way that I’m honored to work with. Very excited for how that works out! 

Well, it's been great talking to you, and thank you for sharing so much! Any final words you'd like to leave with anyone reading?

Again, just to pay respects to all the writers who paved the way in the past, my family, first and foremost, and my crews/friends who’ve stayed true and put me on, Paint for Pink/Ironbound USA family as well. Also to you, Megazine, for letting me tell my story and hopefully inspire something in someone, somewhere, somehow. Special shout to those writers not here anymore—I keep their names up always —Rest in Paint: Define, Kramp for sure!

Photo Credit   : Rob Yaskovic

Photo Credit: Rob Yaskovic

If you’d like to keep up with Risky, follow him on Instagram or look for one of his tags in a city near you!

Must-Have Songs For Your Halloween Playlist

A curated mix of Halloween favorites to get you in the "spirit" (heh)...

Read More

Where Stars Go To Die

When most people think “Hollywood” the first thing that probably comes to mind is “Hollywood glam”—celebrities, mansions, fame, and fortune. My fascination with it, however, began with “Hollywood grit”—rock n roll, broken dreams, and, of course, its many haunts.

Read More

To Build A Home

When I was a child, I never found myself fantasizing about becoming an alcoholic. If I was asked what I wanted to be when I grew up, I spewed generic answers like firefighter or veterinarian, depending on the crowd. I wanted to spend the spare moments of my adult years writing poetry and playing music and laughing with good people... Strangely enough, abusing substances never made it onto that list.

Read More

'Moments': A Project By Hao Feng

How often do you live in the moment? Reflecting upon the past or worrying about the future, as opposed to enjoying the present, is part of the human condition. But how much does that take away from what's right in front of us?

Artist Hao Feng presents 'Moments,' a special brand-experience concept that reminds people to enjoy the present moment. Using illustrations, posters, animations, and sculptures, Feng engages viewers and shows us to find value in our day-to-day lives.


Read More

'Dream Reflections' With Alpana Mittal "Tejaswini"

Alpana Mittal “Tejaswini” is a versatile artist with creations in multiple mediums. She has successfully experimented with water, oil, acrylics and even beads on canvas. Her specialty is creating artwork revolving around modernization of traditional themes including, ancient Indian romanticism, folklores and legends. Born into an art loving family Alpana was exposed to art and its appreciation from early childhood. She chose “Fine Arts” as her major and has a M.F.A. from CCS University, India. She also has an “Arts Management” diploma from New York University.

Read More

A Haunted Halloween Pop-Up Store

The year Hurricane Sandy hit was the first year I worked for Spirit Halloween. I had applied to the one in Hoboken, NJ and was surprised to find it was the one I had trained in when I worked for Blockbuster (yeah I know, old school shout out! Holla!). In fact, my (Spirit) store manager, Liz, was one of the assistants from the Hoboken Blockbuster and someone who I spoke to numerous times a week, though I had never met her face to face. Until then.


Read More

Rock N Roll Is Our 'Medicine' and Nick Fargo of MoTHER Is Our Doctor

New York City's bluesy, hard rock powerhouse MoTHER—consisting of frontman Nick Fargo, guitarist Mike Gowen, bassist Johnny Bass, and drummer Dan Traglia—has been rocking our ears since 2013 with two EP releases and a touring history featuring bands like Buckcherry, Slash, Pop Evil, Godsmack, and Red Sun Rising (just to name a few), MoTHER continues to pick up momentum with their latest single, 'Medicine' released with David Ivory (Silvertide, Halestorm, The Roots) under Flexitone Records, and freshly-announced show dates.

Read More

And Sometimes, They Call

Think back to when you were a kid and you had a favorite program. And on that favorite program, no doubt, there was an actor or actress that you absolutely loved. Maybe you were attracted by the character they played, or the way they looked, or simply the way they smiled.

And you followed that actor or actress for years afterward. You always knew what TV series or film or even stage show they were in; you probably saw most or all of the performances.

Now, imagine that actor or actress, the one you’ve only seen on screen or maybe in person from afar…calls up on the phone one day, asking for you by name.

This happened to me.

Read More