What’s your name and where are you from?
My friends call me MERS. I originally come from a very small town in Washington state but I currently live in Los Angeles California.
How did you first find graffiti and who were your early influences?
The first real graffiti I saw was in Seattle because that was the closest city to where I grew up. I remember seeing productions from the DVS crew and AOD. Also seeing freight trains by the AA crew in Canada. That really opened my eyes to what could be done with a spraycan. The first real writer who actually took time to school me about graff as far as basic technique and a few trade secrets was TRED from BTM. I really have to give him credit because before I met him I was basically just flying blind.
Have you studied art?
I have never had any formal art training. I guess you would say I was self taught. I’ve always loved to draw and create for as long as I can remember.
Has graffiti taken you anywhere new geographically? Where have you traveled to paint and do you have any favorite spots?
I have been lucky enough traveled for my art. I have been all over the lower fourth eight states and parts of Canada. I’ve also painted a few spots overseas. I wouldn’t say I have a favorite place, more as I find inspiration in seeing new places.
Does music play a role in your art? What are you rockin in your headphones these days?
I think music definitely plays a role in my creative process. I really enjoy rockabilly and hillbilly rock and roll. I love that vintage rebel sound, That’s basically all I listen to. The stray cats are one of my favorite groups of all time. I also like The Quakes, and The Delta Bombers. If there is an upright bass and a guitar in the band I’m probably into it.
How important is legibility of letters when it comes to Graffiti?
I think legibility is important if you are bombing doing rooftops and freeway shots. People have to be able to read it as they are zooming by. If not I think it kind of defeats the purpose. But I will say when it comes to pieces and wildstyle burners there is definitely more room for abstraction. There are only twenty six letters in the Alphabet and a million and some odd writers. Everyone is trying to put their own unique spin on the same letters your bound to get some interpretive letter forms. I’ll admit my letters aren’t always easy to make out.
When did you know you wanted to be a Graffiti Artist?
I saw my first graffiti magazine when I was in seventh grade and it blew my mind. It was the very first time I had seen a piece and I was immediately hooked. I traded my skateboard for that mag and attempted my first mural that same day. That was almost thirty years ago and I have never stopped painting since.
Are you a part of any art collectives or crews?
I am a member of two crews. CBS (California Bomb Squad) and LORDS crew(Legends Of Rare Design) I joined CBS in 1998 after being on probation to join for almost a year. I joined the Lords crew in 2009 after attending a painting event in Fresno and meeting several other members.
What do you think you are best known for and how would you describe your style?
I think I am most known for my three dimensional letter forms and possibly my concept murals on freight trains. I would probably describe my style as non traditional I don’t think my pieces fall into the category of established norms of graffiti. Most of my paintings don’t have an outline or a drop shadow. I don’t paint fills in my letters. I try to use an outside the box approach that is very much intentional. I like to be different.
Are you interested in any form of art besides graffiti and street art?
Besides graffiti I’m also very interested in sculpture. I like working with things in the physical space. I’ve worked primarily in construction my whole life so that has exposed me to a lot of different products and materials that I have integrated into art.
I like foam carving and working with resin. I’ve done several light box dioramas. I also like working with found objects and rusted metal.
What’s your favorite brand of spray paint, and what makes it good for you?
My favorite paint to use is Montana 94. I really like it’s pressure and spray consistency.
What are your favorite colors or are there colors you find yourself using often?
I wouldn’t say I have a favorite color or colors to use. I like them all. I will say that the introduction of transparent colors has been a game changer. I use a lot of transparent black it’s a must for all the shading that I do. I guess that’s my favorite. I can remember back in the day when Krylon and Rusto were really the only game in town. We had a pretty limited color pallet to work with. You could look at anyone’s piece and name all the colors they used.
What kind of Nozzles do you tend to use on your spray cans?
The nozzles I use the most are fine line tips. I like to do a lot of intricate detail work.
I’m also a big fan of the stencil tip. I still make my own. I use one on almost every mural I paint even my freights.
What about markers, do you have a favorite?
I’ve always liked the deco style paint markers. I’ve been using the refillable Montana markers a lot lately. I still get a nostalgic rush from the sound when you shake them up. You can’t hold one in your hand and not want to write on something.
Do you have any fun chase stories you can share?
