Artist Interview with Crayone of San Francisco

February 28, 2013 at 5:32 pm

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Neighborhood Love:

OK, let’s start off by saying San Fran has had a major impact on graffiti in the US. When I look back at the early years of my career in the early 80s, you were one of the graff heads I remember first following from your city. What were the early years for you in graffiti? When did you start and where did your early inspirations come from?

Crayone:

I got introduced to writing from bboying. My friend Fury handed me my first spray can. I drew a little bit when I was a kid like star wars space ships. I knew a little about it but when I picked up my copy of subway art, my creative mind blew. It was on! I was doing pieces and doing buses where I was the first writer in the city to hit a MUNI bus with a piece. I was introduced into the yards by a writer named ShokHPW. Then I did the first Southern Pacific Whole car cause I wanted to feel like I could do what those writers were doing in NY. Little did I know that these Southern Pacific Trains were huge! Haha. I told all my friends and told a few heads from San Jose including King157, which as we all know, king157 is now a beast on those trains… but before that, he was this little kid that my boy PicassoTWS came up with, along with Sno and Shen Shen. Anyway, as I got better, I was the first writer to venture out into the other cities around san Francisco like Berkeley and Oakland and San jose… (Those were the biggest writing scenes next to San Francisco). I had picked some of the best writers in those cities (Raevyn from the East Bay, Picasso from San Jose, Estria and Bam from Hawaii, etc). We came to be known as TWS (Together With Style) and this was one of the first super crews/ first official Bay Area Crew. Once we started getting our work out there it was just a matter of time Jim Prigoff put us in the book called Spray Can Art. It was a unique time, place and event that put me and my crew on the map.

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Neighborhood Love:

I know we talked about it briefly before, but you were the FIRST graffiti artist I ever saw that used japanese anime characters, a mech robot, on a wall. I remember thinking how fresh it was. How was that received in your graff scene, and the rest of the country?

Crayone:

I think it was received well, but to my arch rivals, it was deemed wack cause it didn’t follow the foundations from New York. You have to understand, The concept of TWS was European influenced by via Futura and Fine art. Our stuff came from left field. Because I am from hip-hop, I tried to take it into a different direction. Others writers were not from the hip-hop scene and was trying to emulate it. I spoke to NY writers and they did not like writers from other cities biting their styles.

I also lived right across the street from Japantown in the city. It’s next to a Street called Fillmore which was slightly ghetto/low income area. My mom and sister was the only family I had. We come from no money. The previous place we lived at was at another projects called the Bay Street Projects when It wasn’t nice. Which I also created a yard on the roof top of that building.

You know not everything has it’s rewards when doing something first. It’s bittersweet. I started creating a portfolio, had dope stuff in it around 1985/86. After barely Graduating from Galileo High School, I tried to walk into an art school called the Art Institute (Where Barry McGee (Twist) came there several years later was the art darling of that school, but when I came to visit them, they looked at me like I was a leper. They were scared. It took 5 years later to have the nerve to go back to an art school. Back then I think a year of private art school was like $14k and now it’s like $40k average! Shit. I’m sticking with the spray can but on a higher level of writing

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Neighborhood Love:

Now I know its been brought up a great deal, but there was beef in the old days for you and your crew. It was the same in LA, and I’m sure a lot of cities. How did the beef all play out, and how is it these days?

Crayone:

Well, it’s cool now, I guess some of the other rival crews still hate us even though they are not active. But back then It was “style super sensitive”… if your shit looked like NY, you had “funk” and you were part of system of writers which were from certain part of the city, like the mission. If you had a style that was not from NY, you were considered “new wave” which is a group of writers trying to be different and creative and not follow NY. We, TWS, did it the best. Believe me, we hated that name of New Wave, but what we were doing was trying to take the level of writing to another level and years later as I sat down with one of the members of our rival crew, they said, they never wanted to see the art form being taken to another level and have it in museums and galleries, all they wanted to do was take what was created in NY on the subway trains from 1981 to 1985 and stay within this era and take it further. It was a good conversation and we both understood that having an arch rivals or crew vs crews was a good thing for the scene. Not every city had style concept divisions. Most cities had issues with people’s ego/who was better, but we had cross out wars just merely on the style you were busting. It’s no doubt I got battle scars and over the years the people I had funk with stopped writing. I may have slowed down a bit from 1995-2000 but I never stopped painting. Sure there were years where I got up 4 or 5 times, but then there were years where I got up a hundred times… these are all pieces and production. Shit takes time. I think my record was 8 pieces in a week. All illegal and I got so burnt out I stopped for like 6 months. Moderation as they say.

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Neighborhood Love:

I have to say you have been back strong lately, painting different cities, making moves. There are few graff writers out there that inspired me, that were pushing the boundaries, and you were one of them. What do you see your next moves being in graff or as an artist? Do you still want to push it, or do you want to settle into your own style?

