My Purpose for Painting in the 1980’s
As I had mentioned in my previous blog, I am going share a little more on the purpose of each series. No where better to start than in the beginning.
1983. Before I dive into 1983, a quick note that I was a Chicano gang member from elementary school till 8th grade, so my knowledge of life was seen through this window. Okay now in 1983 I moved from South Central LA to Maywood California, where the community had little gang activity and mostly kids influenced by hip hop and music videos. This would also be where I began to gain an appreciation for hip hop music with the likes of LL Cool J, Run DMC, Whodini, and many more. Break dancing was at its peak, and this was my introduction to Graffiti art, in the form of a visit to a club in the mid-Wilshire District called: RADIOTRON. If you seen the movie, well that was me…I was a B Boy, and to be a B Boy in those days meant you danced, DJed, rapped, and did some Graffiti.
I am not going to give the full history of LA Hip Hop, but I am going to explain how the graffiti art form influenced my work. New York had its history on trains (See Wild Style). In LA we had Yards. Specifically, the Belmont Tunnel.
90 percent of the graffiti done in 1983-1985 was spray painted names of the individual writers. During this time, I was busy practicing at the riverbed, or in a black sketch book.
It was not until I graduated from High School and entered art School, Otis Art Institute, that happened to be right next to the Radiotron. That I took the art form serious. 1985 was the year I met Al Nodal who commissioned me and several other graffiti artists to paint a “We Are The world” mural in MacArthur Park.
This concept of graffiti saying something other than just my name opened a huge door in my mind. Now I constantly asked myself “What do I say with my art? What is the purpose of my art?” This allowed me to analyze what other artists were doing, especially those I looked up to, the New York artist.
Street art became a fascination for me, reading any article written in art magazines. Futura 2000 and his fusion of abstraction and color fields with graffiti trains. Keith Haring creating social commentaries on the black spaces in the subways. On and On I read and began to discuss these concepts with other artists. At this time, my purpose was to express how hip hop and music moved into my life. I was painting images of B Boys, DJ spinning records, Characters Break dancing and letters exploding with color.
This was a little conflicting with art school who was trying to train me in the traditional arts. Then I met a graphic design professor named Ave Peldas who saw me sketching a graffiti piece and said,
“I see how much effort and energy you use to make that; can you transfer some of that energy or fuse that force with your other subjects?” This was a great idea; I can replace the medium but keep the graffiti art concepts. I began to use charcoal and chalk pastels, fusing the traditional with the street. One of my drawings was a part of a New York exhibition, it was a charcoal drawing of a low rider car at night with graffiti on the wall and a drive by shooting victim.
I continued to explore many possibilities in this form and still doing some graffiti style murals about Censorship, World War 3, robots controlling the world and so on. I needed to stand out from everyone else, I needed a voice. I had read about the fun gallery and how many graffiti artists were moving into the art world.
I decided to have a one-man pop-up show in one of the schools’ areas with graffiti art on canvas lining up all the walls. I had a DJ spinning and break dancers, most students who attended were amazed but a little confused because this was still new to Los Angeles.
In the summer of that year 1988, I was getting ready to finish my senior year when chaos hit my life. I had a violent altercation with a violent person and in my defense, I took a life. Even though I was defending my self the state of California created laws that are designed to keep minorities incarcerated. Some of these laws are called “Enhancements”. I was given a 5-year prison sentence based on one of these enhancements.