I’ve been chased so many times over the years. I’ve had to abandon so much paint and leave so many murals unfinished. I’ve been chased more times by hero’s than police. One kinda funny story that comes to mind is this time when I was pretty young. We had this spot to rack paint. It was real easy and I guess we had started to get a little greedy with it. We got very brazen and were filling our backpacks to the brim every time. I guess one time somebody spotted us loading up and tipped off the employees. As I was walking out I heard someone running behind me. I saw this heavy set worker guy coming for me. I bolted for the door. This particular store had one of those automatic opening doors that senses you to open. Well I must have been moving too fast for it to detect me. I rushed up on it and it didn’t open. I had to step back and was waving my arms around like a loony to get it to activate. When the doors did open it was like they were moving in slow motion. I just got threw the doors before the guy got to me. He actually chased me all the way threw the parking lot and across a busy street. I could hear him huffing and puffing behind me. I ran behind a store and the alley was blocked by a big chain link gate. I hit the fence and scrambled over it just as he got to me. I dropped down on the other side and he was looking at me threw the fence. This guy was I little on the chunky side and he was beat red in the face. He was gasping to catch his breath and leaning on the gate. I actually laughed out loud because he said. “It’s all over. I got you now. “ I laughed because he looked so ridiculous. And I knew there was no way in hell he was going to climb that fence. He said “ I can identify you” I guess at that point it was all he could say. I can still see his pudgy red face as I ran away. “ it’s all over!”
Favorite surface to paint on and why?
My favorite surface to paint on is freight trains. I love all the character of the metal. Sometimes there at different ridges or bars to work over, that never bothered me. Sometimes they are really weathered sometimes they look brand new. You never know what your going to find in the yard.
How important is the “outline” in your process?
My letters don’t really have an outline. Although a lot of times I will do a fine line boarder around my piece. I mostly use a stencil cap to keep the line as small as possible. It takes time but I think it’s worth it because My pieces can be pretty elaborate and busy. The boarder would be the closest thing to an outline in that it separates the letters from the background and your eyes can focus on the letters.
What’s mandatory for you when packing for a night mission?
Whenever I leave for a night mission I Always bring a thermos of coffee. I’ve been doing that for years. Nothin like sipping hot coffee in a cold train yard at night.
What would you say to a stranger if they asked you why you write graffiti?
If someone was to ask me “ why do you write graffiti?” I’d probably give them some smart ass remark like how much I love to be creative on other people’s stuff. But really I think the answer is that I love to paint murals. I love being outside. I love spray paint. I truly think the spray can is one of the greatest inventions of the 20th century. I like the idea of leaving a piece of art someplace that someone will find eventually, maybe by surprise and in that way it connects me to people I’ve never met.
What keeps you active and passionate for your Graff after all these years?
I’m not sure exactly what it is that keeps me going after all these years. Graff has just been such a big part of my life for so long. I love painting and coming up with new concepts. I try to challenge myself every time I paint. I never paint the same mural twice. I try to step outside my comfort zone a little more each time I paint. I guess that keeps it fresh and exciting. I just want my paintings to reach the level of my imagination. It’s a constant endeavor, that’s what keeps me going.
You have enough paint for one solid burner or several throwies – how do you use the paint?
Definitely one burner. I don’t really do throw ups, in fact I challenge you to find one Iv done. I have always even from the very beginning only been primarily interested in painting large elaborate murals.
What kind of projects or locations get you most excited?
I get really excited when I can paint abandoned structures. I love the element of exploration. Just finding these crumbling buildings and forgotten places is so interesting to me. And the bright colors always look so amazing in those run down settings.
In an age of social media, with cameras everywhere, and police using technology to crack down on graffiti artists, how do you feel about the importance of protecting your personal identity?
I think it is true today just as it was true back in the day that a writer should do everything possible to remain anonymous. I heard a phrase that I really like. “ stealth is wealth “ and I think that is real. The internet is like a blessing and a curse in the sense that it is a running record of everything you have done. Once it’s out there you can’t take it back. Iv heard people say being a writer is like being a super hero and having a secret identity. Bruce Wain never posted videos of himself without a mask doing donuts in the Batmobile. Basically just be mindful of what your doing.
Where do you think an artist should be able to paint in terms of street art or graffiti? What spaces are “off limits” to you?
