One of the things that I find most interesting in street art and graffiti is that grey area between the two art forms. Ripo has put himself right in the middle of that grey area. Some days, his work appears on Hurt You Bad, the graffiti blog claiming to have coined the term “art fag” in referring to street artists, but he’s also done interviews for the Fecal Face blog while described as a street artist at the same time he has a solo show in a gallery. There’s not doubt that Ripo cares about lettering and his style is something any writer would respect, but he’s taken that graffiti background and flipped it on its head in order to also make things that the general public wants to look at and can connect with, as opposed to just painting a name.
But Ripo isn’t just a talented artist and designer. He lives the life of a true artist. I think I’ve said it on Vandalog before that Ripo could probably move back to NYC (where he grew up) and quickly become a big name in scene there. He’s already a big name in street art, but he would undoubtedly be even better known if he lived in New York. Except Ripo lives and works in Barcelona because that’s what makes him happy right now, and I have a lot of respect for Ripo for just doing what makes him happy instead of playing art-world games. There are so many “street artists” out there moving to Williamsburg, putting up a few posters and “playing the game,” but Ripo embodies everything good about street art.
How did you first get in to doing graffiti?
I grew up in NYC in the 80’s and 90’s, on top of that I was was always interested in making art and skateboarding. How could I not get into graffiti?
You constantly appear to be experimenting with all kinds of elaborate styles and exciting fonts in your work. When did you first take a serious interest and approach to typography?
I grew up drawing comics so combining words and images was always a big part of making the art that I loved. Especially on the covers of comic books the font is so central and important to the whole experience of it. As I grew up and continued to get interested in graffiti and graphic design, font and lettering remained an important part of making images for me even when I was doing more figurative or other types of work.
In some cases rather than putting up your name you’ve instead taken to painting small messages and slogans around the place. There’s certainly something a lot more verbal about this approach. What was your reason for doing this?
After awhile traditional graffiti started to bore me. It’s hard for someone who’s not interested in graffiti to get a lot out of just reading someone’s name over and over again. Although I have returned to painting my name a lot, and just exploring styles of lettering, some of the most fulfilling pieces are the ones I’ve done that say something more to people who come across them. Communicating to the public via an image or message on a wall is a really powerful medium. If it wasn’t I doubt that the major corporations, city campaigns, political candidates and so on would put so much effort and money into taking over our visual outdoor space. Why shouldn’t we have a say in that and actually say something?
The work you’ve created for your Reflect On and Your Name series all come across as being very thought provoking pieces of art work. How are you influenced to come up with such ideas?
Those were just a natural selection of many more ideas that are still brewing and yet to come. Sometimes you’ll come up with something by accident, like the Reflect On project. I found a broken mirror once and painted on it, and naturally decided to stick it up in the street. The effect of photographing it and seeing the image change, interact with the space, and take on new meaning depending on what’s being reflected just sparked something and I had to push it further.
Photography also appears to be something that you’ve decided to dedicate your time toward doing. Is this something you’ve always had an interest in or did you just pick it up by accident?
Photography just comes naturally now that most of us have digital cameras. Traveling, and photographing the works and experiences I’ve had is almost a natural instinct. Certain things catch your eye and if you’ve got a camera you just want to shoot it and capture that moment. I can’t remember who first said this quote but I love it: “The best camera in the world is the one that’s with you.”
You’ve traveled near and far with your art, from Berlin to Brazil. Where else in the world you would like to be able to paint?
I’ve painted in places I never dreamed of, Albania for example. So I can dream of places I’d like to go, but maybe the ones I can’t imagine could be the best. That being said Africa really intrigues me.
Are there any graffiti stories from the road that you would care to tell us?
There are plenty. There are the near-death ones that are probably entertaining (easy to laugh about them later), like the time I fell about 10m down the side of a cliff next to a highway in Chile trying to paint some ridiculous spot, or the 11 story rooftop I painted in Bucharest with all but a meter of floor to stand on between me and a big spill. Or the time my friends got robbed at gunpoint watching out for me and a friend while we were painting a rooftop up above. We had to just watch it happen from 3 stories up, nothing to do. Luckily no one got hurt.
Then there’s the other side of things, like when I was painting in Colombia and torrential rain began dumping down on me. I had a huge ladder plus buckets of paint, rollers, and I myself was a complete mess. The woman from the little restaurant next door motioned me to come inside and have something to drink, but not wanting to leave my stuff in the street to be taken I thankfully declined. She ended up bringing me out something in the rain, and then let me drag the whole ladder and the rest of the mess into the middle of the restaurant and cooked me a hot meal even though the kitchen was closed. I happened to be painting Okupame (Squat Me) in huge letters on the facade of the abandoned building next to her restaurant, she didn’t seem to mind one bit. Being out and about you get the good and the bad.
You’ve made your mark on some of the biggest man made canvases imaginable. Inevitably the bigger the mission, the bigger the pay off. Do you still get a buzz from doing your more gigantic pieces, regardless of the danger factor?
Bigger doesn’t always mean more dangerous. But going on missions to paint, or really doing anything I’m told I shouldn’t do, and not knowing what might happen as a result is still exciting and motivating to me.
And finally, what does the future hold for RIPO? In regards to your work, new projects and any other personal aspirations you have in life. Is there anyone you’d like to give a shout out to?
I’ve been in the studio a lot recently and pushing some things I’ve never done before with canvas works. I’m also excited for the release of Tristan Manco’s new book, Street Sketchbook Journeys, which I just did the cover for. I also did another book cover for Penguin that should be out by next year as well. In November I’m in a group show here in Barcelona, organized by my friend Andrea from Btoy. I’ll also have a solo show in Barcelona in January. Besides that I have a big trip I’ve been planning for a few years now but had to put on the side. Maybe next year. Maybe later. Maybe never, but hopefully sooner. That and always keep in the streets.
Be sure to check out more from RIPO by visiting his official website here
Photos courtesy of RIPO