The West Coast Artists Crew exhibition at Mirror Gallery. We interviewed the crew president Pyro. Enter the history of the first multi-racial as well as multi-neighborhood crew in LA.
The WEST COAST ARTISTS Crew Group Exhibition is at Mirror Gallery. Interview and pictures by Cyntia a.k.a "Art Without Audience"
ACE • ALIAS • ASH • BATES • BAZAR • BRAIL • CARTOON • CAZAR • CLAE • COOL BOY • COOZ • CRE8 • D-ROCK • DASH • DEN • DESIGN9 • DYE5 • EDIT • EVOLVE • GASO • GIGS • HASLER • KOFIE • MAKE • MINER • MEAR • MUNK • OG ABEL • PJAY • PENO • PONY BOY • POWER • PRYER • PYRO • RAK • RAKUS • REMI ROUGH • RESEK • RETNA • RIVAL • RISK • SED • SEL • SER • SEVERE • SHADOW • SINER • SKILL • SKIT • STORMIE • STYLIE3 • SWAN • TRIXTER • TYER • VEX • VISION • WISK • ZANE
Severe - Untitled
Trixter - King of Kingz
Many members have grown to become the world’s foremost tattooists, gallery artists, graphic designers and many members own some of the worlds best known graphic design firms and clothing companies. What started as a group of young kids in Los Angeles, with a mutual love of a new artistic art form, has grown to become a legacy of creativity, originality and respect worldwide. Let's meet Pyro, the president of WCA Crew.
FatCap : How did you get the name PYRO?
PYRO : Long story short, I used to have an affinity for burning things. Back in 1982, I was really influenced by the gang mentality of Los Angeles, I wrote El Lighter. Yes, El Lighter. I was always the guy with the lighter. That’s how I got the name El Lighter. I was hanging out with my sister in a park, under the influence, and I pulled out my lighter and started burning some leaves. I looked at the lighter and on the bottom it said Pyro brand lighters. A little light bulb went off and from that day forward I have been writing PYRO.
FC : Can you give me an image of yourself when you first started lettering?
P : I was a very young kid not really sure of himself, very much a loner at the time and I needed an outlet.
Remi Rough - We Come Armed
FC : Have the reasons why you painted 20 years ago changed from today?
P : The reasons why I paint haven’t changed but it definitely has evolved. I love to write my name on stuff. It is the basis of it all. Of course now, a lot more artistic elements have gone into it. In the early days it was all about writing my name wherever I could, as big as I could, and as best as I could. Now I am a lot more focused on as best as I can and having it a lot more stylized. Still the basis is just writing my name on the wall.
FC : When did you start painting, and what got you into it?
P : I started painting in 1982 actually I started writing first. I wasn’t really painting pieces at that point. I was doing more like slogans and gang-style graffiti, punk-style graffiti, anarchy signs, stuff like that. I didn’t actually start painting until early 1984. In LA at that time it was pretty much gang related block letters. I was lucky enough to go to New York with my parents and was able to see some of those incredible trains in 1980-81. That really planted the bug, so when I got back here I shied away from the LA traditional silver block letters and started doing more stylized colorful letters.
FC : Do you have a traditional art background or are you self-taught?
P : I do not have a traditional art education. I am self-taught and have always felt artistically inclined. My mom was an artist, and my sister is a photographer. So I come from a line of creative people, but I never went to art school or had any artistic training.
Pyro - Master Can
Mear - High Plains Drifter
FC : For your murals, are you inspired by life, an image or your own imagination?
P : My current work is definitely inspired by growing up with punk rock. I like to incorporate various aspects of life that I don’t necessary see as being right or correct. When I do lettering, it is all about my imagination, how I can treat letters, forming letters that I think look good. When I collaborate and do large murals with people, I like to incorporate life and circumstances that I see - especially things that I don’t agree with; government policies, etc. I like people to look at some of the collaborations I do with my crew and have them open their minds up to different ideas and different ways of doing things.
FC : For you, what is the most important social or cultural issue?
P : The most important socially conscious issue to me is really a two-pronged answer. When I get together with my crew and especially Mear, we like to create worlds, in the pieces we do, to make people aware of what society and civilization is doing to the earth. We are raping all the natural resources and not leaving anything for our children. That is one hand on the other hand. When I paint by myself, I like to include quotes and phrases of people’s own being, about being the best person you can be, and staying true to yourself and your art, not selling out, not bending on your own morals, being the most standup righteous person you can be.
FC : Do you consider your art a spiritual experience?
P : Yes, most definitely. Art is a spiritual experience it is pretty much the only time and space that I have where I can really delve deep within myself when there are no outside influences. It is being one with my art, getting in touch with what is inside of me and putting that on paper for everyone to see.
FC : How does the moratorium on murals in Los Angeles effect the community and what suggestions do you have to lift it?
