Man One helps lead a never-better graffiti art movement.
Thursday, February 11, 2010
“There’s no school for graffiti. You learn by doing it on the streets. Usually illegally at first, like me.”
Graffiti artist, gallery owner, father, husband and entrepreneur Man One arrives at Seaside’s Alternative Cafe for the first time this weekend in an art show called Coin Operated. His colorful, controlled “burners” (elaborate graffiti paintings) have moved from society scourge to the toast of the art scene to corporate commodity – and live comfortably in all those worlds.
He’s done work for Adidas, Sony and MTV (where he painted a car on rapper Xzibit’s Pimp My Ride). He’s featured in two Microsoft “I’m a PC” TV spots, saying, “I challenge the law.” His work’s been shown in 40 group exhibitions and eight solo shows, from The Getty in L.A. to Parco Museum in Tokyo. He puts on other artists at his graffiti-centric Crewest art gallery in L.A., including a recent group show of Iranian graffiti artists. He got a Fine Arts degree from Loyola Marymount, where he studied Duchamp, Picasso and Rivera. But before all that, back in 1987, he was a kid who tagged a bus with a marker another kid gave him. That was the start.
“Museums… galleries… I didn’t know that world,” he says. “I saw [Chicano] murals in L.A. Traditional muralists go to school, get mentored to learn the ropes. As a graffiti artist, you do it on your own.”
That meant ducking gangs and police to “bomb” (spraypaint) on available walls and – as opposed to New York’s canvas of subway cars – buses.
“Getting your name on a train or bus is the way your name travels around the city. L.A. graffiti starts with buses. Transportation is key to graffiti. The Internet is another way.”
As are books, including two seminal early works of graffiti’s “wild style” (complex, cryptic burners) that Man One was fortunate to get hold of: Subway Art, by former New York Post photographer Martha Cooper and sculptor-cum-cultural anthropologist Henry Chalfant, and Spraycan Art by Chalfant and James Prigoff. (Subway Art published its 25th anniversary edition last year, and, along with the documentary Style Wars, chronicles the early, gritty birth of the youth culture.) Man One says graffiti, originally an outgrowth of the same urban milieu that spawned hip-hop, has grown beyond.
“I know [graffiti] artists who are into punk rock, house, jazz – young and old. Some of the [early] artists, like Futura, made it big doing art for The Clash. Fab Five Freddie for Blondie. Basquiat.”
The common factor, it seems, is that it came from the rebellious and defiant corners of cities, which Man One parlays – as does Salinas’ @rISK gallery – into a force of good work.
“I run workshops doing [outreach] to work with young people,” he says. “When I work, I think, ‘What’s a 16-year-old kid going to think of my work?’” His Crewest gallery is billed as the only L.A. gallery dedicated to the “upliftment” of graffiti art.
He distances himself and his sometimes arcane work from the squiggly line drawings and simple symbols of taggers and “tag-bangers” (violent gangs of taggers). But he still embraces the rebel spirit from which his aerosol medium evolved.
“Muralists like [Diego] Rivera weren’t afraid to say what they felt like saying, which is very much like graffiti. It’s in your face, doesn’t apologize for anything, and it challenged the system.”