If you’ve paid attention to the North American steel scene for the last decade and a half you have definitely seen the name Vash. Well respected among veterans and new-jacks alike, Vash has been making his mark on freights for quite some time, evolving his funky yet legible style with the years that pass. He’s your quintessential freight writer’s writer and Bombing Science was lucky enough to have him take a moment to chop it up with us.
What first drew you to graffiti and how many years have you been writing?
I have been writing for about 13 years now. Honestly, a joke in school is what first drew me to graffiti. A group of friends was doing it, I thought it seemed simple and anyone could do it. To show them, I picked out a name and started drawing.
Can you tell us a little bit about the crews you push, how you got in them and what they mean to you?
We will start with MF, the crew I have been in the longest. It is a group of friends originally from Texas. We have all moved since then and evolved in our own ways but eh fundamentals have remained the same throughout several years.
Next, SWS, a group of my favorite writers, the writers I grew up looking to for inspiration.
The most recent crew I have joined is NSF. This crew is a combination of other writers that I look up to and am really good friends with. It was an honor to have been invited to join the crew.
Can you tell me a little bit about what the scene was like where you first came up? What do you think was especially unique about it?
So I grew up in Houston, Texas which is a huge city full of highways, billboards, rooftops, etc. Unfortunately, I got into graffiti at the very end of the thriving graffiti era in Houston, back when NEKST, VIZIE, and the rest of DTS writers had moved out. But that brought on a new era of graffiti writers like YANOE, MEAT, VERBS, and of course ABELS who were painting a lot. I was still in high school and I can remember working with my mom after school. As we drove around, I was always looking around to see what new spots had been painted around the city. We couldn’t go more than a few miles without seeing a new RTL, GY, rooftop, or billboard.
What motivated you to choose your name and is there any deeper meaning to it?
Yes, actually there is a personal story behind my name. The name VASH comes from an anime called TriGun, whose main character is named “Vash the Stampede”. During the time I got into graffiti, my brother and I had many differences but this show was one thing we were able to bond over. In the show, Vash has a brother who sees things completely different than him, this was something I related to on a personal level and pulled from for inspiration for my name.
Where outside of graffiti do you look for inspiration?
I think I pull inspiration from a multitude of places. I am always reaching to become a better artist. Always looking at magazines, fonts on TV or in ads, searching the web etc. I feel like inspiration is everywhere as long as I am mindful to see it.
What do you think it takes to make a well-rounded writer?
I think this is a really great question, In my opinion, a well-rounded graffiti writer is able to paint in a variety of environments and situations. They are able to paint a piece under a bridge if they have to, fit five people on a boxcar if needed, paint a fill in, and definitely have a legible, solid tag.
I remember reading a quote from COLT-45 saying something along the lines of, “If your grandma can’t read my graffiti, I am doing something wrong”. That really stuck with me to this day. All in all, a well-rounded writer should be just that.
Who did you look up to when starting out and did anyone mentor you/show you the ropes?
I was privileged enough to have a large number of talented writers around me when I first began, guys that had been writing for several years before I came along. These guys had experience with going to jail, painting a variety of spots, and the history behind graffiti. Writers like SUEY/SUMOE, CIPE, and ABELS to mention a few.
Do you think the OG’s and the older generation of writers have a responsibility to teach the next generation the secrets and “code” of our culture?
That is a tough question. When I started, young writers were brushed off and forced to learn from their own mistakes. There is beauty in having a newbie come along and showing them the way. But not everyone is a right fit for that. I have been able to bring on a few writers, each of them holding a similar trait of being humble and open to learning opportunities. But honestly half of the excitement behind graffiti is being able to learn and grow on your own. That is where the fun is at. Still, to this day, I reflect back on my first year of writing as being one of the most fun and exciting when everything was new. I didn’t have to worry about the egos, social media, personas and politics getting in my way or distracting me.
What is your opinion on the inherent narcissism in graffiti and do you think it’s healthy to be involved in something that is so ego-centric?
I think there is a fine line to be walked here. In the early stages of graffiti, it is something I had a huge struggle with. Because of the way that I was brought up and the things I was told, I was shaped into thinking that the only way I could be known was through hard work and dedication. The harder I worked, the more relevant and seen I thought I should be. This led to an ego-centric mentality.
So I think the ego-centric mentality can be rightfully earned.
But social media is bringing in another complex layer into this topic. Platforms like Instagram are allowing people to be seen and noticed now more than ever, often giving them more praise with less work.
To bring this back to the question, I think that having an ego-centric personality can strive one to work hard to be noticed but it can also lead people to feel entitled when the work hasn’t been done.
What are your favorite types of spots/things to paint and why?
