When F.D.R. said, “The only thing to fear is fear itself” graffiti didn’t exist and he had no idea about the type of Fear we’re about to discuss. Fear is a legendary letter bender and craftsman of the aerosol hailing from the city of angels. He’s managed to stay active for several decades in one of the most competitive and notorious graffiti scenes in the country, and he’s done so while creating a totally unique and original style-something not too common these days. Fear took a few moments out of his day to discuss his beginnings, hip-hop culture, his partnerships and how the East Coast affected his growth as a writer.
Bombing Science: What year did you start and what was the scene like when you started out?
I started writing in 1983 in the city of Bellflower on the south side of Los Angeles. First thing I wrote was HC Breakers which was my dancing crew. I started breaking first and sometimes I would write my nickname Electric next to my crew. Back in those days there was only gang and stoner graffiti in my neighborhood. I was probably the first to do Hip Hop style tags. A friend of mine who moved to California from New York had given me a head start a few months before the scene exploded and showed me what Hip Hop was before it hit the movies and TV. His older brother Andrew used to mess around with graffiti and had taken pictures of subway trains. I used to go over to their house and stare at them for hours, trying to mimic them on paper.
One day after learning that they were done with spraypaint, I went over to a toy store and stole a bunch of those small model spray cans. I went down into the Riverbed and did my first actual piece in 1984. It said “Bust This” and I copied it from a UTFO album cover. I had so much fun that I did it again 2 weeks later and this time my piece came out much better. I was the only one that I knew who was painting graffiti. My friends came with me and messed around helping me fill in but none of them were catching the fever, like I was. It would be almost 2 years later untill I discovered other hip hop graffiti being done on a trip to downtown LA when my mom had to go to court there to pay a traffic ticket.
By that time I had already quit but quickly started up again inspired by the new work I had saw. Coaxing older friends that had licences to take me up there so I could take pictures and paint would be my routine for the next couple of years.How did you get your name?
In 1986 I got a hold of a copy of Subway Art. The names in it were so much cooler than mine and the ones that stood out to me most were the ones that showed emotions, like Panic, Pain or Shame. So I started thinking of a name along those lines that I thought wasn’t used and came up with Fear. The letters were difficult but I took that as a challenge and began getting it up. In 1995 I decided to add an O on the end of it so I could make my pieces longer, plus I’m Italian so it made my name sound like an Italian name so it stuck.
What writers did you look up to early on and why? Did anyone show you the ropes/mentor you?
On one of my pilgrimages to downtown in 1987, I spotted some pieces down in Mac Arthur Park, so I went inside to take pictures. While I’m snapping away, some younger kid on a bike rolled up on us and asked us if we wrote. I told him yeah Fear and he tells me that he’s Pale One. He asked me if I wanted to meet the guys who had painted in the park and I was like “hell yeah”. So he knocks on a door of the building and a couple guys come out. They turned out to be Prime, Duke and Carmelo Alvarez. Prime and Duke were part of a crew called K2S which everyone knows now to be legendary and early pioneers of West coast graffiti.
Carmelo Alvarez had once ran the Radio Tron and now was doing youth clubs to keep kids off the streets. They gave me directions to important yards where writers painted like Belmont Tunnel and the Panic Zone. So in a way I guess they were responsible for me to start painting outside of my neigjborhood. I learned a lot from those yards and met alot of guys that would influence me and be a part of my life for years to come. Writers that made a heavy impression on me back then were Mandoe MAK, Jack STN, Wisk, Miner WCA, Grem, Plex GF, Skept, Prime, Duke K2S, Tempt, Angst FB, Besk, Make, Chase UCA, Dream, Green SMD, Charlie, Frame DTK, Hex, Joke, Odin UNT, Sk8 CBS, Mosh, Volt, Phever, Stans, Sleez LOD Nasa Crew and Skill UTI.
Your style is very unique and different from a lot of other cats out there. How did you develop it and what do you think is they key to finding an original style that no one else out there already rocks?
I studied letter structure almost religiously, day in and day out sketching in my black book. Paying close attention to styles from New York writers who I considered far more advanced. Mixing in stuff that I seen in L.A. I think the trick is to never get comfortable or satisfied with what you’re doing. I’m on a constant hunt to find something new even now. You have to invent instead of borrow.
For some years there, you and Dove were really killing the freight game. Can you tell us about your relationship and how having a solid partner worked out for the both of you?
I met Dove when he was 14 or 15. I was older and had just graduated High School. Dove and I had a mutual friend, a girl named Barbara who was dating my homie Phame Dcv at the time. We went over to her house sometimes and hung out. I guess I had left some sketches on one of those visits and Dove had found them. He started asking Barbara who I was, so he approached me one day and introduced himself and asked if I could teach him about graffiti. Now keep in mind this is a complete stranger, but I noticed something in his eyes that day that told me he was catching the bug, the graffiti fever. So I told him if he were to get a hold of some cans that I would take him to go paint the following weekend. Well he did and we went, the rest is history. He turned out to be my greatest partner and best friend.
