What’s your favorite taco?
Ok..I LOVE tacos..Always have, always will. I have a few standard places that I go to for nostalgia..King Taco, Titos Tacos and Los Burritos on Santa Monica west of Fairfax, I don’t strictly go to those places though. Pretty much every Mexican restaurant I go to (which is quite often, if not daily), in whatever city I may be in, I will order at least one taco. I like both hardshell and tradtional. Asada, pastor, pollo, lengua, you name it…even potato tacos. How can anyone not like tacos?
How did you get involved with WCA?
WCA was founded by Rival (Rest In Peace), Miner and PJay, with Sed and Rak, in 1985. Previous to that it was called ‘ISM’ crew, short for International Style Masters. That was the summer of 1985..the heyday of the Pan Pacific yard. At the time I didn’t personally know them, we saw each other at the Pan, but never kicked it or painted together. I was pretty much solo at that point, and had been hitting spots around town by myself…no crew. A few weeks, maybe a month later, high school started..Fairfax High to be exact. WCA had been born already, and Vice67 (Sel), Coozie, Risky and Design9 were already down. The day before school started, I did a Pyro (then spelled PIRO) piece on the big wall in the middle of the courtyard at the school, so the next morning everyone would see it…and everyone did. At recess, I was sitting off to the side watching everyone’s reaction who looked at my piece. Rival, Miner and PJay came up to me, and Rival asked if I did the piece. Saying that I did, he instantly asked me if I wanted to join their new crew…WCA. I agreed, and from that point on, and still to this day, we were all family. So I wasn’t a founding member, but rather an OG, and when I say OG WCA, I refer to the select few that were in the crew in ’85-’86, up to the point when we battled K2S at Belmont in ’86. I share a very strong bond with my brothers from that time period…we ate, slept and shit WCA for decades, and for me, I still do.
What was the first piece of graffiti you ever painted? What’s the most recent one?
Damn..OK. In ’81-’82 I was writing random things, not tagging, but rather sayings, anarchy symbols, anti police and anti government stuff, and was heavily influenced by punk rock and the stylized gang graffiti only found in LA. In ’82-’83 I started doing silvers, but was still influenced by the gang block letters that were everywhere in Los Angeles in that time period, so they were big filled in, stylized block letters, with 3D and highlights…kind of like a bridge between LA gang writing and New York style graffiti. I would hit a lot of alleys, and big industrial trash cans cause they would live forever. In late 1983, after returning from NYC with my family during the summer, I started doing more New York influenced style graf, using colors and stylized flowing letters. By 1984 I was hitting spots, completely solo, rocking multi colored pieces. My most recent piece, well, I’ve been getting up a bit in the past few months, I painted Landmark. I hit the Graf Lab. I painted in Hollywood with Slick, Prime and Natoe, and just painted Melrose and Highland with Trixter, Bazar and Swan…and I have many more walls planned for the next year.
What’s the origin of Pyro?
As for the origin of Pyro…well, back when I was just writing sayings and such, heavily influenced by the gang community, I wrote the name ‘El Lighter’ . Not really tagging it, but more of a nickname that I occasionally scribbled here and there. I had, let’s just say, a strong attachment to setting things on fire. I was never without a lighter or matches, and though I didn’t smoke cigarettes at the time, I would be the person to ask for a light. Then in 1984, while hanging with my sister and her friend (who was an awesome artist), I looked at the lighter I had in my pocket..PYRO was the brand name. (I really wish I could find one of those cheap disposable Pyro Brand lighters now) Thus Pyro was born…though I wrote it with an “I” instead of a “Y” at first. I wrote PIRO until 1986 (though I did both PIRO and PYRO pieces). In late ’86 I officially lost the “I” and wrote PYRO for good.
What’s your favorite corner of LA?
My favorite corner….thats a hard one. I love LA, with so many different neighborhoods, so many memorable spots, so many areas that represent and have a different feel to them…I don’t think I could say I have a favorite.
Piece on Venice and Arlington from 1985
What inspires you about LA? Ever think about leaving?
