There are many writers from many areas that have contributed to the melting pot of graffiti that is the Bay Area, California.  But none more so than maybe Keep.  Walk through the streets of Oakland and some of the best and longest running burners you will see were painted by Keep.  There are lots of young writers who look up to him and he has influenced countless bombers all up and down the west coast.  He is the leader of a large and well known crew and has accomplished more in graffiti than I can say for many others.  Keep is a permanent part of the scene, not just someone passing through.

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I’m glad that I thought to do an interview with him, because shortly after the conversation we had, Keep passed away.  He was a close friend of mine, we are both in UND crew together, and have spent a fair amount of time as roommates at each others respective crash pads.  We lived the graffiti life together to the fullest along with many of our good friends and crew members.  What follows is a few of the questions I asked and Keeps answers.  Then I will tell you a bit more about Keep the artist.

Where are you from and what do you write?

I stay in the Bay, but I’m not from there originally I was born in Las Vegas, and I write Keep.

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Did you write anything before you wrote Keep?

No it’s been the same name for a long time, though I do change the way I spell it.  Depending on the way I want my pieces and burners to look, I may use an A instead of two E’s or I may put an S or an ER on the end of my name.  It all depends what is going to look best with the font I’m using.

Do you have a favorite surface to bomb?

Brick, well that and trains, though it’s been a minute since I hit the yards.  But I will paint anything man, it doesn’t matter to me.  I’ve been in the game for so long I know I’ve probably painted every surface there ever was you know?  I lead a crew, I bomb and I piece, I do it all you know?  Trains too, no substitute for trains.

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What other types of art are you into?

Graff is always going to be number one and I’ll never stop painting graff, but I’m also a dope tattoo artist.  I’m not just saying that, people tell me and my work really speaks for itself.  I also do a lot of canvas art and again I know it’s dope because people buy it.  But there is no replacement for going bombing in the streets.  Even doing permission walls isn’t the same as going and doing a sick ass piece in an illegal or high profile spot.

What is the difference between now and when you started writing graffiti?

The kids now don’t have any respect for the history of graffiti.  The good ones do, but the good ones are few and far in between.  And way farther in between now than it ever used to be.  Maybe that’s the fault of the generation who came before them, but it ain’t no excuse.  You have to know your history and know the rules of the game before you play.  Or you could end up getting yourself hurt.  When I started writing, we respected the older cats and didn’t try to get a name by living off of someone else’s name.  Things just weren’t like that.  You had to earn your place on the wall.

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There were more questions, but they seem insignificant now.  Keep had a philosophy that involved earning respect.  Respect was real important to him.  I like to remember him as he was over the years and not towards the end, and I encourage others to do the same.  The art that Keep has provided us with over the years is something to be grateful for.  The artists he has influenced and the crew he started will continue to carry the torch for years and to do it in style.

I know that my art will forever be influenced by Keep.  He’s a friend that I will never forget.  Writing graffiti over the past seven years just wouldn’t have been the same.  I know a lot of other writers who feel the same way as I do.  From all over the country as a matter of fact.  Some talented people are taken away from us before their time and I pray for Keeps family and his other friends.  Me and him went through some rough shit over the last 7 years and it was cool to have someone there for me.

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When a great talent dies before their time it often leaves us with more questions than answers.  I find myself asking, why God? or why Universe? Why did you take my friend away from me?  But I have to remember that this world can be ugly and though we, as graffiti artists, take it upon ourselves to bring beauty to the world, Keep is surely in a better place.  He deserves to be happy, if not in this life, then the next.  He was a prolific artist, not just a run of the mill tagger and he will always have my ultimate love and respect.

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It’s tough when you lose a friend and even tougher when that friend was one of your mentors and main influences. Keep taught me a lot about the art I love and he is the reason for a lot of my progression, especially over the past four years. He got me back into painting pieces after it had been a long time where I was not motivated enough for painting. He stayed at my house, drew in my black books with me, made me a model train car and smoked weed and talked about life. We had differences at times and little bullshit arguments, but a the end of the day, we stayed friends. It’s hard to lose someone who was on your level, it’s just one less person who understands me now.  Graffiti has lost a lot of it’s best writers over the past few years and it’s truly tragic.  But their memories will live on in their art and the art of those writers whom they influenced.  They will live on every time a someone decides to hit their name up on a wall for them since they no longer can paint it for themselves.  I know Keep will be the name I hit basically second most often as my own name.  I’ll always miss my friend, but I want to remember him, I don’t want to try and not think about it.  I think about it every day and that’s not necessarily a bad thing as long as I remember the good things.  Time heals all wounds and graffiti withstands the test of time, so no matter what, I’ll always have the walls to remind me of a talented artist, a major influence and my close personal friend Keep.
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I’d like to especially shout out PEROS, KADE, CUFF, FURY, SESTOR, SQUALO, LEPER, NERO, DUSE, DEDS, AN and AIGO.  As well as the rest of the UND fam and anyone else I maybe forgetting.

RIP YESM, RIP CEKS, RIP ANEML, RIP ORFN.

Interview by Skaz One

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