Bronx native Yes One has been gracing walls, canvases and more with his energetic aesthetic — in NYC and beyond — for almost 30 years. StreetArtNYC is delighted to feature an interview with him.
How did you first get into graffiti? What inspired you?
I was introduced to graffiti by Smiley 149 of the Ebony Dukes when I was 10 years old. He used to chill outside my favorite candy shop where I played Asteroids on the arcades. He sat on a crate right outside, and we would vibe watching the trains go by on the Tremont El. This was about 1979.
When you began writing, what kind of surfaces did you hit?
Illegal ones — because of the rush. I can’t explain it, but it’s like robbing a bank.
How did your family feel about what you were doing back then?
My mom and dad hated it. They saw it as a crime. My mother was scared. She used to say, “Te voy a botar esas latas!” (I’m going to throw your cans out!) She actually kept some of those cans,
and I have some collectables today.
Have you painted with any crews?
Do you prefer working alone or would you rather collaborate with other artists?
I often work alone, but I’m open to collaborating with anyone.
Who are some of the artists with whom you’ve painted?
Any thoughts on the graffiti/ street art divide?
I see them as two different things. Graffiti is letters, forms and styles. Street art doesn’t pay homage to graffiti, but I can admire it.
How do you feel about the movement of graffiti and street art into galleries?
What about the role of the Internet in this scene? Do you follow any sites?
And the photographers in this scene? How do you feel about them?
They don’t bother me. They have learned the etiquette.
Do you have a formal arts education?
I never went to art school.
What’s the riskiest thing you’ve done? And why were you willing to take that risk?
Painting in the 2 and 5 train yards in the Bronx with Clark in the late 80s. I was young, and you do foolish things when you’re young.
How would you describe your ideal working environment?
My ideal working environment is the Ya Tu Sabe studio space.
What inspires you these days?
Seeing people checking out my walls, taking pictures and smiling. When I see people appreciating my work, I feel I did my job.
Are there any particular cultures you feel influenced your aesthetic?
I influence myself.
Do you work with a sketch in your hand or do you let it flow?
I work with a sketch in my hand, but what goes on the wall is not always a hundred percent what was on the paper.
Are you generally satisfied with your work?
I’m never satisfied. I may “finish” a wall this week and go back the next saying to myself, “I could have added this or that.”
How do you feel when you look back at the work you did two years ago?
I take it as a good reference point for picking up new techniques and elevating my style. I feel that my work has gotten stronger. And I feel a hunger to produce more and further my talents.
What percentage of your day is devoted to your art? I know you have a “day job.”
I’d say about 75 percent. It’s work – then, art. I wake up at 5 in the morning and don’t go to sleep until 2 a.m.
What are some of your other interests?
I love baseball and collecting rare items. I also love BMX bikes.
What do you see as the role of the artist in society?
The role of the artist is a big one. The artist is there to affect a person’s mind by introducing new ideas and concepts.
Interview conducted by Lenny Collado and edited by Lois Stavsky; photos 1, 2, 4 & 5 Lois Stavsky; 3 & 6 Dani Reyes Mozeson; photo 5 is from Yes One’s black book; photos 2 & 4 (close-up) are from works currently on exhibit at the Pop Bar in Astoria, Queens; photo 6 is a collab with Shiro, Part and Meres at 5Pointz