Inside Studio with SABER

Interview with legendary California graffiti artist.

Tell us where you are at in life right now, what have you been up to?
Life has gotten very complicated, and it started with me getting these seizures because of my epilepsy.  It was just getting worse and worse.  I was always preoccupied with my career and maintaining my status, but since then I’ve had 2 kids and now I’m more focused on being a good father.  

With my life there is a lot of baggage that comes with it and you have to be careful that it doesn’t catch up with you at the wrong time.  A lot of things are still happening.  But I’m basically happy to be here.

Even when I was in Bangkok I had a nasty seizure and had to be in the hospital for 5 days.  But that didn’t stop me from getting my work done and keeping my family together. 

What was it like doing your last art show in Bangkok?
It was like being a time traveller in a futuristic city.  Everything there is like 25 years ahead but also very old school.  There is a little graff scene, with a group of kids who have been there for the past couple of years.  I was really itching for a piece when I was there.  But I wanted to save it for next time.  This time I was just there to feel the place out.  

I was looking at what hasn’t been painted yet.  What’s the safest way to get there and what am I still capable of.  Because I’m not gonna be jumping over roof tops that’s for sure.   I noticed a lot of opportunities and places for pieces.   All that knowledge applied can go to any direction, and it depends on whose taking control of it.   
Do you always travel with your family when you do projects outside the country?
Yeah I bring them with me.  This time they came with me for 3 months to Asia.  It can be crazy but there is a lot of opportunities happening for me right now in very interesting places.  

The graffiti culture that we come from has a lot of knowledge that can be modified and presented back to the public in any format.  That’s the type of things I have been focusing on. Right now I have a humble life, I’m not trying to be flashy.  But I live in the city of Los Angels and I am an artist who is growing.  Fuck all the graffiti and fuck the SABER thing.  I’m a human being first: who has made art for the past 25 years, still surviving, and still growing. 

How was it like growing up in Southern California?
Growing up here there was this alchemy.  You had these dudes that were trying to paint the sickest burners, then you had the most dangerous elements happening like the gangs, then there was this deep cultural roots mixed in with tribalism.   Mixed in with this idea of Hip Hop and skating.  So the dudes that were painting the burners were no joke.   Those dudes were something else.  When I saw them making burners back in 1987-89 I was like, Wow, I really want to be like those guys.  

The first time I really saw shit like that was back in 1988 in Venice Beach.  I was skating around, got my board jacked by these Crips.  What’s funny was that Pep Williams, this photographer, saw them taking my board.  He just grabbed it out of their hands and handed it back to me. Years later I run into him as SABER and I told him how he saved my board when I was young and he totally freaked out.  
How has your art evolved through out the past couple of years? Are you planning on taking your art into new ventures and directions? 
That’s the key. Having a long-term projection for what’s gonna happen to me and my art.  I like taking big risks because they can have big rewards.  I don’t have time right now to play little games.  The little games are a distraction from the big picture.  This has helped me translate my art into very interesting and creative projects.   

Now you have all these brands, companies and facilities looking at the culture of graffiti. They are looking at it through analytics, search terms, and numbers.  For them it’s not even a culture, they are more interested in analysing the data and seeing what the numbers do.  It’s interesting to see how this plays out on Instagram for example.  Social media has everything on lock right now.

What are some of the things that are changing before your eyes? 
It’s a lot of things right now that are radically changing. For starters the drug culture.  I have been on a lot of drugs for the past 20 years because of my medication to stop the seizures.  And now I’m on the cover of a weed magazine talking about the benefits of cannabinoids.  Its crazy, I would’ve never thought of this stuff 10 years ago.  But everything is changing now. Everything is being broken into.  

So the people that are gonna break into this part of culture are the ones that are actually part of it and have been for a very long time.  You look at what REVOK is doing right now.  He literally broke it down to a line on canvas and people are now debating it and it’s causing a conversation to happen that wouldn’t have occurred before.
What do you think about the younger generation of kids that is now growing up with these new digital platforms? 
The problem now is that there is a major platform that we all use like social media, which has a big influence on kids.  These kids are so impressionable on everything that we are doing through this stupid evil device.  We are constantly throwing all these posts up and there’s just no responsibility to it.  It’s almost like the same bug we had when we were young and crushing shit, expect now there’s millions of kids world wide following us and seeing what we do on a daily basis. 

So that’s why I’m really trying to be more positive when I’m online and posting things, and I don’t mean to be cheesy about it.  But it’s about being responsible and keeping the culture you’ve made true to its origins.   

Are you still doing any pieces in the streets or are you focused more on commercial projects?
There are really good things happening right now, in terms of my graffiti, my life, and me getting up. I’ve got some shit up of course, I care about all that, but I can’t compete.  I’m a 41-year-old male with 2 kids and major seizures.  I can’t be crushing the same spots like that.  But of course you still feel it.  It doesn’t go away.  There’s still time though and I still have some good ideas.  It’s all about the right time and space.  

I gotta get healthy again.  That’s the first priority.  Of course some of the seizures come because of the paint.  I’ve never really wore any masks just tried to perfect my breathing tactics so I don’t huff the shit.  I stay away from clouds and hold my breath.  When I was young I never thought about that.  There were many times I can remember I had inhalation poisoning with gnarly headaches and being sick, from being in the tunnels all day and painting.  Back then I was so desperate to get it right you know. 

How do you see the culture of graffiti growing within this new age of technology?
Now it’s all about expanding your horizons.  I just hooked up with a company that is about to release a 100% sustainable textile, clothing that’s made from recycled material.  Basically about 23 recycled plastic bottles go into making this bag.  The guys that own this company are really looking into the numbers and compiling the data needed to have a successful product and company. 

This is a really exciting time now that challenges the normal way we used to do things. We always want to bring it back to graffiti, all about our names, and the ego that comes with it.  But now we see all these channels opening up for us.  It’s all about how we can use the name that we’ve earned on the streets to build upon something positive that can help people. 
Have you ever experimented with graffiti in other ways besides painting it?
I went to San Francisco Art Institute to see how my wildstyles can evolve into something else. Like when you look at the base of graffiti you can make buildings out of it.  I was really influenced by Alexander Calder and his sculptures.  I saw myself doing these giant wildstyle pieces.  I made this giant piece out of metal once but after that I stopped experimenting.  

But now there are other materials you can experiment with just within the spray paint industry.  For example Montana cans are the leading brand for acrylic paint right now.  The company that sells that paint to Montana has to use the graffiti culture to get its product out to the market.  

I was in Thailand once and this dude told me about a new spray-paint company he was starting that was gonna be revolutionary.  So I visited his factory and there was a chemist there. I asked to test out their product.  I found out they reverse engineered the existing paint cans that are out in the market.   Literally just copping what was out there and putting a new name on it without actually thinking about the culture that it comes from.  

What do you thing about your journey as an artist so far?
I just love to make art.  I’ve always made art under whatever conditions I was living in.  And I’ve lived in good conditions and I’ve lived in dark conditions.  Right now I’m lucky to be alive after everything I’ve been through, I’m also happy that I’ve been able to do this.  I’ve been doing this lifestyle for 25 years now.   Its pretty crazy if I think about it considering all the people that are gone.