by Emmanuel Mauleon
Since the early ’90s, Minneapolis graffiti legend Ewok has been an international ambassador for the Twin Cities graffiti scene. Known for his work with Life Sucks Die Magazine, Burlesque of North America, Rhymesayers Entertainment, Fobia Skate Shop, Real, Consolidated and Iota Skateboards, Ewok’s art continues to invade space, public or private. Fellow local graf artist Chen, best known for his work on the Merit Printing Mural on Washington Avenue, and Ewok will create a 40-foot-long mural at the 3rd Annual Twin Cities Hip-Hop festival.
Pulse: When did you start writing graffiti, and why did the art form
Ewok: I kind of dabbled with it, not knowing what I was doing in like
early ‘89 or ‘90. I had seen different little glimpses of graffiti
here and there; going to Chicago, my uncle lives there, my grandma in Indiana,
and I always would see tags on the freeway. It looked cool to me, you know,
but I didn’t really know what it meant. I went to New York for high school
and [the graffiti scene] was really cool there. You would see like the delivery
trucks that were bombed and like pieces that had style. When I was graduating
from high school it started popping up in Milwaukee, there was this certain
alley that had all these throw-ups and tags and stuff.
From there I moved to Minneapolis, it was like the next step in the equation.
I saw lots of graffiti on the Washington Avenue bridge; everyone was doing stuff
like underneath the bridges. I ended up meeting some people that were kind of
further along then I was, and they helped me out and I was able to form a little
bit more of my own style.
Then in like ‘92, ‘93, ‘94 I was able to find the classic
books “Spray Can Art” and “Subway Art” that were by
... who was that ... like James Prigoff ... and I got a hold of those, and you
know, it was like getting your first good education by seeing subway cars. Before
that I had had a good idea what graffiti was about but it was kind of an outsider’s
understanding of it, but when I got those books I was really able to get an
understanding. Around ‘92 I first started trying to do stuff in paint,
like crappy tags and throw-ups. I didn't really know the difference between
those at the point, like between a tag, throw-up, or a piece.
AKB (All Kings Baby) crew was the first real legitimate crew that I knew of
in the city, and that was around the time the uptown tracks were blowing up.
You’d go down there and there were all these AKB pieces with style, guys
like Mas, Poster, Meta and Self One (but he now goes as Emer). He’s the
main guy that jump-started the whole scene. He had the insight into how graffiti
was supposed to be, all the history—like how crews worked, and the progression
of tags and throw-ups and stuff. From there it was building off that, going
down to the tracks, new pieces going up, people developing stuff. It’s
strange seeing the whole evolution of graffiti from when I moved here up until
the present time. I mean, I’m not saying I saw all of it, but it’s
cool to see it coming up to its own, where people from other cities are like
“Minneapolis is dope, I wanna go paint there.” And people always
tell me Minneapolis has a really unique style, like that's what all the original
guys that really got things rolling did, was create their own styles. Geographically,
Minneapolis being in the middle of everything was really cool, because you’d
be getting things from like New York and the East Coast, and then also from
San Francisco and L.A. It made a nice blend of ideas, and that mixed with creativity
gave Minneapolis really unique styles. There isn’t like a uniform Minneapolis
style, but I do think that a couple of people that are key to Minneapolis bring
their own unique shit to the mix, plus influences from both coasts, that has
a lot to do with how the styles developed.
Pulse: This year’s Hip-Hop festival is largely dedicated to getting
the word out about politics and the presidential vote. How do you think Hip-Hop,
especially graffiti, can relate to political matters such as this?
Ewok: As far as promoting political stuff and acting as a political
voice, graffiti, or Hip-Hop, depending on what you do, you can reach a lot of
people. I don’t think a lot of people choose to make politics a goal of
their graffiti. I’ve had this discussion with lots of people actually,
whether the graffiti is all political or whether vandalism, in the sense of
subconscious politics, like, subconsciously you're choosing that the laws that
apply you don't agree with or abide by them, like you’re choosing to do
something that's illegal. As far as politics on a presidential level and such,
I think it's really cool and powerful to put out there in a graffiti type of
way or a public art type of way some sort of message. Like postering or stickers
or political stencils, I always found those to be really cool. I think that
sometimes these can be more powerful than a speech if done the right way. They
can be very influential.
