LA TACO mainly focuses on art and culture in LA, but when we got the chance to interview NYC’s EWOK ONE, we couldn’t pass it up. He’s been on our radar for years, and keeps pushing his art forward. We talked to him about LA, the internet, advice for young artists and his place in graffiti history and much more…
What projects are you working on right now?
Just worked on a portraiture mural of Zoe Kravitz for Victoria Mahoney’s Film “Yelling to the Sky” to counter balance the European version that King Robbo did in Berlin a few months ago, a bunch of graphic work for INDIAN LARRY MOTORCYCLES, and next week I’m painting the exterior of a music studio for Converse & Fader Magazine here in Brooklyn. Im always documenting and editing video blogs, oh, and I’m producing a few videos for The RUMBLERS NYC…
What are the changes, both good and bad, that you see in the graffiti scene right now? What is the role of the internet?
The good is that graffiti is easily accessible to anyone now. The bad part is that graffiti is easily accessible to anyone now. Haha, what I mean is, ideally the kings of tomorrow can stumble into his/her interest in graffiti with the click of a few keys and instantly find inspiration to fuel his/her growth. The bad side is that people who should already have enough ability to come up with their own original style and concepts are failing to walk on their own two feet and resorting to a clickable crutch that helps them copy and steal blatantly, and worst of all shamelessly. This is the most damaging thing in my eyes because of the loss of what could be is changed into a morph of someone else’s ideas. People need to digitally tune out more often and just create from inside their own head. The ability is there, but people don’t want to work for their stripes anymore.
Who are the true originals in graffiti, both right now and in the past? Who inspired you when you first got started, and who inspires you now?
Originals? I’m not sure in what regard, 70’s innovators? Cave painters? But if we’re speaking in terms of current inspirations for me today, I’d say I’m most into dirty 90’s graffiti, fat outlines, good handstyles, and just dope style, no gimmicks. Too many people today hide behind gimmicks. Bunch of illusionist graffiti writers today, everybody tryin’ to do David Copperfield and make the Statue of Liberty disappear, no… the Statue of Liberty is still there, and behind the curtain your letters still suck….. play your position, work on your shit so you don’t have to hide your weaknesses behind smoke and mirrors…
It seems like a new Graffiti History book comes out every other week, what do you think of about Graffiti History books?
To be honest it can be a great thing, it pushes the culture forward and into the hands of people who may have no other point of reference, but the responsibility it takes to lay down these histories needs to be done by authorities on the subject who know what the fuck they’re talkin’ about– biased agendas should have no place in that equation. The damage of misrepresenting historical figures or blatantly leaving them out all together is like the Christians wiping out Egyptians history and only keeping the parts they wanted.
If you ask graffiti writers who they admire, your name comes constantly, but for whatever reason you’re not a part of the new graffiti establishment of art dealers, and graffiti movers and shakers. Why do you think this is?
There’s a few directions I could go with this question, one is that I was in the forefront of this “movers and shakers” movement here in NYC back around ’02 and so on, it ran its course here for me and I don’t like to make stale moves. Power moves should be steps to something greater. I’ve had my work shown in galleries all over the world before 2008, years before most of the people you think of now were hip to the game. So for me, when I saw the sea of people in chase, I decided to side step and go about my own moves from a different lane. I’ve always been like this, I don’t like to roll with the crowd mentality or do anything that everyone is doing, I’d rather wait quietly for the perfect time to strike… this way I can maximize the lime light on anything I do. It’s much more memorable and impacting.
The other direction I’d answer that question is it’s easy to look around the scene today and take notice that anyone who’s a brown nose or who’s perfected the art of being a “social butterfly” can get ahead at the sacrifice of their own inner voice. This is going on right now in every city… I guess I’m more abrasive and speak freely about the B.S. I see, my opinions always have a tendency to make people sit upright play a defensive position. You can see why anyone who’s fakin’ the funk or brown nosed to the top is going to avoid me at all costs and even try to make me out to be a villain. A person with a voice like mine who doesn’t give two shits about fitting in can actually shatter the foundation their safety bubble realities are sitting on.
I’m cool with that though, if the things that come out of my mouth stir up debate or rightfully make someone get upset, then I’ve achieved a goal. I know what I’m doing, and I always have to play the devil’s advocate. Im not always right, but I am mature enough to hear out someone else and admit if I’m wrong. All in all, bonds have been made from this and distances between others as well.
I think beyond all the behind the scenes chit chat, the work ethic and creativity stands out and I feel like that’s the sole reason my reputation transcends different genres. People just know they’re seeing something refreshing at a glance, and you can’t be there to brown nose every time someone sees your work around the world. I can argue and debate with the best of ’em but I enjoy my work speaking for itself for sure…
Do you consider your art to be political? One thing that occurs to me when you’re talking about the internet– the same thing is true of politics, people can just read what they want and never hear the other side, but when confronted with a sticker or vandalism it forces them to think, if only a little bit.
That’s an interesting take on the impact of art, I notice these days for me anyway, that my work is falling into its own catagory, meaning there’s another more commercial “thing” going on out there and I’m becoming like “the other white meat” so to speak. Over the last 7 or 8 yrs. a good amount of my newer private collectors ask me questions like – “well who do YOU like or respect?” or comments like ” I used to collect Kaws or Mr. Brainwash or this guy or that guy, but where the fuck have you been hiding? You work is so refreshing.” As time goes on I’m feeling like I’m a juxtaposed outsider to all this trendy shit that comes and goes every other month, at first it’s a little strange but I’m sort of embracing it and making my own lane out of it.
