2Shae has a way of making you feel comfortable. Throughout the day I watch his eyes pan the room, it appears he’s looking to make sure that everyone is at ease and having a good time. He’s a bit of a jokester, too, using opportunities that pop up to tease me or the video crew. I like this about him. He’s like a pesky older brother you can’t help but love. At one point during our interview, he says, “Am I talking weird?” He then proceeds to tell us that he’s just had surgery on the roof of his mouth, and has “like 20 stitches.” This makes the room laugh, and we assure him we never would’ve noticed if he hadn’t said anything.
Q | DOPE Magazine: From a young age, you’ve understood typography. Is typography what inspires you as a tattoo and graffiti artist, painter, etc.?
2Shae: Lettering and sculpting is needed in graffiti and tattooing. Pushing lettering to different styles of lettering. It came naturally to me. It’s important within all of the elements in all of my favorite pieces of art. If I had to put stuff in order I wouldn’t say I love doing my typography, I love doing lettering. The “Jack of all trades, master of none”-type bullshit. I feel I am really good at illustration and blending lettering forms with it. Finding that and typography played a huge role in my growth. I like creating logos. I would put illustration work first. It’s hard to describe—it’s not just about characters, but about creating content within a piece.
Q | There’s a saying that if you’re the smartest person in the room, you’re in the wrong room. You borrow a similar saying: “If you hang around with nine broke motherfuckers, you’ll be the tenth.” How is this applicable to your world? Are you constantly striving to be surrounded by those who inspire and motivate you?
A: But don’t you think it’s true? If you’re in a room with 10 of your friends and everyone is bummed out, and no one wants to do shit, then you aren’t gonna do shit. But if you’re with nine of your friends and they all wanna go crazy—even if you don’t want to—you’ll get dragged out and love it! If you want certain things, you should surround yourself with those people. I always try to surround myself with the best people. Sometimes it’s your friends, and sometimes it’s not. One day I wanna be celebrating in a room with a bunch of motherfuckers I don’t know. I am gonna have money, and all my real friends will be there.
Q | Has there been a time when you felt like, “I’ve plateaued, I need to find a new room to be in.” What steps do you take to get motivated?
A: I do still have the same groups of friends. A lot of stuff getting together and idea bouncing . . . you idea jot, go crazy and stuff [pauses]. I think I got lost ‘cause I am high as fuck. You got me on some college shit or something! What the fuck was that all about? You know what side of the brain I use, fucker! [laughs]. Plateau, though? No way, I could never do that. Look around at the talent in this room (referring to surrounding TSL artists). Trying to find new stuff and new content to stay alive within [this world] is very hard. Especially right now . . . art is everywhere—it’s so boom, boom, boom because of social media. A lot of people who might not have been recognized years ago can be found and start a career. That’s good for everybody.
Q | You say that there are three things you focus on while painting murals: expressions, patterns and movement. Has this focus allowed you to build your own trajectory as a graffiti artist? Why do you put an emphasis on expression, pattern and movement?
A: Those three elements—if you grab those within a drawing, you’ll win. If you can hit people with patterns, their eyes will register that. Especially color patterns. The movement is always something people enjoy. Moving blended with subtle, abrupt stopping is right now, too—my illustrations are poster setups—good lettering, an energetic action scene. Like a book cover—it appeals to so many different things. The letter styling, the painting on the front and the energy.
Q | A lot of artists tap into the darker side of emotions through their graffiti. You tend to make light of dark situations in your work. What inspires your direction?
A: If you can tap into different emotions, like the Pillhead character—I came from a weird life of that. My parents were fucked up, and I always thought that that was normal. Then I grew up and realized it wasn’t. When I dug into that and played with that world for the last two years, it’s been self-healing. It’s been dope because I can tell people are appreciating the art and it’s resonating with them. I know what punchlines to hit. With art, when people find that spot in them and release it—depressing, sad, beautiful, energetic—no matter what it is, that it’s probably some of their best work and probably some of the best times that they’re having.
Q | What’s your relationship with cannabis?
A: I’ve smoked bud my whole life, since I was nine or 10. I didn’t smoke heavily until junior high or high school. From then on I was considered a stoner dude. I didn’t touch the other ones ‘til later on. Weed has always played a part in my life. It puts you in a world—getting high and drawing. You get everything prepared, and all you have to do is ink. And if you get stoned, it puts you in that mood. People use different things—alcohol—I just use weed. It’s safe. I can’t lie, drugs play a big role in my art. Sometimes I am scared that being too sober could stale it out, or make it not as creative or weird. That’s what I ride on—having stuff hidden in stuff. The layers of art on top of each other and the weirdness is created by being high, letting my imagination do what it does. Not to say it wouldn’t happen sober, but I’ve never really put effort into that.
My mouth is dry as shit! [laughs].
Q | You had the house, growing up, that all your friends wanted to hang out at. You thought it was sort of normal, but learned later on as an adult that it wasn’t. How did your childhood build your trajectory as an artist?
A: That shit was lonely as fuck. Weird as hell. I played it off and I did what I had to do , but that shit was weird. It was funny. We had fun, don’t get me wrong. But you can only imagine now when I drop my son off at places, now I know why people take their kids to a friends and they go in there and the house reeks of weed or dad is nodded out and the parent will look at you [their kid(s)] and be like, “Let’s just go stay at our pad tonight.” I understood what was going on as a kid.
