On the eve of Estria’s 4th Annual Invitational Graffiti Battle, 1:AM had a chance to chat with the reigning champion, Vogue TDK. Vogue is a talented graffiti artist that has earned street cred since the ’80s and still remains active to this day. He has also taken the gallery scene by a storm recently and art buyers are flocking to add one of his paintings to their collection. One of our art buyers once told us, “Let Vogue know that I love my painting more than I love most people.”
1:AM Gallery: How did graffiti begin for you?
Vogue TDK: In late 1984, after school, I turned on the TV to the local PBS station and caught the start of the documentary “Style Wars”. There was a scene where there was a MTA train moving down the tracks, then the train curves to show some graff and that was it. I was hooked and knew that is what I was going to do.
1:AM: What experiences made you the artist you are today?
V: I always did some sort of art throughout school. With the help of my parents, after graduating high school, I attended Academy of Arts in San Francisco, majoring in graphic design. After two years of that, I switched majors to illustration for another two years. During my schooling at the Academy, I incorporated my spray painting in both my homework and random jobs. A lot of what I learned at school translated on to the constant painting I did at the 23rd Oakland tracks. On the flip side, what I learned from my fellow graff peers and what I learned on my own also started appearing in my schoolwork.
1:AM: How does it feel to be the reigning champion of Estria’s Invitational Graffiti Battle?
V: Last year after I captured the title, it seems a lot different. I hear from other competitors jokingly, or maybe seriously, about how they are after me. It puts a lot more pressure on me because I don’t want to bail. I want to of course, win and keep the title. I am working hard on it. I paint anytime I can.
1:AM: Who do you think is your biggest competition?
V: I don’t want to name anyone specific. It seems everyone has stepped up their game. People who were in it last year, their pieces and characters have gotten better. It can be anybody. It’s going to be whoever steps it up and completes the task the best. Not everybody can deliver.
1:AM: When Estria announces the word to paint, what goes through your mind? How fast can you process that and come up with something?
V: Some things click right away and some things come as I am painting. For the most part, I try to have some kind of game plan. So, I will look at the colors along with whatever composition I need to do. Since there is only one can of a certain color, I want to use it wisely. And then, I think about everything; what is the most necessary thing that has to go up and if I run out of time or come close to running out of time, what is not as important so I can leave it out. I can keep going and going way past the limit to make it better but since it is timed, I just have to know what takes the longest.
1:AM: Do you think the most difficult part of the battle is that it is timed?
V: No. I personally like the challenge. Nobody knows what the word is. Nobody knows the colors they are going to get. The only thing we know is the size of this canvas and that’s it. Not everybody can handle those things. A lot of people are just good at their names or they’re just good at characters or somebody maybe more fluent in colors while others can be monochromatic. Plus, you don’t know what the judges are looking for either. I just try and touch the basis on every single thing. If I go down the list of what they are judging, the letters are coming first. So, I have to make sure that my letters have a significant style in it, not have a bunch of bars going all over the place. And then, all the other ones are second and third to that, like composition, color, and I don’t even remember the rest.
1:AM: It is interesting to hear all of this because I don’t think a lot of people realize that there is strategy to this.
V: That’s what I tell people. They think it is easy when they see it on the Internet. After I won last year, they thought it was possibly fixed… because I am from here and I am friends with Estria. I get pissed… I get angry when somebody say it was fixed. Why does the finals have to be in Oakland? We can have the finals in New York. You know, I don’t care. I know that some of the judges in New York might be bias towards style. But I try keep some of that flavor in there and that is why I did okay in New York last year. I just want to keep holding it down. If I could win again that would be…great! (he chuckles)
1:AM: Do you have any rituals before going into battle?
V: No, just preparation. I have to be focused; make sure that I am hydrated, I have a shaded spot and have to make sure I have my sunglasses. I might go without eating during the battle or eat something small. If I can clear my mind of all those little small things, I am ready to battle. I don’t think people realize that you have to take those things into consideration.
The only thing I do is prep. Make sure that I am mentally and physically ready for it.
1:AM: Do you have anything to say to your competition this year?
V: No. I shouldn’t have to; I only expect them to bring their best. I wish that with all the competitors. It seems that every year, there is some contender that is just thrown in there and they don’t take it seriously. They are just coming out to paint… I don’t know why, maybe because there is free paint or trying to get exposure. If you are not doing the task at hand, you are not going to get that exposure. I feel you should do it correctly. The only thing I can say to them is come with their best… why would you want anything else? That’s what this is all about. This is a battle.
1:AM: A lot of aspiring young graffiti artists look up to you. Do you have any advice for them?
V: Ya, not to let people get them down. Even if their parents are against it, it is an art form that is in its’ infancy stages, it’s going to take off. A spray can is no different than a paintbrush or pencil or pen. I think as it grows, it will be more and more accepted; it will be more commercially used. The other elements of hip hop have grown while graffiti has always been seen as a bad thing. The word graffiti is known as a bad word. I just want them (young graffiti artists) to stick with it if they love it like I do, as I still do. Push it forward. One of the most important things is to look at the history of it… and not just through the eyes of other people on the Internet. If they knew where it came from, they can respect it more. A lot of people don’t. Often times, the young ones get up, do their thing, and demand respect. And that is not how it goes.
1:AM: Good luck tomorrow. Go get ’em!
V: Thanks. See you tomorrow.
Make sure you pass by 1:AM gallery to check out Vogue’s latest masterpieces in THE CLASSICS show. The show will be up through October 16th.