Eye SH Interview
GraffHead interviews Eye One from the Seeking Heaven Crew. For the past 10 years, Eye One has been responsible for bringing us the Los Angeles based graffiti magazine Lost.
1. For those who don't know, what is Lost about?
Lost is a publication I started in 1998 dedicated to documenting graffiti in our city. It started out as a black-and-white photocopied 'zine and has evolved into a full-color journal.
2. What was your motivation for creating Lost?
My most immediate motivations for putting out Lost are graffiti in L.A. and a desire to document what I see all around me.
Inspiration for the form it took originally came from many 'zines from the hardcore and straight-edge scenes, particularly Indecision, No Answers and HeartttaCk. On the graffiti end of things, I really liked IGT in its tabloid newspaper form, Guerilla, Can Control/Ghetto Art, Mike Giant's Huffer, and Big Time, put out by two L.A. graffiti masters, Relic and Tempt.
In fact, an article Tempt wrote about graffiti 'zines and some 'zines he kicked me down with proved that the D.I.Y. approach I saw in hardcore, punk, and straight-edge was applicable to graffiti.
3. How do you decide who to feature in Lost?
I decide to feature writers in Lost who I feel have contributed to building and defining Los Angeles graffiti. I showcase work by writers whose work I respect and admire. Logistically, I do features on writers whose work I have extensively documented or who have provided me with access to their files.
I like featuring work by established pioneers as well as writers from more recent generations. Similarly I feature graffiti ranging from tags to throw-ups to full-on productions, because to me they all are intrinsic elements of this art form.
I also include the works of artists and photographers who are not graffiti writers per se but whose work definitely touches on related themes.
4. How do you decide when to publish a new Lost issue?
I was putting out Lost two or three times a year when it was a simple black and white 'zine, but as its grown it takes much longer to put out an issue. On average now I'm aiming to put one out every year. It takes a combination of hitting the pavement to gather material, burning the midnight oil designing the book, and hustling to make enough funds from one issue to put out the next.
5. Do you think graffiti has to be done illegally to be considered graffiti? Do you consider legal walls or artwork done for galleries graffiti?
I see graffiti as a genre. Whether you paste a photograph on an electrical box or hang it in a museum, it is still photography to me. Likewise, if you do a legal production or a throw-up on a sound barrier, a sketch of your name in a book or a tag on a mailbox, it is still graffiti to me. The legality of it is relative and arbitrary.
As far as galleries, it really depends on what you do and what type of work you show. I don't usually show "graffiti" in galleries. Once in a while I might do a piece, catch a tag on the gallery wall, or do an installation with photos of graff, but for the most part, I show paintings and prints. I feel that graffiti done for galleries is still graffiti, just like if you're a writer and you do a sculpture, it is still considered a sculpture.
That said, I hold the writers out there reclaiming public space for creative expression in the highest regard, and it is they who push the art form to new heights.
6. Los Angeles has recently passed a new law that holds minors that are caught doing graffiti and their parents liable for civil damages. A more recent law that Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger signed requires those convicted of the graffiti to remove their damage and keep the tagged surfaces clean for one year. Do you think these new laws will deter people from doing graffiti?
I think fair punishment for graffiti would be to just have the person caught buff it or clean it off (or in the case of more permanent damage like scribes or etch, have them replace or repair the surface that's damaged.) That's all.
It is ridiculous to send someone to jail for doing it. Pigment on any surface does no harm to anyone or anything. I don't have as much of a problem with these proposals as I do with the draconian laws making graffiti a felony if the perceived "damage" is above $400. If a minor goes on a school shooting rampage, are his or her parents considered liable?
7. I consider the late 80s and early 90s the golden years for Los Angeles graffiti. I believe that it slowed down after that. However, I noticed that in past few years the amount of graffiti has increased again. There is a whole new generation of people that are putting in the work.
Paul Racs, director of the Los Angeles Office of Community Beautification said graffiti was increasing partly because it is celebrated on the internet. Do you think that the internet is largely the reason for the resurgence in LA graffiti?
I don't think the internet is responsible for the resurgence of graffiti. I think graffiti is cyclical and responds to the availability of spaces. I don't think it is a coincidence that a wave of cut backs in art funding, the over-corporatization of the public sphere, and the losing of spaces such as the Belmont Tunnel have pushed creativity to other spots.
Overtly puritanical administrations from D.C. to Sacramento to City Hall that vilify things like art will naturally make it more appealing and spark a curiosity in kids to try it.
8. Many artists have gotten arrested because they are featured in videos on Youtube making it easy for the Police to find them. This has recently occurred to two Los Angeles based graffiti artists. What are your thoughts about graffiti videos showing illegal work being done?
I think writers need to weigh self-preservation against the possible gains (recognition, market value, etc.) they might get from that type of exposure. Some writers might feel the risk is worth it if it increases their marketability as outlaw artists. Others will choose to keep their projects on the down-low. It has to be a calculated risk for those doing it.
9. Your work was recently featured in the 01 Gallery Soft Opening exhibit as well Pen at Work Tradition. Do you have any future shows planned?
I have a few shows coming up. I'm curating a show called Lost Mid City at 33Third in November that will feature some of the artists highlighted in the current issue of Lost, and a show in December called On Deck at Tradition featuring work on skateboards by graff and non-graff related artists.
I also have a piece in a group show opening in October at the CPOP Gallery in Detroit that's part of an Art Tour travelling through the US. After that, the exhibit will travel to Art Basel in Miami.
