Risk WCA Interview

This interview originally appeared on Graffhead on December 5, 2008 (part 1) and December 10, 2008 (part 2).

The word legend has been used lightly lately. Everyone claims to be a legend. Today's interview is with a real Los Angeles graffiti legend, Risk from West Coast Artists. Risk has been doing graffiti for over 26 years, which is before most of today's writers were born. You may not realize it, but probably those letters you are painting today were most likely influenced by Risk's early work. Those spots that you are hitting were probably influenced by Risk pushing graffiti to the limits. Enjoy the interview!

Thanks to Roger Gastman (Author of such books as Los Angeles Graffiti and Saber Mad Society) for the pictures. Also thanks to Ricks Skate All Cities for the Barcelona pictures.

1. Tell us about your upcoming show, Twenty Six at Track 16 in Santa Monica. Also, what is the meaning behind the title of the show?

Twenty six, represents the twenty six letters of the alphabet, and the 26 years I've been writing. This show is basically a celebration of where I've come from, although I did use some painterly techniques as far as composition and different textures etc. it's all straight Graff. I sat in my studio and pimped them out as if I were out on the streets.

The canvases are all done with a very rough or no sketch with whatever cans I had in the studio. I also did a full body of work including canvases, prints, screens and sculptures, although I've done this stuff before I've never had to so over a hundred pieces of work for one show.
Risk WCA MSK AWR 7Th Letter 2008
Risk WCA MSK AWR 7Th Letter 2008

2. How long have you been involved with graffiti and do you think you will be doing it forever?

I've been writing on walls for 26 years, but my Grandma told me I was drawing words when I was a little kid. I would write fire with flames off the top of the letters, or bubble in bubble letters, smoke, clouds stuff like that….

Yea, I think I'll be doing graffiti forever. It's already been over half my life. I already have some serious health problems from it so why quit now.
Powa (Power) and Risk WCA
Powa (Power) and Risk WCA
Power was the creator of one of the first graffiti magazines, Can Control.

3. Are you a member of any graffiti crews?

I am down with a lot of crews. I started WCA with Rival, rest in peace. I push MSK, AWR, Seventh Letter and of course I'll be WC forever.
GKae AWR MSK and Risk at the Motor Yards
GKae AWR MSK and Risk at the Motor Yards

4. Why do you write graffiti?

I write Graffiti to know I'm alive.

5. Were you always active or were there periods that you took a hiatus?

I was always active, you can never stop, especially me. I lived with Krush for years, even when I was busy doing Third Rail, I'd come home and the crew would be there talking Graff shit or checking out flicks or planning a wall etc.

Risk - West Coas Artists - Early Work
Risk - West Coas Artists - Early Work

It was always around so I was always in that mind set. I wasn't always getting up but I was drawing or painting little things here or there. I was partying pretty heavy for a while, even in those times the only things I remember were graff.

I remember taking girls home from the strip joint and drawing on them for hours, That's still getting up right?
Risk in Korea 2007
Risk in Korea 2007

6. Did anyone influence you or mentor you when you were starting out?

Yea , Soon influenced me. He influenced me as far as his shit was clean, his technique. But not style, he was always real big on, doing your own shit.

7. One of your first works that I saw was at a graffiti show that Frame organized in LA in the early 90s. If my memory servers me correctly, it was done on a canvas. It was a letter R with a radio. Do you enjoy working on canvas on a smaller scale or do you prefer a wall?

If it's the one I'm thinking of it was actually done for Skate. It was a T.V, not a radio, but good memory.

I did that TV because Skate was freaking out over some T.V. that Hex did. He liked this gush shit, so I did the S like that with a spike in it. He loved the shit Slick and I were doing with bolts and motion so I did that as well. It was kind of a melting pot of things that he liked as they came to my mind. It was my own personal memorial to Skate, RIP.


8. Do you think it is a natural progression for graffiti artists to showcase their work in a gallery?

Yes it is. As long as they have put in work. It's really lame for artist to rob the graffiti culture if they have not put in blood sweat and tears for Graff. It's the last real art form, meaning a medium from hand to surface. It's not done on Computers or with digital assistance. Everything from this point forward will be…

9. There seems to be an increased interest in graffiti art recently in galleries, apparel and advertising. Why do you think this is?

