Los Angeles based painter Mear One first gained fame for a Guns’n’Roses logo he drew when he was 19 years old. Around the same time, his prolific tagging with the now famous CBS graffiti crew placed his name among the most talked about writers of the late 80s and early 90s.
After the 1992 Riots he became politicized and started painting large canvasses dealing with current events and most notably, social justice. He outgrew street art and began to receive invitations to show his paintings in international galleries throughout Germany, France, Spain, Japan, the East Coast and beyond. With the relentless explosion of graffiti art into the mainstream, occupying everything from the Museum Of Contemporary Art (MOCA) to Sotheby’s auction floors, Mear One’s somewhat stinging, yet brutally frank, perspective makes the following dialogue more relevant than ever before. The words below are an excerpt from Mear One’s forthcoming book on art.
What is Art, who is an artist? The meaning of an artist and what art is has always been a deep question in my mind. I have a current conception of the idea that has helped me in my quest to achieve a more meaningful relationship that also reminds me of what art is. Art is the ability to conceive of an idea, patterns, and waves, that make a picture and through the hands, the artist constructs this image from the mind’s eye into the world for others to appreciate.
Something from nothing, the Magi or the illusionist. This can take place in dance, poetry, cinema, etc. With that said I don’t always consider myself an artist. I am so interested in so many subjects it leaves me completely uninterested in the world of art politics and games. I find myself buried in ancient culture and technology, the Apocalypse, Philosophy and Physics, Astrology, Astronomy, World Politics and Religion. Information and ideas have been my inspiration. This inspiring information charges me up with an energy motivating me to react in the sense that there is something I want to bring attention to.
My whole life I wanted to participate only to realize without a PH.D in some field your voice can fall silent. So my interests have fueled an artist in me that is hungry and excited to paint this subject matter in hope that it may attract the very people I’ve always wanted to have these conversations with in the first place.
Through this process I have also found myself in true form and have developed a narrative visual dialogue I offer to people to see. I am fusing a level of activism, artistry and philosophical thought to the work I do so that it will have a more penetrating reception and communicate the intended thoughts.
Drawing has always been the way I made friends and made folks laugh. School was all about the authority figures having a say in everything involving me. This made me claustrophobic and rebellious. Truthfully if school wasn’t so bad I might not have enjoyed art so much. I started writing graffiti around my local neighborhood back in 1986.
This was a life changing experience to me because it caused me to UN-define myself and the world surrounding me. I was a lost youth, a rebel with cause but not quite sure why yet. Youths in Los Angeles go through a grinding in its early stages then return the favor at an appropriate age, say 9-16 years old. Growing up in Central back lot Hollywood was as bizarre as watching one of its movies.
Young vandals would hunt the streets at night to score the biggest and best visible spot, plot an escape in case of an emergency like the cops, and drop the bomb. The next morning we would race out to get photos before the buffers came to erase the Graff. This was a constant battle we engaged in and it was part of the rush, to defy the authorities and reclaim the public space.
It is a battle I struggle with daily and continue to step aside from the norm and venture into the unknown to remain indefinable. To me remaining indefinable is so important, the whole concept of authorities depicting your actions and giving a label to the expressions we exuberate is part of the purpose of graffiti - it says f**k you I won’t do what you tell me. And so I won’t allow anyone to define me.
Running the streets at night takes you so far from the regular life of everyone else that I sometimes see the purpose of art and life in a very survivalist type of way. Graffiti teaches you to protect your own and participate while staying somewhat unknown. Participation has always been such an important part of being a true graffiti writer.
Communicating in the language of the rebellious street kids was learning from the teachers of the art. This teaching was passed down from writer to writer. Basically it consisted of respect, heart, originality, and purpose. If these ideals could be expressed through time you could become accepted as a writer then an artist.
Somewhere in the 90s art school students had become fascinated with graffiti in a large scale, roughly the entire design in the advertisement field followed along with major corporations learning guerilla marketing from us writers. This began to blur the art of graffiti, I mean if Sprite and art school students can do graffiti, who else can do it?
Well thanks to postering and snickering, vandalism has been made more accessible to everyone. Your average t-shirt company (which I’ll mention use graffiti to sell their product which half the time has nothing to do with graffiti) makes stickers for young buyers to do their dirty work of slappin up stickers for them.
Graffiti in my opinion is the world’s largest art movement in history simply because of its fast growth (similar to an epidemic) and sheer numbers, including those that do Graff, those who just like to hang around Graff, those who collect photos, art, latitude, of Graff, those artists who don’t participate yet find their inspiration in Graff and girls who date Graff writers or guys who date girl writers.
Everyone sees graffiti and has to deal with it in some way whether they are buffing it off their business or taking a photo of the urban experience. The other day I hit a mailbox on the street corner and drew a naked character. As I walked away a man yelled, “Why did you do that!”? I turned to him, walked back, and said, “It is art, free for your enjoyment”. The man said, “I’m a cop and I should arrest you, you f**k!” I wasn’t sure if I believed him or not so I said, “Then why don’t you?”
This really pissed him off, he began to turn red and front like he was gonna punch me, so I asked him if art has always given him such a bad experience. He continued to yell some ‘tear your ass up motherf***r’ s**t to me, so I had to point out that children were present and he wasn’t setting a good example. He stormed off. To me that is true art and that is a beautiful thing.
My life is worth more to me now than it was to me when I was younger. The art I make is conceptually, figuratively, subliminally more important to me - especially the language detail and clarity in the message I’m trying to express.
I’ve always felt uneasiness in life and in a strange way it feels like an elevator. Elevators are an uneasy place to meet new people and I usually like to speak on things of importance with new people, so I have entered elevators with my paintings and an air of ease is present and people will usually ask me a question about the painting like, “why does the white man in the closet got a gun in his mouth?”
And this opens a wonderful opportunity to dialogue on a philosophical level where it’s not necessarily me confronting or critiqued by them. We can stand together and critique the piece together. This is how I like to affect people; through creative means and dialogue a message is conveyed.
Art is the first language of the human race and I want to contribute to the development of that language.