10. How did you get into graffiti?
I grew up surrounded by art in my family, so I've always been into creative things. The first real push to try my hand at graffiti came after watching Beat Street. Even though now I know it was basically fake, at the time it seemed like the most awesome way to paint cartoons and letters. I filled my notebooks, scratch paper, and whatever else I could get my hands on with cheesy letters spelling my name and clichés like "Break!" or "Wild Funk!"
After that I started paying attention to work I saw on the streets, especially stuff by the MAK crew -Neo and Mandoe- and Krenz (now Yem.) A production on Alvarado Blvd. near my house that MAK never finished and a piece by Krenz my friends and I would see on our way to school pushed me over the edge. One of my friends, Gloze 54 OTR, was already doing characters with markers around his house, so we teamed up and decided to find a can and go paint in the river, enlisting our other partner Modem SH in the process.
11. Who were your influences?
Influential in me starting were Mandoe and Neo MAK, Krenz/Yem Am7, and my two friends Gloze 54 OTR and Modem SH. In school I met Gamer OTR who showed me the first homemade marker I had ever seen. Kujo aka K984 C2D gave me my first skinny aka Testor tip.
Everyone in Seeking Heaven has been a major influence: Panic, Precise, Acme, Bash, Dcline, Swank, Asylm, Ware, Size, Pride, Relic, Kozem, Odin. In fact, Odin aka Cloud 9 was one of the very first people to support my itch to make a graffiti 'zine, hooking me up through Modem with photocopies of lots of flicks.
I must single out Tempt as a mentor and influence, not only in graffiti but in life. Tempt has pushed me to analize letterforms, document as much as I can, and write about my life experiences. Him and Relic offered me one of my first opportunities to work with a graffiti magazine, Big Time, and provided a space for Lost in it.
It's hard to pinpoint specific influences from the work of others, but L.A. writers whose work I admire include Cab, Mosh, Volt, Cache, Crae, Crime, Prime, Defer, Skill, Nuke, Kofie, Skypage, Atlas, Haeler, Fishe, 7Dee, Bonks, Fuct, Augor, Sherm, Ween, Lyfer, Kopye, Jel, Craola, Axis...
Damn there are so many, I can go on and on! Hex and Slick definitely inspired me with their insane productions. Keyn 7th Letter, Lyte THC and Drast CBS were a definite influence; they practically brought me back from semi-retirement. Crews whose work I dig: LOD, OTR, K2S, STN, CBS, K4P, MAK, KTL, BAMC... again, pretty much the entire alphabet soup that makes up our scene.
A sampling of writers outside of L.A. whose work I find inspiring include: Der, Suede, Joroe, Dondi, Jon 156, Futura, Fame City, Twist, East, Emit, Kemer, Joker, Totem2, Ouija, the Ma'claim crew, Herakut, Blitz out of Spain, the early works of Os Gemeos, Peque and Ashes from Mexico, Bates, ECB, Dare, Reso, Mode 2, Totem, Daim, Toast, Askew, etcetera, etcetera, etcetera,to quote a Smiths song.
12. Lost is a beautifully put together magazine/book. Why did you go with a non-traditional look versus that usual glossy magazine that everyone else uses?
I've always been into publications that offer something different in style and in substance. I aim to make a unique publication, not to disrespect to traditional glossy mags, which I also like, but as a way to present this art form in a different way. I see Lost as a hybrid format, somewhere between a 'zine and a book, and that allows me a lot of room to experiment.
13. You have a master's degree. Do you know other graffiti artists with advanced degrees? Does it affect your view of graffiti?
I know many writers that have endured our educational system through the Masters and PhD levels. Obviously I'm not going to put anyone on blast; suffice it to say that media portrayals and stereotypes about graffiti writers are completely wrong.
The fact I have a MFA makes me appreciate and value what I have learned through graffiti that much more. Academia always lags far behind from what is really going on in the world. Graffiti taught me much more about art, graphic design, photography, typography, composition, architecture, history, etc. than school ever did.
That said, however, I would encourage everyone to stay in school and pursue whatever level of education they want to. The system doesn't want us in their institutions, so the more we infiltrate, the more we can re-shape the educational system into an actual instrument of learning and teaching.
14. The media likes to confuse graffiti with gangs and gang violence. The public views graffiti artists as criminals. What are your thoughts?
I think your use of the word "confuse" is perfect: the media and certain segments of the public are greatly confused. Look at recent news: the financial institutions of the nation robbed people blind and get rewarded with billions. How we as a society define "criminality" is very schizophrenic.
We call a person responsible for hundreds of thousands of dead Iraqis a great leader and a teenager who writes a name on a dirty, smog-covered grey concrete wall a criminal.
A recent study found that 4,000 billboards in L.A. are placed there illegally. The authorities turn a blind eye, because, surprise, surprise, the advertising agencies fund the campaigns of many a politician. We are so bombarded by advertising that we accept it at face value and don't question its messages, let alone their legality.
Our public schools don't encourage critical thinking or analysis. Arts funding is minimal at best. Spaces for free untethered expression are practically non-existent. Art is not a high societal priority, so it follows that society as a whole would hold art in low esteem, especially non-sanctioned art like graffiti.
The whole gang issue is definitely prevalent in L.A., and also a convenient scapegoat and excuse to not address issues such as the lack of affordable housing, adequate employment, equal access to education, etc.
Instead of prioritizing incarceration and punishment, society needs to foster creative opportunities and encouragement for youth. Positivity brings positive change: fund school art programs, stop militarizing our schools, question and challenge the negative portrayals of graffiti in the media. Those are some of the things we can do to change the public perception of graffiti as a negative thing.
GraffHead.com Lost Review
Eye SH Website
Lost Official Website
Lost Sample Pages (PDF)