With new projects on the hush until completion, we wanted to take a moment to shine the light on one of our favorite artists and certainly one who should be considered among the greats, we think, in American graffiti today.
You have heard of Pose and Omens. You have heard of MUL and DC5. You are probably aware of the major players in the Chicago clean train movement. Too few people, however, know about an artist whose mastery of graffiti is the result of a finely tuned design sense and a unique vocabulary of shapes and colors that would be impossible for most. Sometimes complex, but never basic.
Like One is a friend of the crew for several years now. He, like most of our closest allies, has been at our SubSurface jam almost every year and was one of the first writers we met on our first trip up to East Chicago with CISA crew. His style has always been unmistakeably Chicago, but still unlike anyone else. Over the years his style has evolved from a smarter version of panel pieces into something else. The graffiti as well as the art of Like One are always design first, lettering or painting second.
If you already know about Like, do him a favor and tell someone who doesn’t. He’s as fresh as your favorite writer and a hundred times more humble.
When did you begin writing and how?
My good friend DUES convinced me to pick up a can in ’94, and I mostly did a bunch of garbage at this bridge spot and a nice freight yard close to where I lived. He pretty much schooled me, but a couple years later he passed away, so I didn’t do much for a little while. I met Flex in 97′ and that’s when I started painting again, but this time more consistently and trying to develop.
What are some key experiences you have had in graffiti, or art in general?
I feel like cumulatively, my graffiti and art experiences taught me a lot. Goal setting, networking, persistence, to not pay attention to rules, and the buff has definitely taught me to be humble.
Who did you look up to in Chicago and who do you mostly paint with?
I’ve looked up to many, in terms of Chicago graffiti it’s been SB, ASC, THC, DC5, CMW, XMEN, the usual staples. I’ve always been a fan of Raven, Zore, Rawfa, Slang, Trixter, Casper, Sivel, Kuaze, Kep, East, Pose, Ark, and plenty more. Cove, Jash, Asend, Morgan, Awol, Greve, Omens. I love seeing stuff from all those guys. I feel fortunate that I’ve painted with quite a few people in my city. I’ve always painted a lot with Flex KYM, he’s been a longtime painting partner and friend. I’ve painted a lot with Exhaust and Beon as well. Nowadays, I guess I paint more by myself because of the nature of my work. Although I’ve done some collaborative murals with a few people that I’ve really been digging. So I think looking forward, “painting with other people” will be more in this context as opposed to painting a piece next to someone. I did a collaborative mural with Chris Silva over the summer that was a very different (painting/learning) experience of working with someone compared to how I’ve done it in the past. Painting graffiti with someone is great because you vibe off each other and you pick up on each other’s techniques, or match certain things if you want. But when you work with someone on the same piece it’s kind of nuts because you start to see how the other person thinks creatively, down to the next line. It’s kind of like tic tac toe but much larger, colorful, and challenging. So this is intriguing me a little more at the moment.
When did you start to think outside graffiti and gravitate toward murals or studio?
I’ve always done studio work, but just not as heavily and consistent as graffiti. But in the last year and a half or so I really made it a point to push myself do both just as much as the other. And what’s started to happen is that the two are fusing together more and more as time goes on, which is how I started doing more of the mural work. I also wanted to make work that catered just a little more to the public. There’s been many times when passers-by stop to check out what’s going on and complement my/our efforts to add some more color to the neighborhood. But the reality is that most of these people don’t really understand what we are doing. They just see bright colors and they know they like that more than a plain wall. So I thought if I can paint something that is a little bit more universal, while still maintaining my style and enjoying the process the way I normally do, the public would be able to understand it more and maybe enjoy it a little better. So that’s what I did. it was an experiment. This of course opens a whole new set of challenges, and that’s what is refreshing to me. Painting graffiti is very formulaic in a sense. I know what the components are, I know what colors to use where, when to add contrast, etc. So now when I paint a letter based piece, I like to mess with that formula a little i.e.; a partial outline, multi colored outline, no outline, playing with the flatness, changing the weight of the letters, etc.
How do you work differently on street level work than in the studio? What’s the difference or is it different?
The main difference is the environment. Though the end results may appear similar, the process is completely different. For me, studio work is a lot of multitasking. I can bounce from piece to piece if I want, or I can make some coffee, or check my email, sketch some more, overthink, or whatever. I tend to jump around a lot when doing studio stuff. Painting outside is a whole different thing. I pretty much absorb the surroundings, settle in, and just blast it out. I’ve gone whole days without eating just because I didn’t think about it while I was painting. I’m definitely more “in the zone” when painting outside. The process is a lot faster for me too. I can take a few days to make a small collage in the studio, but I can also paint a 10′x20′ wall in a day. The mind, body, hand coordination are a little more in sync on a bigger scale I think.