I love the diversity of Los Angeles. I love the individuality of Los Angeles. I love the history of not only LA, but the history that I have in this city. From the beach, to the architecture. Downtown to the mountains. The ethnicity of the neighborhoods, the music, the art. The fact that angelenos are laid back, but don’t take shit either. LA inspires me in so many ways, everything from the artists to the homeless, musicians to surfers, ghetto to glamour. Everyone and everything can inspire you, its all a matter of if you are willing and able to see it. I’ve lived in many parts of the city and surrounding communities, and I have moved away completely a few times. I have been fortunate enough to have traveled the world, and lived in many other cities, and in a few different states…but I always return. Los Angeles is, and always will be home.
Ultra rare pic of the K2S WCA battle. Pictured is Coozie, Pyro, Green and Dream and two others
You mention the legendary battle(s) with K2S. Were you friends with those guys at the time, was it a friendly rivalry or did it get very intense between crews?
The battle between WCA and K2S…1986 at Belmont Tunnel. At the time, we were not friends, not by a longshot. The rivalry was very intense and heated, but never escalated past the art aspect. (Though I am sure that from both perspectives, it could’ve very easily.) The rivalry between the two crews had been going strong for a little more that about a year. I think both sides took it extremely personal and lost a lot of pieces due to the war, I know I did. You have to remember that it was a different time period in LA, it was gangland then and graffiti art was still fairly obscure. Most writers at that time had to have a very keen knowledge of the streets and / or ties to gangs, and most of us did. It was still a neighborhood thing then, Eastside vs. Westside. Los Angeles graffiti art wasn’t as unified as it is today. In the early 80’s, Reagan was in power, nuclear war was a very real possibility, and Darryl Gates ran the LAPD…corruption and violence was at an all time high, hatred was in the air.
Given the circumstances it was inevitable that there would conflicts and rivalries. Each crew, as a whole, had beef with the other crew, and most members had individual beefs with members of the other crew as well. Me and Prime didn’t get along, Miner and Skept had issues, so on and so forth. There had been at least one previous attempt to have a full on crew on crew battle, but neither one of us trusted the other, and we couldn’t agree on a location (Belmont being K2S territory, West Coast Tracks being ours), I think we both felt as if we might be walking into a set-up. So when we finally did agree to have the battle at Belmont, we (WCA) came in full force. We rolled with every head from the crew, not 100% sure if it was going to turn out to be a battle or a brawl. As everyone now knows, we let the paint fly and not fists, but what not too many people know is the photos of the battle pieces are not the original pieces. We painted well into the darkness, and were unable to get pictures of what we had painted, so we rolled back the next day, only to find all our work had been slashed. So, we stayed the next day and fixed everything, then took pictures. At the time of the battle, K2S had conceded as to our winning the battle, but the way I see it, is we all won that day, that was the beginning of friendships between the crews and set the stage for future collaborations, and moved toward a greater unification in the graffiti movement. I have nothing but the utmost respect and admiration for everyone that was around for the battle, on both sides, and remain friends with them all.
Belmont in 1985
When did you start tattooing? What about that art form intrigues you?
I started tattooing in 1996 with the help of Clay Decker and Mark Mahoney, and I worked at Tattoo Mania on the Sunset strip at that time. I have since worked at many different shops, in a few cities, and currently work at Vintage Tattoo in Highland Park, which is owned by another old school writer, Baba STN, MSK. What intrigues me about tattooing is a multitude a things. First is the honor of giving someone a piece of art that will last a lifetime. The fact that they will wear this tattoo until the day the die, and even after death, forces me to give it my all. Tattooing is different because your canvas is a living, breathing human being, each with various differences in skin types and conditions. You cannot erase, or buff a mistake, therefore you must be at the top of your game with everything you do. Tattooing, as with every art form, experience is the ultimate teacher, and I feel I will never know everything about tattooing, therefore I am constantly striving to be better. With tattooing, I can get completely lost in the application, losing all sight of everything around me, even the turmoils of daily life. I can sit with the client and share a moment in time with them, just us two and the creation of their dreams. For me, bringing someones thoughts and ideas to life on their body is the ultimate honor.