He’s the godfather to my son Logan and I was the best man when he got married. Our lives have paralleled in more ways than one. At one time we worked at the same school as teacher aids in the same classroom. We were in a rap group doing shows together and repped all the same graffiti crews. Having such a talented partner like Dove always pushed me to attain a higher level of style. He had learned so fast that he begun to teach me certain techniques that he was picking up. I consider Dove to be one of the most natural graffiti artist I ever met and thank God he’s on my team. He still paints occasionally but lives out in New York now, so unfortunately are partnership is on a hiatus for now. Something tells me we’ll rock again, we might be in our 60’s by then but no way we’re done.
I know you’ve taken some trips to the East Coast throughout your career. How did those trips influence you and your artistic development. Did you learn anything you wouldn’t have had you remained on the West the whole time?
My trips to New York have made me understand the Hip Hop culture as a whole more. To see the streets it started in and meet the people who pioneered it was eye opening. Now I get why it’s so aggressive and competitive. I can sit here and try to explain but you really gotta go and see for yourself. Unfortunately New York has changed quite a bit since then like all big cities have, but lucky for us most of the people, especially the older cats haven’t. So there is still a bit of the grime and spirit left and that has been inspirational to me.
What do you think makes L.A. graffiti different and why do you think this is so?
Graffiti in Los Angeles comes from a different perception. Some of that NYC flavor has been transferred but our lifestyle is different out here and has infiltrated and morphed it. Early on gang graffiti found its way into our letters mainly through the K2S crew. Old English, script and gang blocks mixed with Hip Hop’s bright colors, 3d’s and bold outlines made for a new style. Also most writers composures out here are subdued and cautious I would say. I found many writers in NY to be louder and more outspoken but I guess that’s protocol even outside graffiti circles. People out here are separated by their cars and in the East everyone’s in your face due to riding subways so I get it.
What areas outside of graffiti inspire your work?
Movies are my favorite art form. They incorporate many different arts such as writing, photography, acting, music, dance, poetry, ect. Just like any art there is good ones and bad ones. Most of the Hollywood movies today are shit, but some independent company’s are doing it right and we always have the old classics to look back on and watch. I don’t follow a particular genre, rather I follow directors and actors I like. Some of my favorites are Francis Ford Coppola, Spike Lee, Mathew McConaughey and John Turturro.
What do you think about European graff styles?
Stuff I seen from there is amazing but I don’t follow many writers from out there. I’m more into my hometown heroes.
I’ve seen graff totally destroy some people’s lives, and then there are others who can write their whole lives and have success and a family life as well. What do you think are the keys to longevity and not letting the “graff life” completely destroy you?
Balance. You don’t have to put all your eggs in one basket. If you navigate it right there is time for everything you love.
As you’ve grown from a young fella into a grown man how has your outlook on graff and how you operate changed? Do you think maturing as a human has an impact on your art and/or work ethic?
I’ve learned to control my pride and ego and in return that’s helped me open more doors and miss less opportunities. I take my time with my art now and don’t let it’s politics effect me. I’ve embraced my identity as a graffiti writer and no longer apologize to people who may not understand. I’m not sure if my maturity has had an impact on my art directly because I’ve always had that drive to be as great as I can be and work hard to accomplish it, but maybe it has in ways that are not so noticeable.
L.A. is one of the hardest cities in which to get noticed as a graff writer. Aside from a unique style and a high amount of work, what are some of your secrets to getting people to remember you and get known as a writer?
I have to say that my reputation as a man and how I conduct myself has always been more important to me than where and how I got up. I never looked up or down on someone or judged them by their experience or lack there of. If you’re cool and know how to act right, that’s all that matters. My definition of a “toy” is an idiot that hasn’t learned life’s lessons.
How important do you think spot selection is and how do you feel about side busting? For those that don’t know about it, can you explain?
Spot selection is difficult, with so many writers in the game these days you sometimes just gotta take what’s left over. Side busting is when a writer tags near or on your piece so they can coat tail off your work and everybody knows that’s straight up wack! Another thing that pisses me off is when someone drops their letters too close to mine and suffocate’s my piece. Get it together people.
Where do you see yourself and your graff/art career going in the next ten years?
I want to take my work on canvas more seriously and produce more of it. I’m not sure if I’m gonna do the whole gallery scene because I don’t want to compromise , but I’ll continue to produce group art shows and include my work in them. I have a big problem of making art that only rich folks can afford so I tend to price my pieces on the lower scale and I guess some art elitists don’t respect that. That’s fine by me, I won’t sacrifice my morals to “make it”. I have an abstract style that I’ve been formulating that I feel can work good for “street art” style murals, maybe I can possibly exploit that to make some paper. Graffiti letters and style are sacred though so I can’t sell it. That belongs to us.
Any last shout outs?
My partners and current inspirations; Brief one, Swan, Neenr, Jerz, Thanks, 125er, Robe One, Stoney, Afex, Cal Vyrus, P82, Krael, Feeding a Mood, Plek, Pryer, Besk, Trixter, Italo, Dgonz and Nuke. My brothers from out of town; Duer (Oakland) Rogue, Demon, Rafa, Nyke and Zore64 (Chicago) Big ups to Meres CBS, Sade TCM, Slave TF5, Crase and Duster UA (New York) and to Noiz, Retsie, Roeck (Hawaii)
My sponsors; Def Crown Vets, Under Thee Influence, Bombing LA, The Crime Mates, Midnight Express, Soul Siderz, Kosmic Four and Fel Son Drive.
All my love to; Levi, Logan, Sosi, Sora and Genny.
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Interview By Paul Lukes