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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.