ASM: Tell us a little bit about yourself.
RET: My mother is El Salvadorian and has a Native American lineage, which is part of the Mayan tribe with also a Spanish background. My father who is African American has a Cherokee connection on his side. I think for the longest time when I was younger, I felt this stigma; that I did not belong or have a place to fit in. I started looking up different cultures, which inspired my writing. I decided that I did not want to be from a particular culture but a global citizen, and that made me feel more comfortable when I made that decision. Due to this, I see a lot of similarities between the different cultures- from the Native Americans, Asiatic people to the Nomadic people, Aztecs and Incas. I began studying their arts and elements synonymous to the cultures such as the pyramids, temples in Egypt. It gave me a lot of comfort and made me proud to know I can fit in with the different cultures. My parents were surprised by my interest about the indigenous people when I inquired about them- but I felt it was extremely important to know. But I think there was a lot of pain from the past that they wanted to forget due to things that happened that are regarded shameful which is understandable. However, I feel proud knowing that I am part of those cultures and I am still on a quest to learn and know more.

ASM: So is it worth discovering the process of how the language works?
RET: I believe so. In the beginning my texts were based on gang writings, old English writing and Asian writings because of the many Asian potteries my mother collected. I love and was heavily influenced by ancient hieroglyphics of the Egyptian and Mayan cultures because I am graffiti writer and I was drawn to their writings, old monuments and buildings. We would not know much about those cultures if it were not for the people that documented them. I would go through them to understand how important the pharaoh or the emperor was as opposed to the scribe that wrote about them who no one talks about. When I first started graffiti writing on walls, it was all about me, my name and my ego. Though it is still there to a degree, I learned to take myself out of the equation when working on a project by writing a message instead. Although I am credited for the work, I feel that I have a lot to offer with people's strong messages that have inspired me; or by my thoughts whether one agrees with them or not. Graffiti writing also helped a lot of kids deter from joining gangs.

"…When I first started graffiti writing on walls, it was all about me, my name and my ego. I learned to take myself out of the equation when working on a project by writing a message instead…'

ASM: How so?
RET: It was one of the precursors to notoriety. Kids are associated in someway to their neighborhood they grew up in due to the sectioning off of the neighborhoods and the cities depending on where one lived. The graffiti writers were able to transcend the boundaries but had to work with the guys and their gangs because the areas the artists wrote on were owned by the gangs- these were their territories. So most of the walls that I worked on are not necessarily city approved but they are definitely neighborhood approved. However, writing on the walls was still illegal because as long as the walls were on a public sidewalk, they belonged to the cities even if the guys in that neighborhood gave me permission. Therefore, if caught, the artist was fined; given two weeks to clean the walls with the possibility of jail time. Artists could not write on walls illegally or legally; and I think because the artists have the power to say something, the policing was a way of controlling the artists with regards to voicing their thoughts and messages on the walls. For a long time, Los Angeles, California was one of the mural capitals of the world; but when the city started painting over graffiti in public places at a fast rate, the graffiti artists started painting over the works of mural artists- thus creating a tension between traditional muralists and graffiti artists. Unfortunately, we have lost very artistic and beautiful murals from the murals on Jefferson depicting the African American political movement to East Los Angeles depicting the Chicano power.

ASM: Are there further distinctions between muralist and graffiti artists and types of graffiti artists?
RET: I believe so. Some people call themselves graffiti writers while others call themselves street artists. Terms given to artists tend to be based on the medium they use to work on their art. So the word graffiti, from the technical Italian term, 'scripito,' meaning to scratch into something, was coined for us. However it had a negative connotation when used to describe artists like us; so to appease the general public, the terminology 'street art' was used. The word street artist is a trendish kind of name that is not so offensive when used in a room in comparison to the word graffiti. I tend to let that go when used on me however; I did not come up as a street artist. I came up as a graffiti artist and writer, which I will never deny even though I have found a point of success. I can say that is a part of my culture. You can say I am visual artist or a muralist even though there are times I do not want to be labeled as anything but just an artist. People just have the need to categorize you and put you in a box but I do not even know what that box is. I am still trying to figure that out.

"…The word street artist is a trendish kind of name that's not so offensive when used in a room in comparison to the word graffiti. I did not come up as a street artist. I came up as a graffiti artist…"

ASM: Do you still feel push back on graffiti artistry now in comparison to before?
RET: There is still a push back especially when you have something to say. There was a gentleman I met who was out of prison. By mere looking at him, one would be afraid; but when we heard him speak, he was so profound and had a positive outlook on life.
I decided to paint him on a wall on La Cienega in Culver City. We recorded his powerful words and wrote it alongside his mural so that people who looked at it would be empowered by the mural. But because he looked a certain way, people do not care to look or read deeper into it. So there is still a push back in some ways.

ASM: What caused you to break away from your earlier work to what you do now?
RET: A lot of artistic crews were created in those days- from the break dancers, DJs, to rappers and graffiti artists- we dominated Los Angeles, San Francisco, San Diego and so on. But out of the various types of visual artistry, graffiti remained illegal because of the inability to control it; and so the graffiti movement and artists were being pushed out while the breakdancers, DJs and rappers probably went on to become choreographers, beat makers and MCs. Graffiti artists did not get to go along on that ride because of the nature of it. At some point, I realized that there was more to say than just painting pretty designs. I realized that there were messages and issues that could be addressed. I believe it was when I was working with another artist in the late nineties I started to transition. I would write the message or story and he would paint the portrait. That was my way of coming up with another style so that I was not pigeon holed into just the graffiti movement. I am part of that movement, and I will not deny it but I had to adapt to move forward because things were changing. Also listening to different genres of music played a role- but I would say the hip-hop movement played a major part at that time. It created its own music, dance and art but it was suppressed but it transcended to something more and I could relate to that.

"…At some point, I realized that there was more to say than just painting pretty designs. I realized that there were messages and issues that could be addressed…"

ASM: I read somewhere that your work is about a quest of universal language and your work shows us all as one people. Is that true? How do you think that is?
RET: I think a lot of it for me just comes down to common sense. We all just grew up in different parts of the world and we have different elite systems but yet there are a lot of similarities between us. Yet we sacrifice the lives of others who look like us in the various countries for oil, gold and many other things, which is ironic to me. I find this sad and frustrating- especially when I think about the kids. They say that we cannot change things because those who try end up getting hurt like Gandhi, Malcolm X, Martin Luther King, John F. Kennedy and many more.


ASM: You have the social and political play a role in your work. When did fashion start coming into play in your work?
RET: I guess fashion started played a role when I initially began. I first started working on fashion posters by incorporating the graffiti element into the commercial poster ads that featured females as the models with the halos, wings and so on. At some point, I felt I needed to go beyond using other's people photos and began working on actual photoshoots in order to have a say on and to work with the graffiti element I had for the photos. I was given the opportunity to work with Louis Vuitton on their latest campaigns. I was commissioned to work on the special limited edition scarves for their Fall/Winter Collection; and that was a great exciting opportunity. I like the idea of merging fashion with my work and it is something I still want to work on in the future but for the time being I am taking it one day at a time.

ASM: Do you have any plans to showcase your work in Africa?
RET: I definitely plan to at some point. My mom and I would like to go to Egypt in North Africa to visit since that is one of the main countries of inspiration of my work. I have been so busy but hopefully when I have a little moment, I will go.

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