Pulse: Do you have a specific plan laid out for the wall that you and
Chen are planning to paint for the Hip-Hop festival?
Ewok: I usually don’t. I have a really vague idea about what is
going to happen. I've tried to develop a style that I can embellish as I go
along. Lots of writers will plan out everything, like down to the color scheme,
and bring a sketch to refer to as they’re painting. But I like the idea
of not knowing what you’re going to end up with when you’re done
... but you try to make it work some how. I always try to develop my pieces
every time I go out, so if there’s a technique I used the last time I
went out and it worked, I will use it again and try to embellish. The stuff
that’s working I keep, the other stuff that didn't work I take out. I’ve
been getting into organic things, like the last couple of pieces I've done looked
like crabs and seashells. Using elements of how joints fit together to form
letters. Based on what other people tell me, I don’t think a lot of my
inspirations for my graffiti is other people’s graffiti, more so off trees
and nature and stuff. There’s definitely elements that I use as a foundation,
but now-a-days such a foundation has gone through basic graff styles, letters,
trying to push graff in another direction. That's really what I want to do,
explore new ideas. The people that I think are the best writers are either classic
old school stuff done really, really well, like Bates, people that have mastered
everything, every aspect of the letter, that can flip 20 different styles at
the drop of a hat. That, or other people that made everything up, like Totem,
whose pieces look like Transformers, or like Abuse's old stuff, they’ve
carved out such a style for themselves that it's like the style becomes the
letters. Like, lots of people didn't like Abuse’s shit, but like you could
see an Abuse piece from a block away and be like “That's Abuse.”
Pulse: Would you share some thoughts on Bush?
Ewok: I don't know if I can contribute something that hasn't been said
already a million times. Let me think of how I can capture this .... I’m
definitely not going to vote for him, I don’t think any thinking person
I don't think that John Kerry is necessarily a godsend, I mean, you already
narrow it down between one rich person and another rich person. The people that
are best fit to represent the common person; they'll never get a chance in hell
to run. If I had to vote on just political ideals, I’d have to go with
Nader; I actually voted for him in the last election, but given the developments
of the last four years with the handling of 9/11 and just letting Bush run amok,
the bottom line is “Get Bush the fuck out of office,” even if we
get a less than ideal president. ||
Emmanuel Mauleon is a student at Saint Paul Open School and member of
the Walker Art Center Teen Arts Council (WACTAC). Mauleon is the main organizer
of the mural painting at the 3rd Annual Twin Cities Hip Hop Festival.
WHAT: 3rd Annual Twin Cities Celebration of Hip-Hop
2 full days of workshops, battles, concerts, voter registration/education and
info sessions, vendors, dance competition, food from across the world, games,
basketball, fashion show, Circle of Discipline boxing tournament, skateboarding,
hip-hop, poetry, panel discussions, cultural art, graffiti wall demo, lowrider
WHEN: August 21st and 22nd Noon-10pm
East River Flats Park and Coffman Union on the University of Minnesota Campus
300 Washington Ave SE, Minneapolis, MN
COST: $15 one day pass. $25 two day pass. Available at Ticketmaster and
at the door. 651-989-5151
WHO: Performances by Clipse, Cee-Lo, Crazy Legs, Jean Grae and many more
(www.yothemovement.org for full listing)
MC Battle: Fee $15, Must leave name, phone, and list of other battles
they have been in. Fee due by 2pm on Saturday August 21st.
DJ Battle: Check with Jordon at Fifth Element 612-377-0044. Fee $25
B-Boy Battle: $45 fee. Hosted by Crazy Legs. 3 on 3 battles.
Beatbox Battle: $10 Fee.
Dance Battle: Teams up to 20. Entry fee $7 per person.
Vendors/Performers: There are no longer performance spots but you can
purchase a table to sell your merchandise. All vendor questions can be directed
to Claire Redmond at extension 19.
Hotel Accommodations: YO! has rooms reserved at the Ramada Inn 41 N Tenth St.
Minneapolis, MN 55403. Phone: 612-339-9311. You must tell them that it is for
the 3rd Annual Twin Cities Celebration of Hip-Hop.
The closest hotel is the Radisson Hotel Metrodome, 615 Washington Ave. S.E.,
Minneapolis directly across the street from the venue Phone: 612-379-8888. We
don't have a special discount there.
For more info 612-874-9696, firstname.lastname@example.org, YoTheMovement.org