True graffiti lifer’s are an exclusive group, those that stayed the course for decades. Mear is one of those very rare individuals. From tags on busy Los Angeles street corners, freeway rollers to painting murals so prolific that the British Labor Party motioned to destroy one of his murals. Like our most revered heroes & cultural icons, be it the band Rage Against The Machine, South Africa’s Nelson Mandela or the local farmer making sure we have healthy food to eat, we all have a place in this world and Mear makes sure our visuals are full of truth & faith. Truth about these war mongers destroying our planet and faith in a better tomorrow. Executed beautifully with raw vandalism devoid of permission and when permission was granted, Mear made sure to take our faith & imaginations to the highest heavens our minds could embrace. Join us as we document the journey of one of Los Angeles’ most impactful artists of our time, Mear One.
– Jehu OSD
I love that you have a link to Sea Shepherd on your website. Paul Watson is such a G!! What made you use your platform to promote Sea Shepherd?
I have great respect for people who stick their necks out in radical ways for the right purpose. Our world is plagued with bad politics and our environment is always the last subject that gets our concern. I love this planet, I love nature, and it sickens me to see how we treat it and how much waste we dump into our oceans and how we abuse the animals. Sea Shepherd is out there doing it, saving the oceans and its creatures, real radical progressives in my opinion.
How did you discover graffiti and what made it so appealing to you?
I grew up in Hollywood where graffiti was everywhere. I always felt that graffiti was the voice of the dissatisfied soul, wherever you found graffiti you found people who were enraged with the system. I love the freedom it made me feel growing up through some really hard social and economic times in the 70s. I enjoyed seeing how in the early 80s it was becoming an artform, beautifying the otherwise seedy backlots of my hood. I guess I was the right age at the right time in the mid-80s for this to dominate my life in junior high and by 1986 I was getting up on busses, tagging streets, and figuring out how to grow a pair so I could go out on a freeway and do some big shit. All of my friends I was growing up around were equally fascinated and so it felt like a massive social youth movement sweeping through those in the know in Los Angeles.
“Everything always felt so in control with SK8.”
What was it like dropping acid with Skate One and catching tags & fill ins?
Dropping acid and hanging out with my brother SK8 ONE defined the adventures of my childhood. I must’ve taken more acid with SK8 than anyone else in my life. We’re both Scorpios interested in similar things and he was a few years older than me so he was able to introduce me to things that he knew I would be interested in. We tripped out hard, heavy, and deep with music travelling through seas of molecular electro-animated geometry laughing our asses off only to find ourselves hours later on a street corner with wet paint in our hands wondering how we got there. Me and my man would go cruising with a few of my friends up into the Malibu mountains, we’d run into random roadside beer drinking tail gate parties and everything always felt so in control with SK8. He was a big dude 6’6” 320lbs somewhere between Hulk Hogan and a living Thor. He was funny, witty, down for his shit, was always out there either making peace or whooping ass but so passionate and a courageous warrior. Nothing could stop him but an Amtrak train.
“One of his more famous pieces he did was on a rooftop back in 1987 that read “BROTHERS” and it symbolized how much everyone meant to him.”
As a little kid, Skate seemed like this larger than life graffiti super hero, tell me about his spirit and what influence he may have had on you.
SK8 was like a courageous lion, he always told us that to be down for your shit you gotta have heart. His love was outspoken and fearless. He said what he wanted, when he wanted, without a care of what other people thought. He always stood up to big men be they the police or gangsters that thought they were gonna have their way with him or any of his friends. He was the true old school Hollywood Angeleno through and through, a rare breed, few of them are left. He was a culmination of the Los Angeles gang bangin’ culture, the late 70s art movement, and the new wave 80s pop art styles. He was larger than life and it’s the strangest thing to me still how he was this natural born leader, it just came to him so effortlessly and like a chameleon was able to work with everyone we came into contact with from the mayor of Los Angeles at the time, Tom Bradley, the cultural affairs department, he spoke directly to gang leaders about issues to help settle problems preexisting between different organizations within the city, different crews, small businesses, and other individuals who he felt akin to. One of his more famous pieces he did was on the corner close to La Brea and Beverly on a rooftop back in 1987 that read “BROTHERS” and it symbolized how much everyone meant to him.
