RISK | Artist Interview
What has been your creative inspiration for this show at 111 Minna?
Well it’s a combination of what we have both been working on throughout our careers. We have combined the elements of Nathans work with elements of my work. Our thoughts, dreams, views and reflections are in a perfect synchronization. I feel these are the most successful collaborations we have done to date. I think it goes back to knowing each other so well, we know how to adapt and what works well together. You can’t explain this sort of thing. You will see all of our iconic traits juxtaposed to create some real nice pieces. All of which utilize our techniques and thought processes from past and present…Hence the title of the show… ”That Was Then This Is Now.” It is a nice survey of where we’ve come from and where we are…
Tell us about you and Cooz, you have had a lifetime of collaborations. What do you find inspiring about his work & what new things can we expect in San Francisco?
Well first many people don’t know Nathan Ota, wrote Cooz, He was actually the other half of the original “aerosolic” type team in my writing career. Now when I say that I have to be very clear, Nathan wasn’t in Aerosolics or anything like that. I just mean he was my first dynamic duo type of graffiti rocking partner so to speak. He rocked the characters and I rocked the letters. We met at University high school very early in my writing career. I remember seeing these calendars in the halls, every month. They said happy Halloween or whatever holiday was that month and they had the month spelled out. Although they were done in brush paint, I could tell they had some graffiti influence. It turned out Nathan Ota did these calendars. We were in different art classes but soon enough our paths were crossing. He had Mrs. Nicholson and I had Mr. Citron. They were the two art teachers who shared an office between their adjoining art classrooms. Nate and I both got away with murder at Uni Hi. Our art teachers bailed us out of trouble time and time again. Mr. Citron had my back and Mrs. Nicholson his. As I would go chill in Mr. Citrons office convincing him to give me an off campus pass, or an excuse for missing a prior class the day before, or even later that day so I could go surf. He would chill and smoke cigarettes and talk about art and critique other students artwork. Then one day in the office that very few students probably ever saw the inside of, Nathan and I crossed paths. I think the teachers had us do a calendar or something together, I don’t really remember. I do remember however talking Graff… Later I asked Nathan to join WCA and I brought him to pan pacific, to meet the crew. It was really crazy, Because Rival (RIP) whom was also named Nathan knew Nathan from Junior High school. Everyone clicked and he was down. Because Cooz and I were the only WC members at Uni Hi at the time, we rolled together a lot. We went painting every chance we got and we did these little productions. I would rock the letters and he would rock the characters. His characters were way advanced at the time. Mostly because everything was so natural. He could just bust anything anywhere. He was also proficient with the airbrush so he used a few traditional airbrush techniques that were really cool back then. My favorite thing was his Girls, I was a horny high school kid so I always wanted a chick on my pieces. He was probably just as horny because he specialized in these girl characters. Nathan and I both won national scholastic art awards and received scholarships. We went to different schools and drifted apart.
I got way more serious about my Graff and Nate got way more serious about illustration. Nate took a more traditional route, but in true Cooz fashion stayed at the top of his game. He went on to be a fine art professor at Otis Parsons Art institute. He later told me he had heard some of his students at Otis Parsons talk about me and had been loosely following me, but had not told any of them he was an old writer. One day he had come across some students doing some sort of Graffiti project at school and couldn’t resist the itch to catch a throw up. After that, he dropped some science on his students about old school graffiti. He got my Web site info from them and hit me up. After catching up I told him I was painting a wall downtown and invited him to stop by. It was great seeing Nathan, a few days later he came by my studio to check out some of my work and show me what he has been working on as well. After playing with some new paints and showing him all the new techniques, caps, and colors etc. He dug in his bag of tricks and showed me a few things he had learned as well. After about 10 minutes we decided to do a few collaborations. We have been working together ever since. It has really been very refreshing! we have both opened our eyes to some exciting new techniques, style and perspectives.
What have you found the hardest to cope with as the Graff community has changed since you got started?
