I don’t see graffiti when looking at Vizie’s newest body of work and that’s a good thing. As confusing as that may sound, placing graffiti in a gallery setting can often water down the message, spoil the magic and sabotage the surprise. Obviously, there are exceptions.
Laid back, soft-spoken and unassuming, Vizie doesn’t project typical graffiti writer demeanor. He’s easily likable and realistic. Already well-established and recognized in the spray game, Vizie is now committed to delving seriously into his studio practice. Having lived in New York for eight years now but traveling constantly for six, Vizie discloses, “My decision to travel less allows me to really focus on my studio practice and personal life, and I feel like I could eventually move just outside of the city. But it’s a little scary to imagine taking a step away from NY after all the work it’s taken to remain and survive here. A lot of New Yorkers have a hard time imagining living anywhere else, and I relate to that.” Last year he opened his first solo exhibition in New York under his long used nickname and surprised many with what he had up his sleeve. Deviating from the traditional canvas format, abstract wood sculptures are adorned with textures and layers in a monochromatic color palette. The peeled, sliced and chipped away surfaces reveal what previously existed underneath. For now, red appears to be the predominant color of choice, with rare special guest appearances from other hues. Some prominent elements include mangled chain link fences, shattered glass, torn paper, and noticeably present bricks. They’re easy on the eyes and the most recent batch displays a psychedelic touch, exuding a radiating, luminous quality when viewed under a black light.
We were both born in Texas, myself in Austin and you in Houston. What was growing up in Houston like?
Growing up in Houston means being in a car. It’s very spread out, so you’re always driving wherever you need to go. Houston is definitely a car culture. This meant that doing graffiti in Houston was mostly about painting highways and spots you would see from the car. My favorite memories are of my brother and I exploring the city in his car. We spent a lot of our time together painting and driving around the highways and backstreets listening to music and talking. Hanging out with people often meant driving around all night. I was lucky enough to grow up in the more central part of Houston, so I got more of a city experience. Despite the fact that everyone drove everywhere, I liked the idea of being able to walk around instead. I think I wished it was a little more like New York or San Francisco in that respect-where so much of what is interesting there can only be taken in by being on the street or the sidewalk. I really wanted to find that element of Houston, I wanted to feel more connected to the city itself, so I was always pushing to get out of the car. My neighborhood gave me a really unique experience of Houston. The area I grew up in was the artsy, gay neighborhood. We had museums, galleries, and weird shops that gave me access to creative influences that are not present in other parts of Houston or Texas in general. It gave me a way to relate to and feel good about where I was from without having to force myself to find ways to relate to the more traditional elements of Texas or Texan culture. Texas tends to have a real conformist culture so it was nice to have an alternative to that.
Aside from Texas, you have lived all around the country, but eventually landed in New York. Does this place feel like home now? What keeps you here?
New York does feel like home. It’s been about eight years here and it has really been such a wide variety of experiences. I often feel like it’s as difficult to a place to live, as it is great. I’ve always really enjoyed the hustle and the challenge of NY- I think I sometimes really thrive on the stress of it all. But that hustle and that stress works in two ways: it can really pay off and create opportunities and experiences you wouldn’t get anywhere else, but you also have times where all of that hustle and stress doesn’t pay off and it’s taxing and can really break you down. Although I have lived here for eight years, I spent about six of those years traveling constantly. Treating NY as your home base but getting away all the time allows you to focus mainly on the positive elements of the city. I decided a couple years ago to really stick around and it’s been an adjustment. It definitely becomes a grind. I do have friends who are working artists that have successfully transitioned to a life just outside of the city. It allows them to operate outside of the constant stress, but they are close enough to keep their career connected to and relevant in NY. My decision to travel less allows me to really focus on my studio practice and personal life, and I feel like I could eventually move just outside of the city. But it’s a little scary to imagine taking a step away from NY after all the work it’s taken to remain and survive here. A lot of New Yorkers have a hard time imagining living anywhere else, and I relate to that.