Do you think legal walls or permission walls are still graffiti?
I think they are a part of what graffiti is at this point. Obviously graffiti is not the same animal now that it was in the NYC subway era. It’s changed, evolved, and so have the people doing it. All the active train painters get my respect. It’s a rough game that requires a lot of dedication. And we’ve all heard the arguments that “real graffiti” can only be this or that. And there is definitely some validity to that, but there are so many people writing now in so many different places, that the format for how it’s done has mutated. I think it’s only natural for people to look around them and think “what else can I paint on?” In terms of categorizing whether things that are spray painted on (which are not trains) are still graffiti, I don’t really dwell on it. I give props where they are due. I think at the end of the day, if it’s your name with letters, then I’d probably call it graffiti.
Where do you like to paint? What environment?
Every place I’ve painted has had its own unique feel and experience, but I have to say that places like tracksides, bridges, and abandoned buildings are my favorite. I like the exploration feel that comes with that, and the fact that I’m painting in or on a place that has/had a history.I like finding new spots. I’m not a big fan of painting the same spots over and over.
How have you developed your letter style? What were trying to do or are you still trying that makes yours so unique?
I feel like I’ve experimented with the typical elements for letter style, just stretching things, making them move a little, giving them some sleekness, and playing with the letter weight. I’ve always been a fan of wildstyles, so I’ve tended to lean to that side. I think over time, my style has simplified. I like my letters to look sharp and lean back a little, and leave a little breathing room between each other. I use color to separate them sometimes too, instead of just relying on the outline. I also try to make connections in places that aren’t typically connected. I’m sure that’s the same stuff everyone does, I just try to do it my way.
Your choice of colors is always a highlight of your work. When did you get a handle on color?
Thanks. I am a little particular about colors. When I first started painting, my color schemes sucked. I’ve gone through a lot of changes with how I use color, how much contrast, what kind of palette, how much black to use. I didn’t use black for a really long time. It just seemed like the default way to make your piece pop. There’s other ways to create contrast without using black all the time. Even now, I’ve probably done less than ten black outlined pieces in my entire life. I’m not even sure how to explain how I feel about color. It’s always a changing thing, and I could spend all day picking out the right colors for what I want to do. No secret formula, just go with the gut. Most of the stuff I’ve done this year was of a more minimal palette than usual. If I don’t have the right colors, I won’t paint. It kills me to see a dope piece done hastily with the wrong color in there.
Is spray paint your preferred medium? What can you not do with spray paint that leads you to use other media?
Spray paint is definitely preferred. I think the weather more so is what pushes me into other media. It’s just not fun to me anymore painting under 30 degrees in the wind. So I try to keep busy in the colder months by making studio work.
Have you accomplished many of the things you set out to do with graffiti writing?
I never really set out with a specific goal with graffiti, other than to have fun. That’s definitely been achieved. I know that’s a little vague, but that’s really the backbone of it for me. I’ve made some great friends, met some awesome people, traveled, ended up in situations that were never expected, and it’s all fun. I’ve hit points where I started to lose interest, but I just find new ways to challenge myself creatively. If I feel like I’m doing the same pieces over and over, then it’s not as fun. So now I try to do something I haven’t done before with each piece. This way it feels fresh to me, and still has that instant gratification feel.
How would you describe the mural world in Chicago?
It’s a funny thing. I think it just depends what neighborhood your in. Some are really embracing, some don’t really care, and some don’t like it at all. Chicago has a rich history of murals and muralists. We’ve had people migrate here from Mexico and contribute vastly to the public art identity. Mario Castillo, Marcos Raya, Hector Duarte have all put in work here in the 70′s (and now). And plenty more than those guys. Unfortunately only a fraction of that stuff is left. Lots of murals (non graffiti) have been buffed here. For many stupid reasons. The winters are pretty brutal on the lifespan of public works here as well. But there are also lots of artists producing public work. There’s muralists doing their thing, Jeff Zimmerman has quite a few, and the Chicago Public Art Group continues to facilitate new murals each year. There’s also graffiti writers doing big walls that can be called murals as well. Though I think they are for the most part pretty separate from each other. there are a handful of people who come from graffiti roots who are making public work as well like Chucho and Rahmaan Statik, Erik De Batt. People like Dzine, Chris Silva, Mike Genovese have also contributed some amazing public works as well that I think has inspired a lot of people, and their studio work is definitely another caliber. There’s definitely a lot to see here.
What do you really want to do now?
Paint more, do bigger and better, and get some more traveling in. I’d like to try to keep pushing the mural work and do some really large scale stuff if possible.
Do you think you will always be in Chicago?
I’m not sure that I’ll completely leave here, but maybe just in the winter months.
See more work of all types by Like One here: http://theshiftchange.com