I am doing a series called the latch-key kids. These kids’ parents are fucked up drug addicts or fucked up people and the kids are trying to cope with it. It’s really imaginative. One of the scenes will be a father passed out on a heroine binge or whatever and the kids kinda get dressed up and in their mind to make sense of the situation they pretend like Dad is a monster. They tie him up and he comes out of the nod every now and then. They tie him up with shoelaces and it keeps them occupied and sane for a few hours. They see the story as battling a monster. You illustrate it like that and the kids have little weapons—really they are just coping with the reality in front of them. The dad wakes up out of the nod covered in shoe laces and goes “what the fuck just happened?” These kids are just coping with the situation that you left them in. That’s just one angle—I am going to hit all of these weird angles with this series.
Q | I’ve been asking everyone why L.A.? L.A. spends a lot of money annually to clean up graffiti. There are a lot of things that are hard about being a graffiti artist in L.A., but people keep flocking here. Why L.A. out of all of the places that you could do your work?
A: I was born and raised here. If we made it here that’s amazing. Imagine we went to another city, a smaller city, we’d fuck that city up. If we can stand out here in this beast-assed-fucked up place [we can make it anywhere], I love it here. It’s dope. Some people come for the wrong reasons—same way actors do—some weird “dream” shit. If you paint with the right people, hang out with the right people, you’ll get faster exposure through that. The art world is funneling through a lot of graff. If you want to be considered as anything in this world you need to have some type of history of that. Whether it’s putting up posters illegally or stickers. There’s a bunch of different ways kids are doing it. It’s also fun! You bump into all sorts of weird people. A normal day out here is probably a fantasy trip to some people. It’s probably similar to NY—I haven’t been there, but I imagine it’s similar.
Q | How did you get involved with TSL? What’s your history?
A: With the relationship with TSL, it’s more funneled through Casey. I had respect for all of these dudes when I was younger. I looked up to a lot of these dudes and they just ripped it on a whole other level. Through graff and art there are people you meet and we all go different ways. I was from other graff crews and we all excel within our own chapters. With certain things I felt I was more tolerated than appreciated. It’s hard to explain. Remember the nine broke fools? I feel over here there are nine hustlers…some Kevin Durant GSW shit. I have a kid now, I have a bunch of stuff I wanna do. I don’t wanna sit in a room and talk about it, I wanna do it and be with people who are doing it. For the past five or six years I’ve been doing it and I love it. Its gnarly energy—a great creative space. Projects that get done and they’re sick and done correctly. You can actually build off of that. My history is through Casey. I did a couple art shows and we know each other through graffiti. We didn’t grow up with each other. We didn’t spend the night at each other’s houses. Just through the scene of Los Angeles—I got those business connections going.
Q | You have a son and a wife. How do you balance family and work?
A: Balance is really important. I bring them around a lot. My wife always wants to come around and with my son, it was hard to bring him around at first ‘cause some of the events are loud and some people could be iffy and shit happens. Lately I’ve been bringing him to a lot of events. He came with me to a baby shower at TSL this past weekend and within 20 minutes he didn’t want to leave. Even when it was time to go. There’s this thing called secret walls (art battles) and when you come out to the crowd it’s like you’re a wrestler—smoke machines and all of that. I did it and he loved it. Those things are really exciting for a kid. At first I didn’t wanna bring him around, but then imagine being his age and getting to do all of this fun stuff. Including him is important. For him I have tons of art. I keep a lot of my original art in a capsule for him. So if anything, god forbid, happens to my ass he has this art. My 1/1 of certain prints. Hurley shit and Nike shit that I did. It’s my own stuff for him. I draw with him. He’s cool, he’s crazy. It keeps me grounded. I have a dramatic bullshit story, and I have things in my life that keep me grounded. That’s super important for everyone—especially me. It’s easy to get sucked up and do your own shit. If you want more you have to dream bigger.
Q | What came first for you, an interest in tattooing or graffiti? Do they inspire one another?
A: At first they weren’t as one. Graff was something that I was interested in when I was 11. The repetitive motion of writing tripped me out. I kept seeing it in places and I was really interested in it. Then the art part of it got me ‘cause I like art. With tattooing I did it because I was in prison. In prison it helps to be the tattoo man. It’s like club med if you’re the tattoo man. Tattooing saved my life. Otherwise I would’ve had to fight for my life and go through all the bullshit politics, games—ya, ya, ya . Five years of that and I would’ve gone crazy. So I just did art and played basketball and it was cool. I was treated like the tattoo man. If you’re the drug man or a crazy psycho murderer or your dad is in the mafia you don’t get touched (in prison). There are certain people that have a free ride almost—you’re needed to keep the yard going. Everyone wants to get blasted. The art part kept me separate from other guys who just tattooed. The guards would come look and trip over my work. The night guard tripped. For six months he watched my “celly” get his whole body done. It was a trip, it was cool, it saved me.
Graffiti, in the beginning was way more of an interest. When I got out I used tattooing to make money, then it became saturated with the television. People that looked like me I was scared of as a kid, now tattoos are inviting. I’ve left tattooing to the people who are doing it. It became a tool to make money for me and I realized I needed to leave it and give it back to the people who “do” tattooing. I almost felt like I was disrespecting those who worked hard in that culture—I didn’t know how to break a tat machine apart and I didn’t care about the history of it. It made me money and I didn’t necessarily respect the culture. And I didn’t wanna be that. I wouldn’t want someone to do that to ours [graffiti]. That’s why I stopped and also I wanted to do more art. Plus, if I didn’t stop tattooing I would’ve never done more graffiti art.