Vandalog Interviews – Retna

Photo by DoubleKf

One of the best examples of the grey area that I love between street art and graffiti is Retna. The artist that I most wanted to watch paint last year at Primary Flight was Retna. I remember seeing one of Retna’s faux-marble sculptures at Primary Flight’s Blue Print For Space show and thinking “Damn, he needs to do that in real marble and I’d want one in every room of my house.” One of the first pieces of graffiti that I saw upon arriving in Philadelphia last month was an piece by Retna. For the last year or so, Retna has secretly been climbing toward the top of my list of favorite artists. His art works equally well indoors or outdoors, alone or in collaborations. He deals with subject matter ranging from politics and spirituality to fashion and street culture, but he doesn’t feel all over the place because it’s all part of a continuing push to bring things to a new level.

Recently, Retna took some time to talk to us here at Vandalog for this exclusive interview. And if you enjoy this interview (and even if you don’t for some reason), I highly suggest that you check out the September issue of Juxtapoz where Jeffrey Deitch shares his thought on Retna (excerpted here) and Retna is interviewed in-depth.

This is the first in Vandalog’s series of interviews in anticipation of the Moniker International Art Fair. Retna’s work will be shown at the fair in New Image Art Gallery‘s booth. Over the next couple of weeks, we’ll be posting more interviews with a number of artists involved in Moniker.

How did you become interested in graffiti art?

My first encounter with graffiti was when I was a kid—I remember going out in my backyard and seeing a group of older guys hanging out on the roof a couple houses away writing gang blocks. At the age of 8, I was fascinated and already trying to imitate what they were doing. I was immediately attracted to the art form of graffiti and wanted to know how it was done, so I started practicing writing letters and eventually developing my own style.

How did your affiliation with MSK and AWR come about?

It begins and ends with my oldest group of friends.

Something that has always intrigued me about your work is its unique use of the Latin alphabet. Where did the idea to incorporate this technique in to your work originate? Was this style something you were already familiar with or did you have to learn it from scratch and adapt it?

The incorporation of text in my work is a direct result of my graffiti background. It’s become my way of bridging the gap between graffiti art and fine art. My style of writing is something that I have created and refined over the years by taking inspiration from various sources including Egyptian hieroglyphics, Old English calligraphy and traditional graffiti writing.

Photo by Lord Jim

When you’re creating a piece that incorporates this type of lettering how often are you actually creating an encoded message, rather then just using the font purely for aesthetics?

Although some may see the text as aesthetically pleasing and merely as symbols, I never write random letters. All my pieces can be decoded into full messages and words that translate into English or Spanish.

Photo by Revok
Photo by Revok

Creating murals by yourself or with others seems to play a very big part in what you do. One thing I’ve noticed is your consistency in collaborating with EL MAC. How did you guys meet and what is it that keeps bringing you back together for these awesome collabs?

Mac and I first met about ten years ago when we were painting side by side at an art event in Mexico and then we were reintroduced about five years ago—that’s when we completed our first collaborative mural. Our work garnered such a positive response that we realized that we had a strong synergy and we’ve been working together ever since.

Retna and El Mac. Photo by anarchosyn
Retna and El Mac. Photo by Hargo

How has L.A. Influenced your style since you were first introduced to the mural culture at an early age?

I was born and raised in Los Angeles so I grew up watching all the other great graffiti artists and muralists, and aspiring to be like them. I want to do the same for others—I want to create work that’s so awe-inspiring that it motivates others to get into art. I would love to be a footnote in someone else’s career and hear that they were inspired by something I created.

Lets talk a little about the latest installation you did over at the Rivera & Rivera Gallery, where you created a floor-to-ceiling installation piece. What was it like working on such a large scale?

I have worked on some large-scale murals before, so that was not a challenge for me. However what I did find challenging was, visualizing the piece on a three dimensional scale. The piece at Rivera & Rivera was the first time where I incorporated additional elements, like fabric, to my painting to create a truly interactive installation that fully engaged viewers.

Photo by Unurth

What was the inspiration behind the Desaturated exhibition? It seemed quite fashion orientated. Is this something you’ve become interested in as urban art and fashion seem to have merged together rather quickly.

I don’t think I’m into fashion all of a sudden because it has merged with urban art; I’ve always admired people who have dope style. That includes people from all over the world and their style, whether is unique to them or traditional according to their heritage—if it looks good, I’m going to like it. The same goes for the images of the Desaturated exhibition, I wasn’t as concerned with what they were wearing as much as I was about what the overall image looked like.

Photo courtesy of New Image Art Gallery

And finally, what does the future hold for RETNA? 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 can’t say I know what the future holds. The only thing I am focused on right now is making new work and continuing to do what I do.

Be sure to check out more from Retna by visiting his official website here

Photos by Unurth, Hargo, anarchosyn, Revok, Lord Jim, DoubleKf and New Image Art Gallery

Vandalog Interviews – Ripo

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.

Collaboration with Swanski

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

War Of Words Zine September 2010

War Of Words from War Of Words on Vimeo.