My homeboy and I ditched school and went to the Skate memorial at the ConArt studio. I remember taking a photo from upstairs of everyone moshing. Years later, I realized I had a photo that had you moshing. Tell me about that day at the Skate memorial.
Moshing was kind of a CBS thing. Some of us grew up listening to hip hop while others were more into psychedelic rock ‘n roll or punk rock and hard core. Because of this diverse mix it meant that when we got together and listened to music someone was always bound to start moshing whether it was at some house party, a grocery store, or a graffiti yard. So during SK8’s wake it was only natural that we mosh in his memory. SK8 was an iconic heavy dude in the early 80s punk rock scene. He was in deep with Bad Brains, Fugazi, Fishbone, Black Flag, The Dead Kennedys, on and on. SK8 was an infamous Angeleno back in the mid-80s at these punk rock concerts for showing up and being one of the baddest dudes in the mix, known for slamming big bad motherfuckers to the floor. He was part of the notorious Los Angeles Death Squad (LADS) which was a multicultural punk rock gang in the 80s. With all that crazy shit said, he was also known as a really good dude. He made a lot of friends, he was a loyal, honest person and I imagine a lot of people were happy and uplifted to see him when he would show up to the party. SK8 left a really big impact on all who knew him growing up in that late 80s early 90s generation.
I remember seeing your pieces & spots in Can Control, which consisted mostly of letters. When did you start painting characters or did you always paint characters?
Well, being an artist first and foremost I was drawing characters long before I got into lettering. I guess it was just the due paying in graffiti where I had to learn the letters, and so I spent some years just trying to develop those skills. A lot of my early pieces though, the fill ins would have background elements like sunsets, palm trees, ghetto neighborhoods, barbed wire fences, classic LA shit like that. From there my letters started taking on a more non-traditional character look.
“We thought it would never end. And in some ways it hasn’t. I’m still carrying on as if nothing’s changed.”
Your pieces are like small universes. One that sticks out in my mind was the one you painted at Belmont next to Saber. What kind of experiences did you have there?
That was a real special day. A lot of LA’s premier painters and crews came out. At the time Saber and I were collaborating on a lot of walls, we had become good friends and were vibing off each other’s energy. Belmont was a real special yard, it was always my favorite yard. The tunnel and the subterranean field felt so post-apocalyptic and there was just so much space that all of LA’s crews could come and get down. I forget what this special day was that brought us all out together, but that was the joy of participating in the culture back then, how there were these almost holiday type events structured around hip hop and graffiti. It isn’t like that anymore and it’s hard to find things that I can relate to these types of organic and spontaneous cultural happenings. As tough and as rough as the streets were back then there was a real sense of innocence and genuine effort from all of us kids to explore this world we were creating for ourselves. And we thought it would never end. And in some ways it hasn’t. I’m still carrying on as if nothing’s changed, expect the walls are now mostly canvas, and the drivers by are glancing mainly from their phone. I miss the authenticity of it all. Throwing rocks at busses, being 18 and drinking a 40oz of beer, smoking that 90s weed, having a team of 20 plus heads I could rely on and nowhere to be, no job, no responsibility, just the constant desire to get better, go bigger, and take part.
“Graffiti has a level of vandalism incorporated into it being illegal, in protest of. Real graffiti art exists where permission is not given.”
How do you see LA graffiti looking back & looking forward?
LA graff has transformed every several decade. Ever since the early 1900s starting out with the Pachucos and the Chicano organizations of the post-world war II graffiti to the 1960s art experiments led by mavericks such as Rick Griffin spray painting an entire school bus long before graffiti art was ever realized, and so we see the future of graff is here now, championing its way to our freeways and walls once again as it always has. Graff is always going to resurface in new iterations I feel because it is the voice of the dissatisfied soul that speaks to our changing times and our need to change the system. For over a decade street art had co-opted the techniques, the allure, and the culture of graffiti only to cheapen and interpret it in the most lazy of fashions. Stolen graphics, computer generated designs, simplified stencils, but this wouldn’t last. And now that street art is dead I see graffiti has a life again and I’m excited to see where it evolves artistically this time. It’s kind of a wild mustang that doesn’t want to be tamed. Graffiti has a level of vandalism incorporated into it being illegal, in protest of. Real graffiti art exists where permission is not given, where it is taken as a statement meant for others to see and read and feel. Sure, graffiti murals have their place too. But I don’t claim that my oils on canvas are anymore graffiti than my murals. They are the beautiful expressions bestowed by the culture and these murals and canvases are just an extension of its ability to reach through subject matter. But even my subject matter stems from this deep desire to speak out about things that are suppressed, covered up, unspoken or unattended to. Graffiti for me has always been that tool, like a crow bar that pries open areas that have been stuck for too long.