Who do you think is unappreciated in the history of LA graffiti?
I could name names, but I wont, for there are so many unappreciated, even forgotten names in LA Graffiti history. Everyone that was part of the scene in ’83-’86 I feel are unappreciated. We, collectively, wrote the plans, paved the road, and set the stage for future and current generations of writers to be as successful as they are. Back in the early days, we all knew of each other… we may not have all gotten along at the time, but we knew of each other. There were only a handful of writers in the city then, and only a couple of crews. Everything everyone did was an innovation, there was nothing prior to that. We all developed our own styles, tried new colors, engineered new tools to use, and hit new spots just based on pushing ourselves with our own desire and passion, with little or no reference. Being a writer in the early days was a lot of trial and error, we had to figure everything out for ourselves, there was no one telling us how to do things, therefore everyone back then developed and innovated.
What do you have planned for 2012?
2012 is shaping up to be a very busy year for me. I am planning on heavily promoting my tattooing career, and will be attending numerous Body Art Expo’s in cities such as Pomona CA, San Francisco CA, Dallas TX, Houston TX, Phoenix AZ, as well as other conventions in Reno NV, Las Vegas NV, Long Beach CA and a few others. In addition to this ‘tattoo tour’, I will be continuing to paint weekly in Los Angeles (when I am in Los Angeles). I have multiple walls lined up, ready to rock, some solo style and some production walls with my West Coast brothers. I am honored to have been invited to be a part of the LA Freewalls project in the Downtown Los Angeles Arts District for 2012, and plan on being a part of that. I will also be showing in a few upcoming art exhibits, the first being in San Diego. I have plans to hopefully bring forth and curate an art exhibit on the history and art of my crew, West Coast Artists. In addition to all this, I have begun to lay out the basics for a book I am working on…so, yeah, I have a busy year…but doing what I love to do.
Do you pay attention to the “street art” scene?
I don’t follow it too closely, but I am familiar with certain people. I’ve never been one for mass produced anything, especially art. I always felt that art should be hand created and one of a kind. I have mixed emotions about the whole “street art” scene. On one hand I can appreciate the artistic visual content, but on the other hand I feel that a lot of this art (not all) isn’t produced in the streets, it’s manufactured on a computer, a copy machine etc. Another problem I have is that there are so many ‘street artists’ that have absolutely NO knowledge of the streets. The streets have their own code and rules of conduct, and I’ve found that so many people nowadays claiming themselves as street artists do not, will not, and have not lived by these rules, let alone even know these rules. This is being very general, and there are excptions to this statement, and I will admit many of these people are extremely creative, and incredible graphic designers, but without a history from the streets, with no knowledge of the rules and codes that the streets live by, I feel some are no more than a person putting up flyers, and the term ‘street artists’ is a widely used generalization…and a fad.
Dream Tribute from 2011
What writers who are out there now inspire you?
Thats a tough one. There are different writers that inspire me for different reasons. Some may not be rocking walls as much as in the past because they’ve moved onto other avenues in life, but all are writers at heart. Some, but not all are…Abel for his incredible handstyles. Hands down the king of script in my eyes. Risk for his devotion and continued work over the decades. I’ve been watching Smug One for his incredible photo realism. MadC for pushing boundaries between genders in graffiti. Estria for his devotion toward propelling the art form and bringing it to younger generations. Saber for using his voice to speak out against inequalities and injustice. There are countless others whom I appreciate and admire, but it takes more than just being up to inspire me. What truly inspires me is not only their artistic creativity, but their personal demeanor, how they carry themselves thru life and what they stand for and believe in. To me the person is far more important than the art.
Do you have a lucky number?
I do, number 3. It’s always been my lucky number. I have it tattooed on me. I named my old clothing company ‘Level 3’ (partly because it is my lucky and favorite number, partly because Level 3 is high security in jail). Beyond that, I like odd numbers as opposed to even numbers.
West Coast tracks circa 1986
Dream Tribute in action
All photos via Pyro, except photos 1, 3, 9, and 11 which are by Erwin Recinos.