P : The moratorium effects not just artists in the LA community it effects the community as a whole. Los Angeles was once known as the mural capital of the world, and since 2002 there have only been 5 permits issued to paint murals on private or public property. That right there is cheating the public, especially for a community that is so behind public art, so behind this new form of graffiti and street art. Businesses want it, corporations are looking into it as a form of advertising. It has spread from New York to Los Angeles, and all across the world. It is quite apparent that it has been embraced worldwide. The Los Angeles city government has banned it, and they have deemed anything with 3% words as an advertisement and thus falls under different regulations that has basically put an end to every mural in Los Angeles. Even when the community wants it, even when the property owners want it, the business owners want it. This is something where we all need to come together, community and artists and stand up to say, “Hey, this not what we want.” City officials, you work for us, and it’s time we all stand up and say that. There have been a lot opinions voiced recently, people are standing up, the community and business owners are starting to speak up.
OG Abel - Sad Eyes
Hasler - Hooper
FC : Do you feel there is a lack of people questioning authority?
P : Most definitely, when I started writing, there were only a handful of writers in LA. There was a lot of police brutality. There was a lot of suppression and a lot of anger. Many of us grew up with that “Fuck the government” type of attitude, and we were very vocal about it. As the years have passed a lot of things have changed, and people may say that they don’t like this, they don’t like that, but they won’t stand up and actually do anything about it. They don’t put themselves or their art on the line to show what has changed a lot. When graffiti first started, for me a lot of the stuff we did we tried to make statements about what we saw was wrong with society. Which is why it was such a strong movement at that point in time because it was our only way to voice our opinion, voice what we feel. Over time, money has gotten involved; business has gotten involved so a lot of that initial angst doesn’t come through anymore.
FC : You are president of the West Coast Artists crew, who makes up the WCA?
P : WCA crew is made up of approximately 43 members. It is a crew that was officially founded in 1985. It was the first multi-racial as well as multi-neighborhood crew in Los Angeles. At that point in time the crews in Los Angeles were only a handful maybe five or six. They were basically groups of kids from the same neighborhood or kids from the same school. We were the first crew to break that mold and pick people from different walks of life, different financial backgrounds, and different neighborhoods. The whole goal behind our crew was that it was about the art, it wasn’t about what gang you were from or what neighborhood you were from. It was all about the art and pushing that art form. It started out with three members, quickly jumped to nine, then twenty, and now we are 43 strong.
FC : If WCA had a mission statement, what would it be?
P : I think it would be Brotherhood, Family, and Creativity.
FC : What do you feel WCA brings with your Los Angeles background that is different from other crews around the world?
P : Experience. It is the biggest thing we bring to the table that a lot of other crews don’t have. Granted there are many, many other crews that I give so much respect to that have lots of experience and different experience than us. I am not saying ours is more or less or anything like that. The experience we have is that our crew is based in a time period where it was a gang run game. We had to go head to head with a lot of gangs and incorporate that into what we did. That is where we gained a lot of respect because we didn’t turn into a gang like a lot of the other crews did. In our crew we had Crips and Bloods, we have different Hispanic gangs that didn’t get along, we threw away all of those gang ties to focus on the art form and focus on the creativity of graffiti art. Going through all those trials and tribulations in the early 80’s, all the growing pains, and the diversity of our crew set us apart. WCA was founded on diversity and we have kept it going. We have never strived to be a crew for money, or to be popular or well known, we strive to remain and stay a family.
FC : You have an upcoming exhibit that you’ve curated showcasing many of the WCA legends; tell us a little bit about the show and your inspiration behind it?
P : The show that we have coming up is the first ever West Coast Artist show, it is something that has been in the works for a long time but never actually materialized until now. My inspiration behind getting the show together and making it happen is one of undying love for this crew. They are my family. They are my brothers and my friends. I wanted to shine the light on early Los Angeles graffiti, shine the light on some of the guys that were around that paved the way for the bigger well known graffiti artist crews that are out there now.
Evolve - Untitled
FC : What does this show mean to you personally?
P : This show is a huge deal for me, it’s all the years of artwork and painting, all the years of fighting the norm and trying to show everyone that this is such a beautiful thing, my form of creativity and it’s okay to do this. All the guys that were there with me we have arrived, finally someone has taken notice. Having people appreciate all the hard work and the decades that we have put into this - finally someone is standing up and saying, “Wow, you guys did a good thing.” Everyone in this show has done so much for the graffiti scene. Some of them are known some of them aren’t. Now it is time for them to get the respect they deserve, get the respect they have earned over the last 30 years.
FC : You are also a highly sought after tattoo artist, do you draw on those techniques when you paint on urban spaces?
P : Most definitely. For a long time I kept them separate. My tattooing was my tattooing, and my graffiti was my graffiti. But in the past couple of years, I started to mingle them together bringing the graffiti over into the tattoo world and vice a versa. I am pretty much letting my creative side go where it may whatever the canvas may be.
FC : Best advice you can give kids starting out?
P : My best advice for kids is follow your heart, be true to who you are and if you really want to be creative push that as far as it goes because it can take you wherever you want to go. I have been lucky enough to travel around the world based on my art. On the opposite hand, when I have followed a not so righteous path I have ended up in jail cells, so I have seen both sides where following the wrong thing will get you. Definitely for people just starting out it is an incredible opportunity to express your self in a creative and positive way. It is much more acceptable now then in the past. You can really make a good life for yourself and be very happy.