June 4, 2012

Diginmag | Interview with Pyro

Dig In Magazine: How long have you been writing graffiti?

Pyro: I have been writing graffiti for 30 years now. I started in 1982 with sayings such as the anarchy symbol and anti government, and anti police slogans. Shortly later I adopted a nickname of ‘El Lighter’ and was still influenced by the punk culture as well as the gang community that was so prevalent in Hollywood and Los Angeles at that time period. I didn’t adopt the name Pyro until 1983 (then spelled ‘PIRO’) and thats when I truly started to write with the ‘tagger’ mentality of getting up.

DIM: Where can your work be found?

P: My work can be primarily found in the Los Angeles area, that is home to me. In recent years I haven’t been painting on the streets as much as in the past as I have been exploring many other avenues of creativity. I tattoo full time, which is one of the greatest joys in my life, as well as I have been working on canvases as well as logo design, and t-shirt graphics for many years now.The ‘aerosol’ culture still plays a major role in everything I do artistically.

DIM: How did you get into aerosol art?

P: I got into aerosol art growing up in the early 80’s in LA. Back then, before graffiti art and tagging, it was all about marking your territory..gang mentality. I used to paint in neighborhood alleys and streets emulating the block letters and gang styles that were everywhere in the city at that time. After a trip to NYC in ’83 I was exposed to the use of colors and stylized flowing letters..a style which I fell in love with instantly. It was something new and fresh…Back home in LA it was the very beginning of graffiti as we know it now, there were maybe 100 people in the entire city that wrote graffiti (in the sense of graffiti art). Living in Hollywood, I frequented the now infamous Pan Pacific yard, otherwise known as the Graffiti Hall of Fame, the first ever legal yard in LA. That was 1984. By 1985 the scene had exploded across the city and we even had visitors from NYC come to LA to paint that beautiful building.

DIM: What city would you say is the dominant playground or “street canvas” for graffiti artists?

P: Most major cities in the world now have a thriving graffiti and art scene. Los Angeles has long been a major player in the graffiti movement, influencing people across the world for years, the same way New York influenced the world in the 80’s. On the same hand, there are amazing artists and crews across the planet that have influenced the scene as we know it. It is a worldwide movement now, with every country adding to the mix.

DIM: Where else have you painted?

P: I have painted in most major cities in the US at one point or another and in a few various countries throughout my career. San Francisco, New York, Albuquerque, Hawaii, Oakland, Las Vegas, New Jersey, Miami, Canada, Austrailia, Mexico…just to name a few.

DIM: How did you get involved with West Coast Artists Crew?

P: West Coast Artists was formed by Rival (RIP), Miner and P-Jay in 1985. Prior to that it was named ISM crew, short for International Style Masters. In 1985 crews were formed based on the neighborhood you lived in, or the school you went to. We took a different approach by forming a crew of members from across the city, making it the first multi-racial, multi-neighborhood crew in LA, transcending traditional gang territory. The summer of 1985 I had been writing Piro for a while, hitting spots solo style without a crew. I knew of WCA, which had just been formed, from my treks to the the Pan Pacific yard. Before the first day of the beginning of high school, I decided to do a piece in the middle of the courtyard to make sure everyone knew who I was, and to catch the attention of local writers…it did just that. At recess I was sitting in the courtyard watching peoples expression as they looked at my piece (some kids even tried to act like they had done it).. Rival, Miner and PJ came up to me and asked if I had done it (we had seen each other around in the neighborhood and at the Pan…so they knew) I said I had, and Rival instantly asked me if I wanted to join their new crew they had just started…WCA. I agreed and from that moment on, and still to this day, we are all bothers.

DIM: How long has the crew been painting together?

P: The crew has been painting since before it was even called WCA. The founding members had been painting together since 1982. In 1985 when WCA became the new crew, it was the pinnacle of the Pan Pacific yard, and members then included Rival, Miner, PJay, Risk, Design9, Coozie, Rak, Sel and Sed. We were all very tight and painted regularly for many years. Since then the crew has grown to encompass many members in many cities and countries, and a lot of us still paint together as a crew.

DIM: Who do you generally collaborate with?

P: For many years it was me and Rival doing so many collaborations across the city…miss that guy. For a period of time me and Mear painted together regularly, In recent years I have been working a lot with some of the newer members of the crew such as Trixter, Zane, Evolve, and Bazar. I still paint with my OG homie Sel from time to time. Recently I have painted with Slick, Natoe, Prime and Sky, as well as others…I am open to collaborations with anyone, any crew, not just my own…My feeling is this, we are all in this movement together and I limit myself by separating myself.

DIM: What or who are your biggest artistic influences?

P: My influences range so widely. From fantasy art, to comic art, to pop art to tattoo art. There are a lot of art styles that have been such a major influence on what I do today, such as old fashioned sign painting, where many of the artists are unnamed. Just to name a few influences over the years..Frank Frazetta, Virgil Finlay, Mark Machado, Seen, Nikko Hurtado, Steve Soto, Robert Williams, Frank Kozik…the list is varied as are my influences.

DIM: I understand that this is the first ever group show for WCA Crew, what will the show at Los Angeles’ Mirror Gallery on June 16th consist of in terms of your work?

P: In terms of my current work…recently I have been all about hand painted typography, heavily influenced by tattoo art. I guess you’re just going to have to go to the show to see for yourself.