It takes a special type of tenacity and natural talent to take what one has learned through painting graffiti and apply it to a career as a professional artist. The world of illustration and graphic design isn’t all that different from the graff scene, with a melting pot of talented artists, all competing for attention, trying to land the next great client. Koast is a native Southern California writer who has managed to make a dent in both scenes and is continuing to gain momentum as we speak. He took a few moments to talk with us about his graff and commercial art careers and how the correspond to each other.
Bombing Science: How and when did you get started with graffiti?
Koast: I got started writing back in 2001. I’d say I was either a Junior or senior in high school when I first started dabbling with paint when I was living out in the Coachella Valley. I always had an interest in drawing since I was younger so the act of graffiti or vandalism kinda came to me naturally but yet unexpectedly. I just ran with it as any youngster would.
What was the climate like in the local scene when and where you started writing?
It was pretty inspiring considering I was living out in the lower desert at the time, specifically Desert Hot Springs. You automatically wouldn’t expect anything and there wasn’t too much to do which only drove me to paint and explore certain areas of the desert that people typically wouldn’t consider walking through. At the time the graffiti scene out there was pretty active in my opinion. You could walk out in the middle of the desert to some lonely overpass and run into some freshly painted murals from the locals. To me it was like finding a gem, I specifically remember seeing some wild productions from Imdead, Jungle and Mabe from HC which were super influential for me at the time. SFK, UB and AKM were also slaying it throughout those days while I was there. Eventually as time went by and with not much to paint in the desert, I started to lean towards painting freights since that was the obvious way to go, from the cargo/transportation that was rolling down the 10 freeway and into the low desert.
What influenced you stylistically?
My home…Los Angeles. I always gravitated towards the wild / technical style of the west coast where you weren’t able to actually read the name within the piece. I’m sure it’s because I grew up around that look and had a major influence in me to the point were I didn’t care much to do simple throw ups or letters. I always went in heavy in the beginning with the technical look even when I first started painting. Now when I look at it, in my opinion it was an ass backwards move to do and wouldn’t recommend it to someone new venturing into this culture.
How do you think L.A. influenced you and how do you see L.A. styles etc. being different from other regions?
Los Angeles graffiti is an animal of it’s own. Again, growing up around it and it’s technical aesthetic in hard to reach spots was something that has always grabbed my attention. I’m sure if I grew up on the East Coast I’d be heavily influenced by what’s commonly recognized as East Coast graffiti or for any region at that matter.
Do you ever struggle with the morality of graffiti? How do you justify regularly breaking the law (or did you, when you painted illegally more often)?
As a writer when I was once in my prime, I never shook the idea in the back of my head that there’s a very good possibility I wouldn’t be coming back home that night if shit hit the fan. If I felt like painting something, I’d commit and be all in. The more I started to go out, the more I got comfortable with understanding that concept. Either you’re all in or not at all. There’s a reason why to this day I still shove a small strip of paper with a contact number in my sock in case I get pinched and have to make that one phone call. It’s all part of the game, just gotta learn how to play it if you’re active and understand that at the end of the day you’re technically writing on other peoples shit so be prepared.
What kind of obstacles did you face early on in your artistic career, both within and outside of graff?
Having patience with myself and never relying on anybody for anything. As selfish as that sounds I understood early on that no one gives a shit about you and what you’re trying to prove. You are your own self, meaning no one’s going to do the work unless you do it yourself. How’s that for an obstacle?
What lessons did painting graffiti teach you that you’ve been able to apply to other areas of your life?
Stay on your toes and never get too comfortable.
What do you know now that you wish you knew when you first started writing?
Bolder and bigger is key. God knows how many freights from my early days are rolling around the country looking pinner (small) as shit (at least the ones that haven’t gotten blasted over or scrapped). Been seeing a lot of old freights of mine that have popped up through out the years over the internet that make me want to look the other way, (laughs).
How did you get your name and what’s the meaning behind it?
I actually gave myself this name when I first started painting in 2001. No real meaning other than the fact that I made sure to dedicate myself for the past 16 years to write these same set of letters. I wasn’t quite sure what I was thinking at the time but it worked itself out.
What is your favorite surface to paint and why?
Boxcars are a done deal for me. Been around them since the beginning and they have been the most recent thing I’ve last painted. That has to say something.
What advice would you give someone who wants to transition from writing graffiti into a career as a professional artist, whether it be illustration, graphic design or fine art?
Get comfortable with learning from your mistakes and ultimately don’t be afraid to start over. It will happen once diving into ANY career, creative or not. Perfect example, I lived off of youtube tutorials when it came to getting my foot in the graphic design community. Pure trial and error at its finest.
What kind of effect(s) do you think the internet has had on graffiti? What are the pros and cons in your opinion?
