Born and raised in the city of San Jose,
How has San Jose influenced the artistic endeavors in your life and career?
San Jose is home base. I was raised here and influenced by local graffiti crews that run this city. Times have changed and with the relentless buff (term used to describe the attempts of city workers to paint over graffiti) and strict laws and punishments for graffiti artists, San Jose pushes you to work harder and take on more risks. I’ve taken what I’ve learned on the streets and applied it to my indoor work ethic.
To some, you are the most infamous and most beloved graffiti artist of the Bay Area. Do you feel a certain responsibility to the kids and your fanbase?
I feel honored that people enjoy my work. Being an artist, I spend a lot of time in solitude and don’t notice how it affects others since I’m so focused on what I’m doing. If anything, I would want them to follow their heart in whatever they feel passionate about and overcome any obstacles that stand in their way.
Who were your role models when you were growing up?
First off, my parents. My father taught me never to give up and to apply yourself. My mother took care of a lot of strays and pets, showing me and animals unconditional love. I watched a lot of cartoons growing up, so…definitely William Hanna, Joseph Barbera, Chuck Jones, Tex Avery, Bob Clampett and John Kricfalusi, Mestre Waguinho and, last but not least, my old friend Buckethead.
Would you say your parents were supportive of your artistic endeavors?
My parents have always been supportive, now more so than ever. (laughs) I kept it a secret as much as I could when I was painting on the streets, but when the news broke about my arrest I remember them saying “We knew you painted graffiti, but not to this extent.” Now my mom says “You found a way to turn lemons into lemonade.”
I believe my parents always knew I’d do something creative with my life. I was always playing [with my] imagination, locking myself away in my room drawing and I was definitely the black sheep of
the family. I’m really thankful they let
me be me.
Do you think that your work on the streets limited your full artistic vision, or was it just a different part of it?
Yes, working illegally on the streets can be very limiting; that’s where I became very fond of repetition. You want to get in and out before anyone notices or the police show up. I got bored with painting the same icon and started to migrate into other areas, still remaining within the giraffe theme and never veering away from it.
Some graffiti writers are about style, where I was more about a theme. I made it a point to primarily use the colors black and yellow which is the strongest color combination used for street signs to get your attention. Now that I work inside my studio, not feeling rushed or having to look over my shoulder allows me to explore what I did in the streets and grow from that. So yeah, it’s different. There are things that I’d rather do in the streets and not in my studio, and vice versa.
Why the giraffe?
I was given the nickname Girafa which means giraffe in Brazilian Portuguese because of my height. It stuck amongst my friends. I’ve always been fascinated with alter-identities so when I was given the nickname, I took it seriously and later developed a character to go along with the name.
Before the giraffe, I was all over the place with my art. But once I discovered the character, it felt right. Giraffes are such unique creatures. Also, it’s fun to pretend to be something or someone else. I’m able to get back in touch with my inner child, which some of us tend to lose sight of as we grow older.
On a deeper level, what do you think it is about alter-identities that fascinates you so much?
I was adopted at a very early age, which leaves a lot of questions about who I am and where I came from unanswered. I needed a way to fill in the blanks so creating alter-identities gave me the ability to create my own story—which became my personal way of dealing with my past. The thing that fascinates me the most is the mystery that surrounds the person. Graffiti is all about that, which is part of why I was attracted to it.
Do you think you’ve learned more about who you are with your experiences and through art?
Yes, but I’m always a work in progress. I don’t regret any of my choices. I’d say in the last few years, especially my time spent on house arrest, I did a lot of reflecting, searching, and reading as to what’s my purpose for being here. I strongly feel each of us has a purpose to fulfill whatever it may be.
I don’t believe in bad circumstances, only lessons to learn and grow from. It’s crazy how you can trace all the steps that led you to where you are today, and the signs the universe will present to you so know you’re on the right path. When I’m in my studio alone creating work, it’s definitely therapy. Even though my work is fun and colorful on the surface, I spend the whole time working shit out in my head.
Ultimately, how do you want to be remembered?
What an awkward question for me to answer. Honestly it’s really not up to me. I’m only responsible for myself and I have my own expectations to live up to. It’s hard to already come up with how I want to be remembered when I’ve just begun.
Written by Richard Vo
Photography by Chris Lovos
Creative Direction by Geoffrey Nguyen
Print version is SOLD OUT
Digital Version Underground PDF