For me the spots that would be off limits would be anything in nature. Don’t tag on trees and rocks, and not just on hiking trails but also even in urban environments. Tagging on a tree is just stupid. Another area that should be off limits is catching tags around the entrance to yards. If you want to continue to paint at a spot don’t advertise to the world that graff is happening there. That’s the quickest way to burn a spot. Get in do your work and get out. Be undetected like a navy seal.
Can you speak on the importance of letters and can control in an era of hipster graff and street art?
I come from a generation of graffiti where letter forms and can control were held In The highest regard. The goal was always to get better and to always be cleaner. Graffiti as a culture has changed so much over the years and it’s fractured into so many different sub categories. Personally I think there is plenty of room for everybody. Whatever you want to do creatively is fine. Everybody dose art for there own reasons. Some guys only use fat caps, some guys are only about tagging and hand styles. Some of these people out there only do wheat paste posters and have never painted a mural in their life. Personally I feel being able to expertly manipulate a spray can is the mark of a great writer. That’s because I paint murals so that is the area of graff I’m most interested in. It’s all different disciplines. Mass producing posters in your garage and slapping them up like big stickers all over is not the same as spending hours to create a one of a kind hand painted mural.
What do you think of Instagram, and what impact has it had on your graffiti?
I think Instagram has really changed the face of graffiti in several ways. If the main objective is to get as many eyeballs on your art as possible, then it is great. But I think it creates a warped sense of reality. I personally have removed myself from Instagram. I realized it was a time trap. It was too easy to get lost down the rabbit hole. I also don’t think it is healthy for your self-esteem. The anonymity of the internet can be weaponized by haters to cut you down and possibly by law enforcement to spy and build cases. I decided to delete my account because at a certain point I had so many followers and I realized I have no idea who most of these people are and how much am I exposing myself. Do the gains out weigh the risks? I decided that they didn’t. I still paint, people still see my art, and the images still end up on the web sometimes even the same day. It feels more organic that way. Instagram is very popular. Sometimes it feels like everyone is on it but me. I don’t have an excess of free time these days so I try to use it for being productive.
What’s a trick you have picked up along the way to help improve your process?
It’s not so much a trick, more just a practice is that I always bring a sketch. I always have a plan for what I’m going to paint. Very rarely do I just paint freestyle. I draw a lot and have sketch books full of concepts. The hard part for me is picking witch outline I want to paint. I learned that for me if I try to paint off the top of my head
My mind is flooded with too many ideas. Having a sketch keeps me focused on one concept. I also try never to bring too much paint. Just pack what the piece requires and stick to the plan.
You’ve painted with a lot of talented people, are there any artists in particular you enjoy painting with and why?
My favorite people to paint with are my friends. Painting for me has always been a social thing. The experience of being at a wall or in a spot with your buddies all spraying and having a good time is the best feeling in the world. Skill level and fame doesn’t really matter. For me the point of painting is to enjoy myself and have a good time. If your friendly and don’t have some crazy ego than let’s paint.
Is there anything, inside or outside the graffiti world, that you find really inspires your "style" or how you make your art?
Lots of things inspire me outside of the graffiti realm. I’m very inspired by rockabilly music and custom car culture. I love hotrods and have owned and fixed up several classic cars and pickups over the years. I love the 50s style, the atomic age, and mid-century modern design. I don’t know if traces of these things can be seen in my murals but it is definitely the rhythm of my soul.
Do you have any exciting projects coming up?
As far as big projects, I’m trying to put together several new pieces for a solo show in 2020. I’m planning something pretty ambitious.
Do you have any of your art for sell?
At the moment I don’t have any art for sale. If I can pull this solo show together there should be plenty of pieces up for grabs.
Any advice for the aspiring artist?
If I were to impart any advice to someone starting out in the graff game I would say to think of the big picture. Imagine your graffiti carrier as a marathon not a sprint. Remember that respect is earned and that takes time. Don’t chase cheap fame, you’ve got to put the time in. Talk is cheap, and talking doesn’t pay dues.
Any last words of wisdom for the community?
In parting I’d just like to give a shout out to all the talented artist and friends that we have lost. We lose more every year. Remember that life is short and precious. Cherish your friends and the time you have with them. Tomorrow is guaranteed to no one. Be safe out there and have fun.
Comments will be approved before showing up.
I met Helno about 8 years ago. Pretty much thought he was a pro skater that just tagged when he skated around town. Then I started seeing his stuff pop up all around town and on trains. - Jaber