Because it is now well over a quarter of a century old with aerosol paint. Graff without aerosol goes back to Cavemen. It has too much history to be ignored any longer. It has endured the test of time, proven itself not to be a fad. Now it's more main stream which makes it more accessible.
Risk in Barcelona Spain
Risk in Barcelona Spain

10. Do you think graffiti has to be illegal to be graffiti? Do you prefer doing legal walls or illegal walls?

No. Graff does not have to be illegal, but to get true old school graff, you have to have put in time in the streets. Not because that makes you down or any bullshit like that, but because if you haven't painted while looking over your shoulders or with time constraints, or working around different textures and or surfaces you will never achieve that movement and flow.
Risk - 5 Freeway in Los Angeles
Risk - 5 Freeway in Los Angeles

Without that movement and flow, you may as well do it on a computer. If you ONLY do it on a computer, you're just a sign painter or your faking the funk, robbing the culture. You'll never go far. See it all works together. If you are real, you will be recognized and celebrated through such a venue as a gallery if you choose, or a publication, or a web site etc. If your not real you won't.

It's like corporations using Graffiti To promote their products. It's the same thing. I think its all good because it's really only successful if they use real artist's. Wak Corporations hang themselves because they use a sign painter or a culture pirate. It never really goes far, but on the other hand you have a major corporation using Graff., but they promote dope artist doing the work, I.E. Boost Mobil or Scion etc.

These campaigns work because they can celebrate the artist behind it. If he's real, It's real, and everybody's happy. If your not happy, your probably a hater because your not god enough or haven't put in the dues to get that gig.

11. You have been involved with graffiti for a very long time. Does it affect your family life and relationships?

It used to, but on the same token it got me a lot of…lets just say good things. My family now is completely behind me. I have three baby girls, 2 months old, 2 years old, and 10 years old.

The 2 year old and the 10 year old paint with me on the weekends. The two year old needs help pushing the nozzle but still loves it, we draw every night. My whole family knows whats up.

Even on holidays when I go visit my parents I leave their house in the middle of the night to go paint freights, when I come back in the morning my kids are like Dad Dad, let me see!!! And I pass the camera around, then my parents just look at me and I laugh. It's like pay back for all the shit they gave me. Now its my kids, their grandkids, and they can't say anything they just have to deal with it. It took me 26 years but I guess I finally won that battle.

12. Do you think graffiti changed from when you started in the 80s to 2008?

Hell yea, basically this whole interview answers that one.
RRisk at the old Venice Pavillion Graffiti Pit
Risk at the old Venice Pavillion Graffiti Pit

13. I am not trying to ask you to endorse a company, but do you prefer any paint brand over others?

I can't really answer that one right now, because I am working with a few companies on a few projects, However the paint these days is Amazing!!!

14. What do you think about all the new products that are specifically made for graffiti (spray paint, caps, markers, etc.)?

Dope!!!!! It made me get that old feeling again like when you came across icy grape, or hot raspberry, or a old Red Devil. I am working on some products right now as well. I can't talk about them yet. Check back in a few months
Risk in Barcelona Spain
Risk in Barcelona Spain

15. Do you like to travel and paint outside of Los Angeles?

I love painting in other places. This year I painted in Hong Kong, The Phillipines, Japan, Mexico, Korea, and Spain. I loved every trip!!!
Risk in Barcelona Spain
Risk in Barcelona Spain

16. For all the newcomers to piecing. What type caps do you like to use for piecing?

There are way too many caps. I use two caps, the yellow universal and an astro fat cap.

17. The internet is a great tool for people to learn about graffiti artists from around the globe. Before the internet, different locations had different writing and piecing styles. Now since everyone has access to the internet, many of the styles look the same. What are your thoughts? Do you think the internet has stifled creativity and originality?

Yes and no. It is way too easy for people to bite, but it has also raised the bar substantially!!! There are kids out there that have only been writing a few years and they are really good. Sometimes I go on MySpace and just trip out how many writers are out there, and how easy it is to communicate. I used to trade flicks via the mail overseas, and it would take weeks, now it takes a minute!!!!

18. Do you usually sketch out your pieces before putting it on a wall?

I go through stages. Lately No, but I will sometimes draw one letter and then just follow that style.

19. Are you currently doing anything design related outside of graffiti?

I am working on a new clothing line that doesn't have much to do with Graffiti. Otherwise everything else I'm working on is Graffiti related.

20. Did you ever consider publishing your work in a book format? Or, maybe a book about your involvement with the early days of West Coast graffiti?

We have been in the process of making a book for over a year now. It will probably come out in late 09. It is a pretty comprehensive book. It is from my childhood until now,It even has a section about my old company Third Rail. There are lots of great stories as well as photos.
Risk - LA Boxing Academy
Risk - LA Boxing Academy

We have cataloged thousands of photos and I have been meeting with a writer periodically, it is a long process but it will be something I'm very proud of when it's done.

Risk - Los Angeles Graffiti Veteran
LA Meets New York - Cope2 DVD Release
Rest in Peace Rival WCA