1. Hey man to start off can you give us a little background about what you write and what exactly is “operation under”?

I write ESK31-YR-ULZ. I’ve lived in Los Angeles County my whole life and I got started writing in 1992. From the mid 90’s to the early 2000’s I painted a lot through out LA, a good chunk of that was in or around the L.A. River. After that I tapered off a bit on graffiti and focused on traveling and making money…. Real life shit. I knew MEOW through some nongraffiti friends and I would see him around. He hit me up a few times about painting a tunnel with him and I kind of brushed off the idea. Around the same time SER-YR hit me up about going in a tunnel we had painted in 97’. So I finally said fuck it and went with MEOW.

The setup was great and it made me remember how much I love painting on raw concrete. A few weeks later on new Year’s Day 2017, me and SER revisited that tunnel from the old days and did OPERATION UNDER #1. I don’t even remember why we wrote OPERATION UNDER but I do remember it was supposed to say OPERATION UNDERGROUND but I think we ran out of space.

2. Why the obsession with tunnels? How did you first discover that this was your favorite canvas to paint on?

The smells, textures and thoughts of letters I still needed to paint infected my brain and that’s what I’ve been chasing ever since. OPERATION UNDER is not a crew its an operation made up of many people from many different crews. At this age I don’t want to be in charge of a crew and I’m sure these guys don’t need another crew to worry about. Almost everyone in OPERATION UNDER finds their way in naturally. Once you go with us you’re in. Some guys just go once or twice and that’s cool while others get more involved. Every tunnel that gets a number is a new location( excluding a few exceptions). Currently, we are on #110.We don’t share locations with any outsiders period and usually only the people on a particular mission know its location. Painting and exploration are the goal. Every trips different from the last and it’s usually a good time. SICK got involved on #5 and has been a major part of it ever since. Some core members are, MEOW, SKER-HNR, STYNER, MEDS, TANK, PUNCH and ADZE.

A big chunk of the people that go are writers but others are fine artists, photographers, anthropologists, and sometimes friends that just come to hang out. At this point, there are members in other states and countries but at the end of the day, we are all like-minded with similar goals and subterranean motivations.

3. These tunnels in LA seem endless, have you explored them all? What sort of size and distance are we talking about?

LA is a huge sprawling city with endless suburbs. There are drains through most of it. Drains go from 20inches tall to 20ft tall. It’s pretty rare to find the big ones but they do exist. For every good tunnel I find I’ve checked out 5 -10 that were no good.

4. You seem to use a lot of brushes and roller paint, is that a personal preference, or is that to cut down on the fumes while down there?

Both! I sprayed through my childhood and then some. I don’t want to hot box spray paint down there besides buff is way cheaper and you have more control over what your colors look like. For some people, there’s a learning curve but it’s not that crazy. People have been brushing on walls for thousands of years. A brush never clogs.

5. How do you keep safe while down there? What precautions or systems do you have in place to make sure you make it back alive?

Rule number 1 … when it rains no drains. These things are made to fill up quickly and it’s not worth the risk of drowning. People, animals, and noxious gases are the wildcards. When people are down there they can be fucked up and desperate. They’re usually gonna hear you coming first so they have the advantage. We’ve run into camps of people pretty deep in some tunnels. Animals aren’t a huge issue but they do live in/ travel through tunnels. Raccoons are in every tunnel. They can get pretty wild and they stand their ground when you’re trying to pass. Gas meters can help detect odorless gases that can knock you out. You just never know what you’re stepping into.

6. Your work exists in an environment where it is more likely to be preserved over time due to its hidden nature. Does the potential longevity of your pieces influence how you choose a spot?

Big time. We pay attention to the waterlines and paint above em. As attractive as skylights can be light is the thing that breaks down pigment the most. There’s a bunch of things we do on the technical side. Most of our pieces are miles in.
We don’t leave a trail of tags. Most times the only tags we get are further than the pieces. I’m hoping to get decades if not more out of these pieces. They should outlast me.

7. What’s the most dangerous situation you’ve found yourself in while underground? Anything crazy?

There have been a few. Sometimes we see signs of people being down there and you can kind of feel that they’re around but they’re hiding out. One of the biggest dangers is the lack of accessibility. There is zero reception in most
tunnels so if you are a little ways in you are on your own. We’ve had people take some spills. Luckily no major injuries.

8. Some writers would argue that painting tunnels and hidden spots like you do is a waste of time since nobody will see it, what would you have to say to someone like that?

Most members have done more than their fair share of street/freeway bombing. Most of what me and YR did was over 20 years ago. Seems like a lot of people are out there fighting over the same buff spots and even the good street spots at best will run for a year or 2. We had insides of bridges run for 15+ years but eventually people side busted and got the spots buffed. In the end, it’s a long-term investment. We’re searching for immortality underground like the Pharos and many others in the past.

9. Are there any bigger systems than LA in North America? What are your plans for the future?

Yes much bigger. Cities in the east are older by a hundred years or more. They have larger, older systems than we do. We’re in the middle of a big push right now. We have a bigger project we’re in the middle of actually we’re behind schedule on it. Some of these spots take a lot of planning and coordination and this is one. Next summer we will be doing something big above ground.

10. Thanks again for taking the time to do this. Any shout-outs you’d like to give? And where can people follow you on Instagram?

No problem. Everyone from YR and ULZ, SICK, SKER,MEOW, TANK, PUNCH,RETSY, STYNER, LERNS and the rest of OPERATION UNDER. Instagram is @operationunder