Well, I am a freight writer. In my early years of graffiti, it was the only things I painted. I never painted walls because my pieces didn’t have bottoms. I loved city spots but of course was afraid of the repercussions, mainly because I was an undocumented immigrant at the time. Getting caught painting graffiti ultimately meant that I would be deported. Every time I went out to paint, this was on my mind.
Every year I try to grow as an artist. This has pushed me to paint more pieces in a variety of places. Painting on walls, bridges, abandoned spots, etc. But at the end of the day, I will always consider myself as a freight writer.
Have you ever struggled to find a balance between real life and graff life? Please explain your experiences.
Absolutely. I consider my life like a triangle, each point on the triangle representing three important aspects of my life: graffiti, personal relationships, and work. Ideally, all three of these aspects would be in perfect balance or harmony, but that is not always the case. It is hard to give each my fullest attention at all times. For example, working a 70-hour work week, followed by a weekend of painting, often leads to my personal relationships taking the back burner for the time being. This ultimately leads me to feel like I have failed one aspect of my life. At the end of the day, juggling all three of these aspects will continue to be a challenge as I grow older.
What has lessons being a writer taught you over the years?
I don’t know if it is lessons that I have gained per-say, more so I have gained several experiences. Through graffiti, I have been able to travel and meet several people that I wouldn’t have otherwise. I know it sounds cliché but ultimately graffiti has enriched my life immensely.
If you had to make a list of five rules for painting and establishing yourself for the long haul, what would they be?
Actually, I have never thought of this question. Can I dial a friend? Use a lifeline?
How have your methods of operation changed and evolved over the years you’ve been painting?
Well, for starters, I no longer rack paint…unless the opportunities are VERY favorable. I take a little less risk than I did before. My mentality and focus are in a different place now.
What ten artists/tracks would you put on your painting playlist if you were painting to music?
I spoke to The WAVE about this and I realized what a horrible taste in music I have. My top ten artists would be:
2. Brand New
4. Little Wayne
5. Taking Back Sunday
6. The Smiths
8. The Lumineers
9. Luke Bryan
10. Brett Young
Can you tell us your best painting story?
This is a really hard choice. There are so many stories to pull from…
But the best story I have took place in Houston when I was still in high school. I snuck out of my house and we were on our way to go paint this train ledge right outside of downtown Houston.This is where all major highways come to a point in the city. It was CIPE, KREZ, GERM (all high school friends at the time) and I all painting the spot. A tow truck saw us and called the cops. In less than 15 minutes, we were surrounded. We ran towards the left-hand side of the bridge but were blocked off by cops. We ran the other way but were blocked off there as well. Our only option was to jump off the bridge, landing on the ground and running through the woods. We hid for hours until the sun came up. As KREZ was taking us back to our cars, he realized he had left his ID in the bag left on the bridge. I made it to my first-period history class and they skipped school to go find the ID, hoping no one had found it.
During the entire time, all I could think about was my mom whooping my ass when she found out I was in jail. Luckily the bag was found, the coast was clear and none of us spent our night in jail.
What about the culture do you think is different today compared to when you started and how do you feel about it?
Well, 12OZ is no longer popular…
But graffiti is easily accessible through any phone now, making it popular now more than ever. It seems to be more accepted. This is allowing for more and more people to take a part in it. As great as all of this is, I can’t help but feel bitter about it. Ten years ago, this is not how it was or how I imagined graffiti would be.
But change is good, right? I am learning how to embrace it…
Who out there that’s painting today do you think is doing it properly and really deserves some shine?
First off, all my crew members. But honestly, anyone that is risking their future in order to paint…
I am a really big fan of MBARK, STOE, MITCH ,BOGUS, OBESE and DAZE (NSA). All of which are inspiring me to paint and change my style every time I paint.
What are you interested in outside of graffiti and why?
Cooking. I love the creativity behind it and the childhood memories I have tied to it. Similar to graffiti, it is a way for me to express my emotions and feelings on a different type of canvas. It allows me to create something from scratch, present it on a plate, and allow others to enjoy it.
What kind of art do you do outside of graff and does your graff inform it at all or vice versa?
I have been working on a painting project for the last two years… it is moving slower than I would like it to due to work and distractions. Ultimately painting and graffiti is the same thing to me. It is a craft and something to work hard to master. So I am still working on it. Stay tuned.
Any last shout outs?
To all my crew members. I am honored and proud to be apart of this unique group of talented artists.
Allie, my partner (the editor of this interview). Thank you for allowing me to take time from our busy lives to paint and be a “child.”
My mother… I am sorry I have kept you up late so many nights
Mitch. Thank you for showing me I am not always right and opening my eyes to different styles and possibilities.
And… The WAVE. I appreciate your friendship.
Follow VASH on instagram
BY Paul Lukes