That’s not to say I wouldn’t do a show with anyone who is a flavor of the month or whatever, if I like their work and they’re cool I probably wouldn’t have any issues, but I’m not sitting around waiting for some kind of hand outs either. My work is either loved or hated (for whatever reason) but the same thing can be said for the other shit out there that I personally see through and can’t stand with all the glitter and glitz that grabs the eye of the untrained….
What are your thoughts on LA, it seemed like for years LA was slept on but now it’s almost cliche for artists to move here. Would you ever consider moving out of NY?
L.A. is fresh, it’s a completely different geographical layout so the rules are different there. I dunno if it was ever slept on, that’s a weird misconception about what you guys think about how we (NYers) view LA. I feel like L.A. was always about a decade behind NYC in terms of development and growth, be it graffiti or BBoying. At least in the 80’s and 90’s, because they looked to NY directly from the Subway Era through media or movies and it’s just natural for other areas that picked up on it. The same goes for Europe seeing Beat Street and a cultural explosion occurred.
As time passed, Cali has embraced the gang hand style and advanced on it into its own unique identity. L.A. is enjoying the pride that comes with that, if you look at 90’s LA graff it was heavily NY influenced, I remember seeing Tupac’s Keep Your Head Up video and thinking they where in the South Bronx cuz of the lettering of the pieces in the background. The same with San Diego around that time, there was this guys named Sake and Dyze/Dyse who where doing NY style burners better then a lot of NYers even with sick bboy characters and all that.
LA has a lot of pride, everyone throws up “LA” in their pieces IN LA, which has always been strange to me, you’ll never see someone in NYC do a piece or a character and write NYC in it, unless they’re visiting another city… it seems like every character done in LA has a “LA” hat on, and cars have big LA decals and shit out there. My personal feeling is LA is going thru a heyday right now comparable to what NYC had in the 90’s or 80’s, depending on who you talk to. Now for the most part NYC is tired of things and is in a dormant hibernation phase, like a recharging phase I think…
I look at LA and I see it as if a handful of its key players stopped painting, the backlash would be a whole sea of people that wouldn’t continue because they look directly at those key people for inspiration…BUT, on the flip side of that statement, I’ve seen walls in person in LA of sick shit I never heard of for some reason, so who knows…. I hope that doesn’t come off wrong, I give Cali a ton of credit, end of the day I’m still a fan of this graff shit so I’ve enjoyed its growth since at least ’93 on up till today….
The first few times I went LA, I assumed everyone would be hating on me being from NY ‘cuz of all the graff related beef that was going on. But when you’re there amongst good company, I was really given the red carpet treatment for the most part. That’s why I’ve tried to do the same for a lot of LA guys who’ve come to NY, I’ve provided incredible opportunities for some of these guys, whether they realize it or not may be another topic, but I do things out of respect whether a favor is reciprocated or not. Not everyone appreciates the time and effort and vouching it takes just to line up a simple wall in NY. Times have changed, it’s a privilege now to rock on the streets here.
As far as me leaving NY, who knows? I’ve dealt with NY’s 4 seasons my whole life, I’m getting tired of the winters now, I’d love to have a Miami spot to go to during the cold months. So we’ll see how that unfolds over the next year or so. I would never move to L.A though for multiple personal reasons, I love to visit but I can’t see myself living there.
Are you into symbols, numerology, conspiracy theories, or any of that? If so, what’s something that you believe in that the world’s got to know about?
I know exactly what your going at with the question, and I’ll just say: I pay attention to more of it in my design layout than people may be aware of and I’m aware of it in other people’s work or the lack thereof.
Everyone was a beginner at some point, what do you think young graffiti artists need to know before they take their art public?
Well I can only offer what worked for me, but I think I spent like 2 or 3 years just drawing pieces and characters in books before I tried to really attempted painting it on a wall… prior to that I was just fucking shit up with tags and hideous throwups with car paint and putting NY fat caps in rusto cans and learning shit the hard way. My town and the surrounding towns got terrorized unfortunately for a few years before I learned the ropes. I had no reference or people to teach me shit. All trial and error. Probably more error then anything else. I think today there’s more of a fuck shit up rebellious thing attached instead of feeling good about creating something. For those with a creative side to their vandalism, I’d suggest honing your craft in private until its ready to be seen in public, cuz god knows I’m embarrassed as shit when my old stuff prior to like ’95 pops up online. Makes my eyes hurt.
Your style has evolved through the years, is it a matter of constant practice and refinement, or do you have bursts of insight that lead you to change things up?
I find anyone can do lots of work, and you see it these days with everyone just trying to accomplish numbers, painting like 3 pieces a weekend, but they all look like shit. There is a difference in working hard, and working smart. I think the true accomplishment is doing a good amount of work and balancing that with quality and evolution. If you’re just racking up numbers and your pieces look the same your only ironing a bad habit into your DNA, and the more yor do something like that the harder it is to break that habit.
I see people everywhere doing what I call default movements, You see they start their pieces off with a “whip” and then they have a default follow up, then a default this, and then a default that… it’s like a set blue print you go through over and over again because your brain knows this pattern as a successful solution. I was doing this myself up till around 2002, no one told me it was wack to do that, I never thought of repetition as a bad thing.
Unless you’re paying attention to your development you won’t know when to try new things, and when that one moment approaches where you’re always used to going left, unless something inside you stops you and say “you always do that here, let’s go right” you’re never going to make any progress within yourself. Embrace change, even when it feels like unknown territory. There’s great things out there for you that you haven’t even thought of yet, allow it to happen…
Big ups to EwokOne for the interview. Check out some of his work below, and many more on his website.