“We did that shit like navy seals, climbing on our bellies, cutting through fences, spilling paint, having to recover it to get the job done, running from cops.”
Like I mentioned to Cisco, the rollers you guys did in the LA river blew my mind as a kid and inspired me to do rollers. At the edge of the projects, down in a concrete river bed, describe that scene for those who have never been down there.
This area of the LA river off the 5 freeway is an infamous corridor of industrialized futurism. Its big vast open concrete channel takes water from our mountains and dumps it into the ocean. It separates the east side of the city from the west, is full of trains, police, prisons, powerlines, industrial lights, late night workers speaking over megaphones, this type of place is where you find the homeless and the forgotten. And yet, it’s this beautiful playground for a graffiti artist, a kind of alien world. I always felt like I was in some strange 1970s sci-fi Brave New World meets Logan’s Run type movie – the bridges are detailed with art deco motifs, very totalitarian, Babylonian-like designs, and all of this is framed within LA’s beautiful sunsets and silhouetted palm trees dotting the skyline alongside helicopters flashing their ghetto bird flood lights onto the neighborhoods below. We would hide in the shadows and wait for our opportunity. You’d hear the grinding of train wheels, rusty, screeching in the distance and the heavy boom of thousand ton cars connecting, their horns tens of miles away echoing through the canyons of Atwater into the downtown Los Angeles basin. There’s all these sewer outlets dumping the sludge of LA into the river with shopping carts, old mattresses, dead rats, and used heroin needles everywhere. This place was so exciting when we were 18 and I laugh about it now because it’s pretty disgusting! But there was no other place I’d rather go and paint back in those days. Cisco and I teamed up to do a series of spots in these corridors right off the 5 freeway and we had real adventures together. We did that shit like navy seals, climbing on our bellies, cutting through fences, spilling paint, having to recover it to get the job done, running from cops all in the hopes to come back in the morning to get a good pic of it. Sometime in the early 2000s we had become bored with spray paint and decided we were going to start using rollers and bucket paint to go bombing so we could go bigger. I got into using these extension poles and seeing how far I could push the roller up the wall. We would spend all night on these, it was like painting an apartment building these things were so big, we’d be crawling into our vehicles around 5am covered in paint, tired, hungry, filthy, needing a shower, we were still doing this shit into our 30s. I’ll never forget that spot down in the LA river though, when I did it I was currently working on a project during the day right across the street at Modern Multiples print studio with my master printer, the late great Richard Duardo. We would go outside, I’d smoke a joint, he’d smoke a cig, and we’d stare across the river and he would be so proud to introduce me to all his clients and show off my graff burner across his front yard. These were good times and we never got caught.
That’s amazing Mear, rest in power to Richard Duardo. Now, not unlike Diego Rivera’s “A Man at the Cross Roads,” you are the controller of your Universe. How do you process and or navigate the freedom of painting and living your life whilst co-existing amidst the entanglement of Babylon and the chaos of this world?
Well for me, I made the decision a long time ago as a young graff writer to not give a fuck about all the expectations and demands that were put on me by the art world and from business clients. Part of my interest in being an artist is the discovery that I can be honest, or as honest as I can be, in my questions and critical thoughts on the world around me. This type of thinking is super liberating and it has given me the joy and inspiration to continue this kind of work. I’m never bogged down by the let downs of people that are afraid or involved in movements and trends. I never feel the pressure that many artists feel to keep up with the current topics of their patrons or the art world in general. So it is almost a completely different game for me because everything that fuels and inspires me and gives me a platform to exist upon is based in this very present, objective, critical thinking, creatively reactive space that I created for myself ever since I started doing graff.
“My mural in London spoke of the elite banking cartel playing monopoly on the backs of the working class.”