In regards to graffiti, way more cons than pros that’s for sure. You can post every single tag online and all of a sudden your friend’s friend heard of you because you posted some dumb shit two hours ago. Before you’d have to be active and in the streets or yard to see who’s really doing the work compared to some lonely Joe that’s painting burners in their back yard. That and not to mention it gives a lot of idiots a voice that probably shouldn’t or don’t deserve to have one. On the other hand, on a more positive note, you can now communicate and network with other individuals that are like minded and establish a relationship by a simple click of the mouse. As weird as that sounds, I’ve actually built an entire art career based on that simple action now that I’m thinking about it.
If you could only use one writing device (can/marker/scribe etc.), what would you choose and why?
Can. Started with it, end with it.
Can you tell us one of your best bombing/chase stories?
Man, Lets see here.. Me and my old crew AGENTS back in 04 were at a lay up painting freights out in between Indio and Coachella on a cold and dark night. Me and two other crew members at the time were handling a boxcar when all of a sudden we heard some noise coming from the other side of the line. Once we realized there was some guy jumping between lines trying to cross through the yard, we were relived and happen to start talking with him for a bit. Dude didn’t know any English and started talking to us in Spanish and looked like he was on a bigger mission than us. Homeboy in one hand was carrying a set of rims from what it looked like and in the other hand he had some sort of “short stick” but I couldn’t really see since it was pretty dark and we were on the outskirts of the desert. Throughout our conversation with this obvious tweaker, he started fumbling around and dropping his “short stick” and pointing it at us to tell us we should hit up his nick name on the boxcar.
We immediately got the clue he was high as shit so we started to ignore him and continued painting while the tweaker started walking away. It wasn’t till later that we realized while he was walking away from us in the dark that the “short stick” in this tweaker’s hand was a sawed off shotgun and was pointing it at us as a gesture with his hands while he was talking, as if it was nothing. Also the set of rims he was carrying was also obvious he had probably just boosted them from some car around the corner. Now that I look back at it, it was real naive of us to not notice it. The many wonders of the desert (laughs)!
If you had to explain graffiti and why you do/did it to someone who has never encountered a writer and didn’t know anything about it, what would you say?
I’d say some people use fishing or the gym as an escape. Mine or at least at one point in my life was the act of graffiti. Just another hobby for another person, not everybody is going to relate and I’m fine with that.
Do you think writers kind of hang onto their adolescence a bit? As you’ve grown older how have you worked to balance the graff life with growing up?
Good question, I’m open to the idea that everyone holds on to some sort of adolescence regardless of what their choice of medium is. For me I unfortunately had to separate both for some time once I started to focus on my art/design career. My daughter was also born around the same time I began my art career so a lot of my focus was driven towards that direction. Nowadays I see painting as a luxury when I do get the opportunity to go out and paint.
How does your family feel about graffiti? Do you ever have conflicts with your relatives about how you live and your activity within the culture?
Personally it never really became an issue because I’ve always kept everything separate and somewhat secretive while growing up. Nowadays, as an adult, I’ve had my wife in the past pick me up countless times from burnt spots and almost getting caught.
How would you describe your non graff work to someone who has never seen it?
Hard to say since majority of my work is graphic design driven and caters particularly to a client’s art direction for whatever project. I operate and run a full design studio from home so most of my work speaks in different levels of aesthetics depending on the project and what I got hired for. Mainly my portfolio/work ranges anywhere from commercial branding/identity to bright illustrative gig posters. But if I had to put it in one word, I’d say illustrative. I’ve grown a steady reputation of heavy illustrative work within the skate/street wear industry within the last few years (or at least I think I have).
Can you tell us a little bit about the work you’ve done for W.R.B.T. and how you linked up with those guys?
We have mutual friends. I’ve been handling most of the design work for WRBT the last 2 years I believe. They reached out to me in the beginning for a set of graphics and to my surprise, the graphics were well received and checked out pretty well. So with that in mind it only made sense to continue working together. Plus the guys at WRBT are extremely easy to work with and totally understand my direction and sense of aesthetic every time I propose a concept to the brand. My most recent project with the brand was to design the cover art for the new WRBT quarterly zine issue #13. By far one of my favorite WRBT pieces I’ve contributed since working with the gang.
What writers and artists out there do you think are killing it these days?
These days? Way too many to name. I’d say some of my favorite heavy hitters within the lines are Mecro, Ich, Kwest, Hindue. Cant forget the TCI or MFK cats.
If a younger writer was dealing with beef for his first time ever, what kind of advice would you give him in approaching it/dealing with it?
If you have the balls to get involved in politics, then you should have the decency to at least face the music. Most of your biggest life lessons are learned through mistakes, even if you don’t have fault.
What music would be in your painting playlist?
A lot of heavy experimental “Thinking” music as GLK puts it. Been stuck listening to a lot of FlyLo, Mndsgn, Gaslamp Killer, Knxledge and Soulection. That and a lot of early ’90s boom-bap.
And last words or shout outs?
Absolutely, Thanks to all my close friends and family that have supported me throughout my career. More and mainly, my wife and kids. Shouts to the WRBT gang and thanks to Bombing Science for the opportunity to be heard. Blessed.
Free PARAJO and RABET!!
By Paul Lukes
Follow KOAST on instagram