WOW is a graffiti crew founded in Utrecht in 1989 who started spray-painting Dutch trains with their work. Their colorful, large and detailed pieces, the likes of which had never been seen before in The Netherlands, made an incredible visual impact. Having only ever previously been published in black and white  the latest issue of WOW is now printed in full color.

War Of Words collects 20 years of urban graffiti from this ground-breaking group in a full-color limited-edition book to celebrate their 21st anniversary. Just 1500 copies of War of Words have been printed. 325 copies will be available for sale at The American Book Center and a handful of other exclusive points around the world. After reserving a few copies for themselves, the group burned every single remaining copy of War of Words from their print run. You can see them go up in flames in the video above.

Check out some sneak peek photos below!

WOW can be purchased here

Photos courtesy of Hurt You Bad

Burning Candy DOTS Promo Video

Note from the editor: It should be mentioned that in the past I’ve been paid by the people making DOTS to help out on various parts of the project (though I was paid in artwork). Also, I still do communicate with them and help them out in small ways, but I don’t get paid for that. Also, for more info on this project and how you can help the film get made, check out Arrested Motion. – RJ

DOTS short promo from Dots Films on Vimeo.

Some of you may remember us covering the newest up and coming street art documentary DOTS a few months back. Well now the mysterious filmmaker known only as as The Baron has released this teaser trailer (above) for the documentary which follows the members of London’s notorious Burning Candy Crew around various parts of the world.

Juxtapoz has also recently conducted a interview with The Baron where he talks about his relationship with BC, how he came up with the idea for DOTS and what he hopes to accomplish once its ready for public viewing. You can read that interview here

More info on DOTS at

Not Guilty Issue #3 OUT NOW!

UK based underground culture and graffiti zine Not Guilty has just released it 3rd issue for August 2010 along with this fresh new video, seen above.

This months issue focuses on the culture surrounding trains, subways, urban exploring, rioting and more across 56 full colour pages. You might also be interested to know that this issue includes specials with ROFD rcls and SIAR plus stories of London subway missions, sketches, action shots and much more.

Get your hands on a copy here

New RETNA & EL MAC Mural

Of Our Youth – RETNA • EL MAC from RVCA on Vimeo.

Mural giants RETNA and EL MAC recently teamed up for yet another epic creation, this time in Culver City. Their newest mural, titled “Of Our Youth”, can be seen on the side of Graphaids art supply store, on La Cienega between Jefferson and Washington.

The imagery and text used in this mural was inspired by their time spent at Skid Row, while painting their previous mural. The artists met a man by the name of Ralph Woodruff aka Chato and were inspired by this man’s past hardships, experiences and overall outlook on life. His ability to recognize his mistakes and atone for his sordid past was something that resonated with RETNA. The text which reads, “So today I’m trying to change a few things to rectify the situation of my past. So today I’m looking towards the future (of our youth highlighted)” is a quote taken from their conversation.

RIME For Dolby Digital

Feast your eyes on this new video for Dolby Digital featuring New York graffiti artist RIME.

“For this piece I attempted to create something inspired by an excerpt from a 1951 documentary, on the process and philosophy of Jackson Pollock. A lot of what Pollock says in the following clip is relatable to my experiences with free-styling graffiti pieces. Pollock talks about the comfort and expressive feeling he gets when working large and loose. This way of approaching work has been something that I have focused on in the past 15 years of my 20 year career as a writer.” says Rime.

Rime has traveled to and painted in over 17 major U.S. cities, 6 European countries, Japan and Taiwan. In 2005 he founded The Exchange, an elite group of graffiti stylists from North America and Europe. Now based in Los Angeles Rime works closely with The Seventh Letter Crew on art based murals and gallery shows. Rime’s mission is to solidify the idea that graffiti is a viable and innovative art form. With the hint of pop culture’s welcoming back of graffiti art, Rime realizes it is up to the artists that are actually out there putting in work to be responsible for the way the art form pans out in history.

You can check out exclusive photos from the shoot and more over at Rimes blog here

INFAMY – A Graffiti Film

One thing I’ve noticed through my lack of productivity as of late is that there are a ton of graffiti orientated films and documentaries out there. For the most part many of them are really great to watch and INFAMY is one such bi product of documenting the graffiti scene that really caught my attention. Whilst it may not be all that new to some of you, I was so impressed by the documentary I felt compelled to post something about it here.

INFAMY is an intense journey into the dangerous lives and obsessed minds of six of America’s most prolific graffiti artists. The movie takes you deep into the world of street legends SABER, TOOMER, JASE, CLAW, EARSNOT, and ENEM. With brutal honesty, humor and charisma, these artists reveal why they are so willing to risk everything to spray paint their cities with “tags,” “throwups,” and full-color murals.  From the streets of the South Bronx to the solitude of a San Francisco tunnel, from high atop a Hollywood billboard to North Philadelphia for a lesson in “Philly-style tags,” from the Mexican border to a Cleveland train yard, INFAMY doesn’t analyze or glorify graffiti – it takes you there and brings it to life.

Check out the 10 minute clip above (The rest can be found on Youtube if you look hard enough!).

For more info visit