A leader of the British Labor Party ordered one of your London murals to be buffed, which drew comparisons to Diego Rivera & his battle with Nelson Rockefeller, for your undying loyalty to the message. Was Diego Rivera an influence?
Yea, definitely. I first learned of him in high school, but his work really began to resonate with me in the late 90s as people began to tell me that my art reminded them of his because of my often political narratives and critiques being front and center. I’ve found a lot of inspiration in artists like Diego who have chosen subject matter and critical thinking as part of their painter’s toolbox. People like Irving Norm, Hieronymus Bosch, Goya, all embody this narrator, a kind of conscious objector and storyteller like the African myth griots, holders of the truth. My mural in London spoke of the elite banking cartel playing monopoly on the backs of the working class and this is a common mythological tale told throughout history that I wanted to bring people’s attention to. Jeremy Corbyn of the Labour party was in support of my mural originally and he had compared its destruction to the removal of Diego Rivera’s mural “Man at the Crossroads” in Rockefeller Center in New York. My undying loyalty to my mural was based in the simple fact that I believed in it as I still do. That it’s not just about rich vs poor, but it’s a very select elite nearly invisible group of power brokers who are manipulating us all and enslaving the masses.
Who are some of your other influences, within graffiti, life, art etc.?
Some of my biggest influences start with Robert Williams who I think is one of the baddest ass artists alive. I hold close to him Alex Grey. These two psychedelic painters hold down the extremities for me – one is the masculine rogue warrior, philosopher destroyer thinker, hot rodder west coast badass, and the other represents the ethereal out of body experience, fluid connection with god and the aether, transforming our own understanding of our inner selves and our connection to the world. These guys both had a huge effect on me growing up, dropping acid for the first time and spending entire afternoons painting on Melrose in the 90s. When I discovered Irving Norm I found a sense of a brave new world realized in the replication and industrialization of man’s spirit. Other influences of mine are Maxfield Parrish, an early 1900s painter who I learned light and atmosphere through, as well Alphonse Mucha, the quintessential art nouveauist famous for his 1900s JOB’s rolling papers ads though lesser known for some of the greatest paintings I’ve ever seen from his series The Slav Epic where Alphonse takes on the history of the Slavic people in massive 10×20’ canvases. I learned so much geometric, graphic, and dimensional visualization through MC Escher, from Frank Frazetta I learned human anatomy, Salvador Dali helped me to see nothing is real, Ralph Steadman brought deep humor and political satire, and Stanislav Szukalski, HR Geiger, Roger Dean, Mode 2, Doze Green, all have inspired me to discover my own path.
“After all these years of sticking to my guns it gives me a lot of inner joy and fuel to continue this work because I knew that I was right in my original search for Truth.”
Your website says that your convictions are alarming, yet filled with hope. What convictions are you referring to and what are the catalysts to create that spark?
I guess these convictions are in just being straightforward and blatantly honest in how I use my art to communicate what I see and feel. These convictions have prevented me from experiencing the ease that many artists receive by being complacent and doing cute art that goes well with a couch. I end up creating art that doesn’t derive from the hope of some current art trend’s acceptance or even the concern that it translates into sales. My inspiration stems directly from how I feel about information and the kind of information I’m attracted to can be seen as dangerous or controversial because it strikes at the core of the confusion we see around us. I’ve been warned in my life by business owners, friends, to different people in the art world that if I wanted to gain acceptance I needed to curb my tone, maybe not be so political, to avoid divisive topics, and generally to just focus on what was selling. But now we are all seeing how the world has changed so much and a lot of what I painted in the 90s is now coming true. So after all these years of sticking to my guns it gives me a lot of inner joy and fuel to continue this work because I knew that I was right in my original search for Truth.
Metaphorically speaking, where do you see your mind seated? From what spot do you see the world from? For example. through the eyes of a bird, gliding the universe? Burrowed amidst the root of this earth, safeguarding our future for water is life?
I see the world through fresh new eyes, as if I don’t know anything about what’s going on and so just allow myself to feel the attraction or interest in subject matter and I move towards it, I learn about, I study it, and I move on to the next interesting thing that I see. I definitely don’t feel firmly planted in any one ideological system. I’m constantly seeking the third option, the alternative perspective, the individual pioneer’s path, and maybe that makes me a bit naïve sometimes, but I’ve gained a sense of feeling in this mode, like seeing in the dark, so much so that I trust myself. It’s my own personal philosophy that I’ve been working on for years and I think that everyone needs their own personal philosophy to get through life and to be closer to who they truly are.
