Sometimes the most crucial moments in life are the unexpected ones.
Take Los Angeles native Man One for instance. He spent his high school days riding the RTD (L.A.’s bus system way back when) countless hours back and forth, bored out of his mind. One day, a fellow bus-riding friend pulled out a paint marker and started hitting up the side windows and panels.
“I had never seen anyone do graff right in front of me,” says Man One. “He passed [me] the marker and was like, hit it up!” Just like that, “it was on.” Bumping Mantronix in his headphones, Man One decided to write just that.
“They told me not to worry, it was just that my paint was frozen and I had to rub it under my jacket to thaw it out. Being from L.A., you have no idea how crazy that sounds!”
Despite growing up in the Eastside, with crews such as K2S and STN bombing the neighborhood, Man One never really paid much attention to his multi-colored surroundings beyond a curiosity as to how they were able to get away with it.
But after tagging the bus windows, Man One was quickly hooked. “One of my buddies let me borrow Spraycan Art and Subway Art,” he says, â€œand at that point, I knew what I wanted to do â€“ produce burners!â€ Shortening “Mantronix” to “MAN,” he added the â€œOneâ€ later to signify being the originator of that name in L.A. That lazy after-school bus-ride began what Man One calls “a life-long journey and obsession with the artform.”
Man One began writing on buses, underpasses and freeway spots, and as his can control increased, he began experimenting with style, color and form. “It took a couple of years before I could muster up enough courage to paint my pieces on the infamous walls at Belmont and other yards,” he says. “The late 80’s to early 90’s were a special time in L.A. graffiti history due to the amount of yards, not the train kind, but the wall kind, that were all running with burners and productions in all parts of the city.”
He recalls the yards fondly as both a destination and a training-ground. “You could learn tricks of the trade just by watching all these guys paint,” says Man One. “You’d get schooled on the rules of the game, you’d learn how to handle beefs, and were able to witness true battles. Thinking back on it, the fact that we have lost all these yards over the last 20 years has really affected how graf is passed on to future generations,” he says. “That’s a shame.”
The other shame is the ever-increasing circle of violence that has touched all elements of Los-Angelino life, including graffiti. “Gang mentality and overall thug-life seem to be the predominating attitudes of inner city youth,” says Man One. In the past, graffiti was an escape from this path of violence. “Unfortunately, nowadays the paths seem to be increasingly intertwined and more and more supposed ‘graf’ heads are walking around strapped and looking hard, rather than flexing their skills on the walls,” he says. “Itâ€™s ridiculous to me that crossing someone out can get you shot,” he explains. “Whatever happened to battles?”
“To me, L.A. is the most beautiful place in the world and I think the same about the graffiti.”
Man One’s experiences, however, have been more rewarding and adventurous than potentially life-threatening. He took part in the Vans Warped Tour, traveling across 30 cities in the U.S. in his own R.V., complete with driver, getting paid a good salary plus a per diem. With hundreds of spray cans at his disposal, Man One was “painting a new 10′ X 20′ piece everyday, on-stage, in front of crowds as big as 45,000 people,” he says. “Bands like AFI, 311 Kool Keith and others were jamming out on the stages across from me, and chicks were asking me to sign their bare naked bellies all day long. I just kept thinking, ‘All this because I know how to spray paint pretty good?’ Not bad, huh?”
Not all his experiences have been as fun, but certainly no less memorable. On his first trip to Chicago, Man One was shocked by the cold weather. “Being from Southern Cali, he says, “50Â° [10Â° Celsius] is as cold as I can take.” When he arrived in the Chi, it was 30Â°, 20Â° including wind-chill factor. “I remember hooking up with some homies from the SB crew and painting freights but the paint wouldn’t come out,” says Man One. “They told me not to worry, it was just that my paint was frozen and I had to rub it under my jacket to thaw it out. Being from L.A., you have no idea how crazy that sounds!”
Another cause for confusion involved broken language. “I also kept talking to them about the ‘one-time’ every time I spotted one,” says Man One. “Later I found out they had no idea what I was talking about. ‘Five-O’ was the proper slang for cops at that time, and they had never heard any of the L.A. slang I was mouthing off.” Fortunately, the session went off without a hitch. “It would have been classic if the only reason for getting nabbed would’ve been for not knowing each others slang terms.”
Perhaps that’s why home is most comfortable for Man One. “To me, L.A. is the most beautiful place in the world and I think the same about the graffiti.” While he points out that many other cities emulate New York writers, “gang and calligraphy writing have been around Los Angeles for decades before anyone knew of Hip Hop,” he says. “L.A.’s rich Mexican culture has influenced the colors and aesthetics used in our work. The messages in our pieces have been passed down from our Chicano artists and muralists of the 60’s and 70’s who reflected the struggle of minorities in this country.”
“Unfortunately, nowadays the paths seem to be increasingly intertwined and more and more supposed ‘graf’ heads are walking around strapped and looking hard, rather than flexing their skills on the walls”
To that end, Man One is in the midst of organizing graff events in L.A. this year, both at his gallery, Crewest, and site-specific projects. While he can’t reveal details just yet, he promises they’ll be worth looking out for. After all, “no one bombs like in L.A.,” he says. “If you can paint here, you can paint anywhere.”
More Info: http://www.ManOne.com