I agree with the sentiment of living here and feeling like moving somewhere else might not be enough for me. Would you ever consider moving back to Houston?
I don’t think I will ever move back to Houston. My parents live there and I still have a lot of friends there, but I just don’t think it’s for me. It’s hard to say exactly what I want in a city, but I do get the sense that it might not be enough to stimulate me. Maybe I’m addicted to New York and the pace of this city makes it hard to look anywhere else. I do miss space, New York is limiting in that category. I want a good place to work and I’d like a yard eventually. Maybe I’ll just join the ranks of artists moving to upstate New York.
Earlier this year you were involved in an alternative emoji and digital sticker application that included a diverse group of contemporary artists. What was your level of involvement in this project and can you tell me a little about it?
I am the main illustrator at Hi-Art, which is a company started by my friend Nico Dios. He first approached me to do a set of stickers and then brought me on to create the proprietary content. I have been working here for a little over a year and it’s been a serious learning experience. I have developed quite a bit in terms of my illustration and design skills. Refining these skills at Hi-Art has also been a part of my process of refining and honing my fine art practice. And, for the first time I’m learning about and focusing on the business aspect of things. There’s been a lot to learn but it’s been cool, it’s the closest thing I have ever had to a regular job. This approach of working with art and technology has been going pretty well for me and we’re still in our beginning stages. It’s also been cool to have something that I can work with other artists on, facilitating their work rather than just focusing on my own. I’ve working with some visual artists I really respect, like Todd James, Steve Powers, and Grotesk (to name a few). We’ve also been working with musicians, creating their stickers. It’s been a trip to work with people like Camron, Ghostface, and The Misfits, people I grew up listening to. (Insert promo here “Hi-Art.me/app”)
Your show Further/Farther recently opened at The Seven Letter Gallery in Los Angeles and the work incorporated black lights at the opening. What were some of the ideas behind this show?
Omens came up with the idea to use black lights for the Further/Farther show. The idea appealed to me immediately because I had already been working with fluorescents in most of my recent pieces. I like to make work that cannot be easily reproduced digitally or in print, something that you have to see in person to in order to fully experience or appreciate. The fluorescent paint really invokes that, and the addition of the blacklight intensified that effect; it created a new environment for the work to exist altogether.
Most people wouldn’t be able to make a connection between your older work and the more recent stuff. What motivated you to move in this direction and make these types of pieces?
Well, my newer work really started after taking a big hiatus from making work in the studio. I had mostly been painting graffiti and doing work assisting other artists. During this time I had the opportunity to work for some great people (Pose, Revok, and Steve Powers) and was really inspired. Working with those guys really showed me I could make it happen in a way I wanted to. I wanted to come back to my studio and work with the mindset of having fun and doing work I really liked making. I wanted to get out of my own head when I started my newer stuff. I decided to start focusing on things like aesthetics and design as the foundation for the work rather than starting from a conceptual basis. At that time, my graffiti had started to get weird in a good way; I was experimenting a lot and just being playful with something that I felt had become very rigid. I wanted to bring that into the studio. This allowed the concept to evolve in a more natural way, meeting the aesthetic element somewhere in the middle. My goal was to make work that was unique to me, skillfully made, and something that had more of my hand in it. The primary motivation for the shaped panels I’ve been using is that like many artists, I got bored with the traditional square/rectangle format. I did decide that I wanted to make paintings, which is a medium that comes from a very formal tradition. That formality just did not feel natural for me. It made sense to me to alter the starting point of each piece. These shaped panels give me the opportunity to create an experience of the work that creates a sense of action, can have endless iterations, and ultimately will keep me interested and engaged in the work.
Bricks are a recurring motif in your paintings. What’s their allure?