“Fresh new eyes,” I like that! It would seem that you exalted the task of communication back to its source, from spray can to stone & bone. What was it like being at some of these coveted sites where the ancients carved their messages onto large rocks deep in the mountains?
The whole experience is quite overwhelming, the beauty of the surroundings is striking and magnanimous, feeling the solitude, alone with this art that’s thousands of years old is almost a psychedelic experience and it feels right and good, the hot sunlight, the healthy lush green, the vibrant red rocks, the bright white clouds, it’s all very graphic and stunning. These petroglyphs and pictographs are so interesting to me because I love history, science, and philosophy and all of this comes into play here, the mythology of symbolism in our language and what it all stems from. There are revolutions happening in our political world, but there are also revolutions happening in the intellectual and academic realm too, specifically in the fields of science and physics, such as the electric universe theory, which uses laboratory experiments to reproduce very similar configurations represented in many of these petroglyphs. Also, world historic knowledge and storytelling has been compiled and translated to a point where we now can put all of these into a timeline and see that there have been several major catastrophic events that have taken place since 12,000 B.C. in what they call the Younger Dryas era. This has become a deep fascination of mine because we have recently evolved our calendar to a point that major shifts have begun to take place in our world on a political, ecological, and astronomical level. And I’ve always been interested in what was currently taking place right outside my front door, so chasing down this new fascination is just another step in this path I’ve been working on that helps me to connect all these dots in this process of this larger story I’m trying to transcribe.
“Keep your ego in check, keep your identity on the DL, learn how to hit it hard when the time is right, save your energy for the right time and the right fight.”
I see you in Nevada often. Similar to the Paiute people, you seem to thrive in the desert. What advice would you give to writers navigating Babylon?
Well, I guess I’ll share just a little bit of the old wisdom of graffiti art that I learned in the mid-80s, which is you keep your ego in check, keep your identity on the DL, learn how to hit it hard when the time is right, save your energy for the right time and the right fight, and take time for yourself to learn and study and get your shit straight. These are the kind of words my man SK8 ONE, PJ from WCA, Pyro, and Rival would share with me. This old school outlaw anti-conformist early hip hop, punk rock kind of attitude installed an independent critical thinking in us, helping us break away from crowds to form circles of our own. This kind of thinking was crucial to me then and it still is now.
Jim Morrison said, “they got the guns but we got the numbers.” You’ve worked with many musicians, what music do you listen to?
I love psychedelic rock, jazz, conscious hip hop, I mean I’m quite eclectic with my listening. I know so many beautiful, wonderful, talented people I can’t even begin to describe, but what I can say is what I don’t like is any of the official pop music narrative bullshit that we’ve been inundated with for over a decade now, which I see has really taken a face plant off the cliff. So big ups to the underground and everyone who stayed indie.
How did you end up doing the album cover for Non-Phixion?
Oh shit how did that happen? I think Ill Bill contacted me through mutual friends but that was a long time ago.
“It’s the outlaw spirit that I’ve always agreed with.”
What are your thoughts about the importance of being a writer?
I guess what is important is the inner rebel that gets cultivated. Anybody who would go into the public alone or with friends and vandalize public space is taking on a world of courage and chaos. I always felt there were two kinds of writers, the egocentric, quick crazy destroyer rager and then the consistent, self-improving, evolving graffiti artist. Both of these characters derive from the same origins but go at it with different intentions and evolve into different outcomes. It’s the outlaw spirit that I’ve always agreed with, almost an unspoken ethical code that doesn’t care for the current form of law with the wisdom knowing that everything is corruptible except for your own convictions that you decide upon. Being an Angeleno growing up in Hollywood, Downtown LA, Venice Beach back in the 80s these landscapes helped to facilitate this kind of outlaw in all of us. It’s a big open vision out here that we as youngsters had access to. The city’s history has played a hand in our development as West Coast artists.
Do you rep any crews still?
I’m from WCA and I’ll always be from the OG CBS crew that SK8 ONE put me in. I’m not part of the current crew down on Melrose, but many of my brothers are who are still alive. I’ve also been a member of the LOD crew, C2D, EC2000.
