You were one of the first artists to start graffiti in America. 1969. You are a Cholo. What happened at that time?
1969 in Los Angeles was crazy. I graduated from Highschool in 1967 and started to travel throughout Mexico
by myself, I was looking for something, my vision quest, all young men travel, looking how to start your life.
In America it’s very difficult to grow from a young man into an adult, all young men struggle to find how they fix in society.
It looks bad if your family helps you financially when you are young, in American tradition you have to be very independent and have a
good job to be respected, that could take many years or never.
I was 20 years old (old for a graffiti writer) when I started to tag in the streets.
The United States was at war with North Vietnam and we had riots in major cities about race and civil rights. We went to
the moon in 1969 and Hip Hop was not invented for another 20 years. I had family members who were in street gangs
and they wrote their names with spray cans (the tagging tradition first started in Los Angeles in 1943, using tar and
paint brushes, spray cans came into use in the late 1950’s). I was trying to find my own ‘Mexican-American’ identity
so I drew a large skull image from the Mexican festival ‘Day of the Dead’ of remembering family relatives who had died,
and with elements from the movies ‘SUPER FLY and SHAFT’, (the New York style hat and fur collar coat). I combined all of these images to make my own tag. I made a large plastic stencil (the very first one in graffiti history) of my skull so I could ‘tag and run’.
55 years later, that skull image made my career.
My artwork, lettering, comes from Mexican-American gang culture, but I didn’t want to be a Cholo gang member, I wanted to be a free person. We called ourselves HIPPIES and Hippies ‘make love not war’ and they were also artists.
Did you consider at that time that what You were doing was a work of art? Or is it just a search for identity? young blood?
I was drawing at 2 years old, an artist born as an artist, I always knew I wanted to be an artist. In 1963 I was taking sculpture classes at the Pasadena Art Museum and I met MARCEL DUCHAMP who told me ‘To be an artist, you just do it’ you don’t need permission, he gave me the first idea that everything can be art, even the act of painting graffiti can be art.
I was searching for my identity in society, I was told that my graffiti would never be accepted in galleries or museums, graffiti was always art to me. To prove that graffiti was fine art, I had to prove it first to collectors, gallery directors and museum officials, I had to bring the streets into the gallery walls by painting graffiti on canvas. Real graffiti is in the streets! but when you need to talk about the history, intent, purpose and future, those conversations belong inside the walls.
We think you are a detailed person, You really know the philosophy in every letter you make. Why does it go that deep?
I did my first street tag in 1969. I felt that I didn’t know anything about the art of Calligraphy and I wanted to learn more.
I enrolled into a Chinese Calligraphy class with Master Yun Chung Chiang, a student of Pu Ju, brother of the last Emperor of China.
He taught me two things: First, ‘Take the line seriously’, a line is a point to a destination. Second, ‘Use your whole body to write
calligraphy’, use the strength of your body when painting on a wall or even writing at a table.
I wanted to write graffiti but I also wanted my graffiti to ‘Speak’, that’s why we paint ‘quote marks’ on the top. I felt that painting graffiti
is a language that can be learned and then spoken on the canvas. I wanted more than just a ‘statement’ on the wall, I wanted my
paintings to bark like a dog and bite you. I asked myself, ‘If graffiti had a soul, what would it speak about?’ These questions
are the premise of my artwork, I use the conversation to design my composition.
We know it’s very difficult to be consistent in Your work, how do You maintain that?
Good question. Yes, it’s very hard to be consistent. I let myself free to change and explore everyday. I get requests everyday for interesting projects. I am a leader in world graffiti, but also a leader in the Mexican-American painting movement. I expanded the definition of graffiti by doing Tattoo designs, street clothes, shoes, jewelry, book cover artwork and titles, album covers, logos for Television programs and currently designing toys and architecture.
Today to be a top world graffiti writer, you also have to be in movies, Instagram, Youtube, give lectures and answer questions for magazines and fans. I usually have from
one to five gallery exhibitions going on at the same time and in the end you have to create new personal artwork, extremely busy to
occupy me everyday. I have been a graffiti artist for 54 years and I still wake up in the morning saying to myself ‘I have not yet
painted my best artwork’, I believe to be the best artist you always have to grow.
Artist: Chaz Bojorquez