I think bricks are really a go-to for graffiti writers. It’s an early visual tool that kids use, an easy trick to something recognizable. When I started my paintings I was thinking about texture, texture directly related to different walls and materials. I kind of accessed that graffiti writer side, it was just an immediate go to, knowing it would be easy to recreate. Using them more and more in my paintings, I’m realizing there are so many options for patterns and texture with bricks.
I’ve always been interested in what writers view as the most rewarding and beneficial aspects of pursuing graffiti, especially long-term. It seems to drastically differ from one to another.
I have been doing graffiti for a little under 20 years, working hard building a name for myself, putting myself out there; it seems like a waste to not acknowledge that. A few years ago, I realized that it would be actually more beneficial to try to pursue this path. Keeping my art and graffiti separate really made me mediocre at both. This is something I considered doing for a while (keeping the two separate). I tried to pursue an art career outside of graffiti and had little to no success. Not that it wasn’t well received, it just never felt right to me. I never had the urge to push it further and it was really just not fun or exciting to me. Now my graffiti builds up my artwork and gives it a context.
What is your role with Converse Cons? You are the only graffiti writer on the team.
Working with Converse is great; they are really supportive of artists and creative people. I have some friends over there and they have reached out to me for a few projects. Whenever I work with them it is really organic, they haven’t ever asked me to do anything that I wasn’t comfortable with. They pretty much just want me to do what I do, whether it be painting a mural, taking a portrait or dangling off a building. I don’t know if it’s exactly a team, and I know they have worked with a few other guys too; they just put out a video with Kaput. If they ever did have an official team I’d be happy to be a part of it.
Do you still collect pins? What are some of your most favorite pins you have collected over the years?
My love for collecting pins has dwindled some; I worked with them heavily for a few years. The idea of collecting has lost its appeal for me. I don’t get excited about them unless I find a really good one and I also don’t seek them out like I used to. I have such a large collection at this point; it really becomes a finite endeavor. Although I am not really into collecting them, I am still interested in what can be done with them. I did make a pin recently for the Further/Farther show and was really happy with the outcome. I think it has gained popularity, too (artists making their own pins); it’s an interesting way to make a wearable piece of art.
I used to associate with photography when you used to make photo zines and exhibit photographs. Do you still shoot a lot?
I haven’t been shooting a lot recently, I don’t know why, I think when my focus turned to painting I started looking at things differently. If I do shoot, it’s for reference for painting, not really to make a beautiful image on its own. I feel conflicted about the fact that I don’t shoot enough anymore; I have actually been struggling with it. It could be that I get confused about using my cellphone camera as opposed to an actual camera, I’m not sure, it’s something I really want to continue and something I think could actually be helpful for other my work. I may come back to it, it’s just not where my head is right now.
What are you excited about these days other than the fact that you will be a future father?
It’s hard to think of anything else except being a future father right now, Ha. There is still so much that makes me excited, I really am such a fan of art and graffiti. I’ll just name a few people that I am looking at and getting inspiration from: Revok, Pose, Roids, Dmote, Paul Wackers, Sam Freidman, Pantone, Evan Gruzis, I guess I could make a huge list. I look at so much stuff all the time. I subscribe to hundreds of blogs and troll the Internet. I think its super important to always be looking. It’s pretty interesting to see what people come up with now, in terms of graffiti; people are pushing the envelope so much. You have to get really creative to keep up with art in general. We have access to so much imagery it’s interesting to see the results of that and what people do to make it their own.
What would you consider to be your greatest success as a human thus far?
I don’t really have a feeling of any one great moment, or one great success, I haven’t yet had a huge thing I have wanted to check off of my list. Maybe I have yet to do it. My life is about to change a lot and I am excited about what the future holds for me. I am proud that I have been able to use my talent as an artist to make a living in some way or another and of my drive and work ethic. I’m happy that I’m still inspired on a (almost) daily basis. That seems like a success.
Vizie’s art graces the cover of our ABC #3 zine that is still available in our zines section.
*Interview and portrait by Austin McManus
*Originally for Juxtapoz June 2015