I would love to see a production with you & HR Giger. If you could assemble a group to do a production, who would you choose?
I would love to do a collaboration with Robert Williams and Alex Grey. These two gentlemen have been my favorite artists since I was a little boy, right around the time I started doing graffiti. In fact, when I was in junior high my mother would take me out to art shows and we would go down the block to the 0-1 Gallery and see Robert Williams paintings in the flesh. Around that same time we’d be over at the Bodhi Tree bookstore, my mother would be there for hours studying spiritual books and it’s where we discovered Alex Grey’s “Sacred Mirrors” and it blew our minds and brought this book home. My mother was a hippie and an artist, astrologer, Buddhist philosopher and so she provided a place that was safe for me and my friends to drop acid where we would look through Robert Williams and Alex Grey books high as fuck laughing our assess off and getting tears in our eyes. So yea, I’d like to rock a piece with those two. Now if we’re talking about dead or alive? Salvador Dali.
What are some of your favorite places you’ve traveled and favorite places you’ve painted?
I gotta say my two favorite places I’ve ever been painting and just digging the culture have been Tokyo and the south coast of France, particularly Montpellier. I got to go to Tokyo for the first time back in 1993 and again in 1994, I was in my early 20s and it was like a trip right into the movie Blade Runner. I tagged, bombed, and painted murals all over that city and made a gang of friends and had a great time. Few years later a good friend of mine Yem One brought me along out to France and we went to Montpellier to paint for the battle of the year festival, we travelled cross country by train through beautiful farmlands, old stone built ruins to this beautiful old city full of cathedrals and narrow curving streets with cobblestone paths to a great group of art connoisseurs that hosted us and who I still work with to this day. The Mediterranean environment is very similar to LA so it was very comfortable for me to plug into. The visual respect they give to their historic architecture integrated into their modern infrastructure and society was rather beautiful. All of the places I’ve been to really though always help me form a better perspective on life here in LA and America.
“So there’s a common theme I keep bringing up here and it’s this independent, self-reliant, do-it-for-yourself kind of thinking.”
With your larger than life murals & flourishing art career, you still catch tags & spots. Your loyalty to the streets is inspiring but is ultimately protocol if you call yourself a writer. What keeps you so loyal to the game after all these years?
I still feel the same fire now that I felt as a teenager then, not much has changed. I definitely am not out on bombing missions, but my joy of catching a tag whenever I feel like it or doing an illegal piece here and there is something I’ll probably never let go of. It’s something too familiar and foundational to what I believe to ever let fade. I guess what also keeps me loyal to the game is the new generation who continue to carry the torch, I’m interested in the evolution of this artform. I also am still painting murals and though my style has evolved from lettering to characters to scenery to full on narrative painting I’m constantly improving my technique and see no point to ever paint a mural with anything other than spray paint. It is pretty much the superior tool for the exterior and my whole personal evolution of vandalism, graffiti art, and fine artist are not separate, they’re a more complex configuration of what I’m doing with my life. Some may think that I should be out bombing all the time if I want to be this or that, or that I should just stick to my paintings if I want to be a fine artist, but I tune all that shit out and keep focused on what I know. I’ve been pioneering many of the things that I take part in and so this definition really doesn’t have any examples to go on, I only have myself. So there’s a common theme I keep bringing up here and it’s this independent, self-reliant, do-it-for-yourself kind of thinking. I lean a bit towards the anarchist, not of chaos and destruction, but of anarchy in its purest root meaning – an (without) archy (ruler) – not wanting to be ruled, not seeking to be the recipient of other’s labor or obligations, but being self-sufficient in the sense that we don’t play a victim in life, we are accountable for what we do, we take responsibility for who we say we are. A sense of well-being as opposed to a big ego, dues are always being paid and no one is free of this constant upkeep.
What does the future hold for you?
I guess the future is going to be giving me a shit ton of inspiration to work with! I’ll never get a break because I see that the world I’ve been pointing fingers at for decades and trying to get people to pay attention to is now here. There will be all kinds of new nefarious shit for us to make others aware of so they don’t fall victim to the psychopaths and parasites that made us want to vandalize in the first place. I look forward to the day I can start pointing out the unseen beauty that has returned to reclaim our apocalyptic reality.