Definitely the City Officials, the negative spin and fake propaganda used to lobby against graffiti artists is definitely hard to swallow. They do not differentiate between gang writing, tagging, or graffiti art…. They lump everything together, it’s like anything done with spray paint is bad. It’s really crazy that they get away with that. You would think the press is smarter than that.
What do you find is the most striking difference between Los Angeles and San Francisco?
I don’t know it’s really cool up there, because it’s like a big city but still has a West Coast vibe. People are more open and receptive to the art. But compared to Los Angeles and our city officials, I feel like that everywhere I go now.
Has anything unexpected come out of your participation in Micah’s exhibit? New collaborations in progress?
I’m working on a lot of cool stuff. Lately the most exciting project is collaboration with the Dennis Hopper estate. I’m doing a show where I will be embellishing some of his original images. We are doing some cool stuff, but I can’t really get into it because were still formulating. I’m also doing a huge mural in conjunction with Heal the Bay. Its pretty cool, were going to rattle a few city feathers on that one….
If you could have included 5 additional artists in the “Art in the Streets” exhibit, who would you have liked to seen there?
Haze, Mare, Seen, (a tribute section to many graffiti artists who have passed away) and a wild card so to speak someone like Dennis Hopper or the Los angels Fine Art Squad, they’re not Graff artists but they have the same mentality and parallel worlds.
What do you think about Brooklyn Art Museum backing out of hosting the show?
Well it was beyond they’re control due to budget issues. Its unfortunate but they economy is suffering and its very understandable…I can tell you it’s not due to some whacko chick in a pink dress though. I heard she was trying to claim she was the reason…desperate, very desperate…
In some interviews you said that your parents weren’t supportive of you pursuing the arts, and in others you have mentioned your daughters and their own drawings. How do you support them in their own art, and what kind of art are they pursuing?
My daughters are very young, so they’re art is very explorative. They are constantly trying new things. Sometimes I say hey lets go paint, and they say no dad I want to draw with my crayons, but real big like your paintings, so I set up a huge panel and they go to town. Today she wanted to finger paint. Its always different but the thing I find interesting is how serious they take it. My five year old is very good, She draws everything and it’s all easily decipherable. She also likes to create sculptures with totalitarian objects. Her favorite thing is car parts she gravitates towards hold hot rod parts. Its really crazy because I was drawn to that as well, one of the earliest memories of drawings I remember drawing was a dragster. I’m really careful not to push them. They are exposed to a lot of art and crazy uncles! We go to Museums and just have fun with it. It’s amazing what they pick up.
Along those lines, does graffiti and street art have a role in the future of art education for children?
Yes, 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 it not to be a fad. Now it’s more mainstreams, which makes it more accessible. With all the recent activity, especially the MOCA show, Graffiti art has made its place in the history books.
Lets get back to you and graf: If you could get up in one place without a chance of catching legal heat, where would you pick and why?
The Hollywood sign, but the whole sign, I want to change it to RISKYWOOD. …My uncles band changed it to RAFFEY SOD back in the late eighties and I’ve always wanted to do it, I planned it out and a few times, always one step behind the new security at that time…. We used to go party on the sign when we were younger, we caught tags and shit like that but I wanted to do the whole sign. Kind of funny, when SEEN did that we never really thought about that, we thought it was a waste and you wouldn’t be able to see it, then after he did that we kicked ourselves in the ass, we couldn’t believe all those times we were up there and we never did that! We never thought about that placement, we were too stoned or trying to get laid or something out of dazed and confused… He killed it with that one!
If you could only paint in black, white, and one additional color, what color would that be?
That’s a hard one any color can work with black and white! I’d say red …or purple…
Finally, any advice to the young ones getting started these days?
Do what you do, and be you.
Tags: Art in the Streets, Cooz, graffiti, Interview, Nathan Ota, RISK and COOZ, That Was Then This Is Now