You're pretty much a gang member or not and graffiti was an escape to get away from the gangs. I would just go draw.
—Risk, graffiti artist
Graffiti celebrity RISK got his start like most graffiti artists, by tagging illegally on the streets of his hometown of L.A.
30 years later and now one of the foremost names in graffiti art, he is in Winnipeg for his exhibit Keep On Keepin' On at the Graffiti Gallery.
As a kid, RISK says he always used to draw and in school he used to surf a lot. "I used to write waves and wrote 'wipe-out' and drew all these pictures all over my books," he says.
Then a boy came from New York and was interested in what he was doing, and introduced him to the subculture of tagging. So he naturally chose his tag name SURF, and started tagging all over school.
But soon he was discovered, so he changed his tag name to RISK, "because I was also running around freeways, so it was a risk," he explains.
L.A. in the '80s was pretty rough where he was growing up. "There was a lot of turmoil and a lot of gangs. It was very violent," he says. "You're pretty much a gang member or not and graffiti was an escape to get away from the gangs. I would just go draw."
RISK gets ready for his Winnipeg show (Patricia Bitu-Tshikudi/CBC)
Writing the cover for Hot Rod Magazine
was a turning point for RISK. He was also the first to paint freight trains in Southern California as well as freeway overpasses. He also designed a line of clothing called Third Rail.
RISK is happy to see such a vibrant graffiti scene in Winnipeg -- especially among the young people. "They're stoked on graffiti, and it's that natural high."
He's also thrilled that there's a gallery actually devoted to the art. "It was really refreshing to come to the Graffiti Gallery and do this show because in the States a lot of galleries are anti-graffiti."
He explains that the difference between graffiti art and tagging is that graffiti artists are trying to do things on a larger scale, with colours and dimensions, while tagging is just writing your name.
"I don't consider all graffiti to be art," he admits. "I consider what I do art and what a lot of people are doing nowadays to be art."
These days, RISK doesn't feel the need to sneak around under the cover of darkness. He says he's older now, he has kids, and needs to be a role model. But he is pretty pleased that all of his daughters also like to paint.Keep On Keepin' On is at the Graffiti Gallery until October 15.
Related: Manitoba Electronic Music Exhibition presents cutting edge music