Crayone:

I think you always want to push the envelope. Look at my last piece. It’s called Triple vision. Guess from TMF created the name, but what he did was create a one word that said 3 names, what I’m doing is taking it literally. Three different style on top of each other. Maybe there was a person who did this in the history of writing but I’ve never seen it so I’m trying something new and im taking a big risk cause it’s a big wall. Now about a recognizable style. I think a lot of writers think they created their own style without any help from anyone, which I think it’s bullshit. We all come from someone or some place of inspiration. I tend to come from a handful of writers and it’s important you know cause to just paint a style and not where you come from is a disrespect to all the writers who come before you. We are all that we are from the backs of nameless and faceless writers who came before us. Real talk. Art made by kids for kids. I’m just a big kid still painting. Once I stop painting, I’ll become another working stiff. As an artist, I try to reinvent myself every couple of years. This is hard to do. As a writer you always want to switch it up every now and then… then you got the gallery scene where a “recognizable style” is something they want to help you have a distinct selling advantage over others cause you are the flavor of the month or year. I’m not anti gallery or museums but it’s something I’m slowly working towards. I’m very comfortable in front of a wall with spray paint by my side. I’m very uncomfortable with a blank canvas in front of me with brushes and acrylics by my side.

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Neighborhood Love:

Do you have a lot of younger heads that know who you are, I know these days there can be some large generation gaps in graff, and a lot of kids that don’t care about what came before them? Do you find this true, or is it a mix of kids who know, and kids who don’t?

Crayone:

I think there’s a lot of kids who don’t give a fuck. They don’t care where they or the art from has come from or where it’s headed. They want recognition now and they do canvases way before it’s time for them to do canvases. That’s why some of the street art theme galleries look like shit. To some of these so-called writers think that putting in work or putting in dues is a foreign concept. There are some who are for the culture and respect the culture and they do homework. They even call up to the originators of this art form like phase2 or Wicket Gary of the Ex-Vandals and they get first account information. That’s dope! Giving back is crucial. Taking everything is that your no better than a locust.

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Neighborhood Love:

Do you have any plans for more travel? and if so, where?

Crayone:

Santa Cruz again painting with a well known LA writer (1 month), Mexico City, Seattle, Los Angeles (Krush is getting a wall), San Diego, Las Vegas, Phoenix, Texas, Miami.

Neighborhood Love:

Who are some of the graffiti or regular artist that you feel these days? I know you have been a production man, who do you want to paint with in the future, who do you see yourself making a good “team up” with?

Crayone:

We, as in TWS want to grow. We are expanding into two cities right now. But we want to be a selective crew of a few writers who do it all. Not have a million muthafuckas in the crew and it’s very disorganized. We want to grow slow and powerful. We’ve grown this crew to be a world class crew. Maybe some of the newer jacks don’t’ know us as well, but that will change the more we get up. What I do want to say is that some of “new” stuff that’s been going up, is that TWS has been doing that style and style of painting since the 80’s.

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Neighborhood Love:

Did you ever see graff going this far? What do you think comes next, and what part do you want to play in it?

Crayone:

I personally don’t think it’s gone that far. Folks need to push the envelope more. I’ve seen really amazing pieces of works that just makes me want to quit! It’s like you realize that you are soooo far behind in what your true potential could be. I’m still working on the being the best I can be. It’s a humbling experience. I think whats coming next is the acceptance of the art form from Museums. A lot of writers are making the transition into gallery paintings and more power to them. I need to create more programs and not rely on other people’s projects.

Neighborhood Love:

Is there any regrets, anything that did more harm than good that you wish you could change? I know some of the bad can help make us into who we are today, but sometimes there’s a few we wish we could take back, is there for you?

Crayone:

Yeah, from working from 1998 to 2010… I wish I could of found a better job, but I stay’d because it was a steady income. Not much, but steady. I got less than 5h times a year and All the while this was going on, I seen hella writers less talented as me getting gigs and doing big things cause they took a chance while I stay’d in a cubicle looking at what could have been… sometimes you might live nice, not painting and not creating a portfolio… and at the end of your life… Id rather starve sometimes and all the while leave with a set of work I can be proud of. In the end it’s all about time management. Whether you have a job and trying to stay active, or not have a job and still keep up the faith, stay fed with a roof over your head and stay busy writing to not just write, but to become self-sufficient by getting paid for your skills.

Neighborhood Love:

Last I would like to say you are a true innovator and style King, you did a lot to make graffiti change, both in tech wildstyles and in full new style productions, and I’m glad I could talk with you and show you respect and some love. Is there any shouts you wanna say or people you wanna mention that were there along the way or are there now?

Crayone:

Don’t hate me, because if you hate me, you just hate yourself. Stay positive y’all!