A mixture of skills and ambition have drawn attention to artist Gats over the years. He’s used his creative talents to pave his way into the art world while leaving a message behind with each piece. Influenced by the Bay Area, Gats continues to travel the world releasing new pieces and showing in galleries.
Throughout all of his travels, the West Coast continues to bring him home, especially after run-ins with authorities in places like the Philippines. We had a chance to catch up with him to learn how he started, and understand the obstacles he pushed through to get to where he is at today. At times it’s hard for people to understand this world around us. Gats is one of many creators guiding us through a journey so many can relate to.
From an early age, growing up in the city, GATS turned to Ska-punk and Hardcore albums as his primary style influence. Over the years he developed his letter style to where he is most recognized for his linter totem mask style character which is a symbol of duality and eternal struggle for balance. Find out more about GATS, his history and current and upcoming projects.
History of GATS
Spray Planet: You're dominating the scene and have collaborated with other legends. What can you share with us about yourself? (What you write, paste/paint) Tell us a little bit about who you are. (What crews you represent and how long you've been at it overall.)
GATS: Thank you for the kind words but I’m not trying to dominate anything. If you want to get your head cut off call yourself a king. I have been lucky to collaborate with a lot of amazing artists from LOLC, CBS/LORDS, 640, HA714, and many others. I hope to work with a lot more in the future. I’ve done the most work with my crews PTV (Punks Thugs and Vandals / Protect The Voiceless) which started in the Bay Area and Illegal Trouble which started in New York. Ill' Trubs is a pretty travel heavy crew. Sometimes I write International Trouble when I’m out of the country.
I love letters and have been tagging since the mid 90’s but I’m most known for the characters of masks that I paint.
The mask is a symbol of duality and the eternal struggle for balance. It watches over the streets and protects those forgotten about by society. It is a note to let people know they are not alone.
Spray Planet: Let's be real here. We want to know the details. Can you tell us where you grew up at and how the graffiti scene there influenced you.
GATS: I’m not a normal person. I can’t truthfully say I’m from anywhere, but the West Coast is my home. I’m grateful though because moving and traveling so much exposed me to a wider range of styles and mentalities. It also sewed the seeds of restlessness that keep me exploring.
When and where I started there was only gang graffiti, some skateboarder scribble, a Circle A and some punk flyers (Which probably still sums up my aesthetic).
My early letter influence was from bands like Operation Ivy and Common Correct. Before access to the internet I would flip through used CDs at Street Light Records studying the letters on mostly Ska-Punk and Hardcore albums.
Spray Planet: Can you tell us how you took on the name GATS. How long have you been writing it?
GATS: I went through many names and slogans before accidentally landing on GATS. In the mid 2000’s, I was invited to a secret meeting in the back of a radical book shop in Los Angeles where I was asked to write Graffiti Against The System. There was a group of us doing a graffiti campaign in support of immigrant rights around Southern California right before those massive May Day marches that happened. I went crazy writing it around seven countries over that next few years and people mistook it for my name.
The Impact of Graffiti on GATS and his Life
Spray Planet: How has graffiti impacted your life? Did you have a fallback plan if becoming an artist didn't work out for you? Did anyone ever try to stop you from this life style/any obstacles that you overcame?
GATS: There is no back up plan. I burnt my ships. Do or die. Though, doing graffiti full time was never the plan. It fell in my lap. Graffiti is something I’ve done compulsively since I was a kid. I was always told being an artist wasn’t a job. My parents would say you can make art but you need to have a real job. I understand what they meant now and what they were trying to protect me from. Still, I would rather be poor and free than comfortable and working for someone else.
The majority of people in my life have tried to stop me at some point. Even if its just subtle peer pressure or shame. You have to worry about every person you know turning you in if you accidentally upset them or they accidentally sabotage you because they don’t take security culture seriously. On the flip side of that, Miguel 640, Pemex LOLc, and Spoke-Art have been the constant people in my life telling me I have to continue doing this until I can’t physically do it any more… then figure out how to do it some more.
You also have to protect your heart against the minority of artists who are bitter about their own percieved failure. They will tell you that what you are doing isn’t art. They know because they paid a lot of money to go to art school. They will say your style isn’t keeping up with the popular aesthetic or it is too popular. They will hate you for working for free or they will hate you for getting paid. You will paint one piece and half the people will hate you for raising property values and the other half will hate you for lowering property values. Ultimately you can not control other people’s projections. In a way the mask I paint is like a mirror that reveals who you really are when you interpret it.
Just keep doing the work. You have to look at it like leaving gifts. Hopefully they like it but if they throw it out that is their choice. Focus on the people you’re positively affecting, and honor each wall with the best thing you can create. It’s give and take. You are both the villain and the hero. That is the duality in the mask.
Always check yourself anytime you start hating someone for having the same hobby as you.
Spray Planet: Your work leaves a lasting impression. How would you describe your overall style?
GATS: Spooky Ornate Deconstructed Cholo Script. One liner totems of protection. Goth Graff Deco. Post apocalyptic time traveler. It’s the sum of street subcultures thrown back through the ages to a time that never existed. A scribe with a scribe.
Spray Planet: Think fast...three colors...one piece. (Fill, outline, background) What are they?
GATS: Bone White, Matt Black, Luminous Green. I usually jump between two colors to four colors though.
Spray Planet: Let's talk essentials, when you're gearing up for a late night art escapade what are the items that you can't leave the house without? (paint, tips Etc.) Are there any MTN products that you've been wanting to try out?
GATS: If I don’t have a specific mission in mind I’ll pack up and head out for as many days as I can. I find if I go out for one night I’m not as productive as going out for a few days at a time. If you want to paint something significant reconnaissance takes time. When I was painting Guadalajara with Pemex he explained it like I was a sniper looking for that perfect shot and he was the grunt on the ground spraying everything like a machine gun.
In that scenario I generally bring a ladder, bolt cutters, a gallon of water, small bottle of water, box of tear resistant gloves, a short and long extension pole, three sizes of rollers, six pack of thick naps, at least two gallons of fill color, a gallon of outline color, a crate of matt black spray paint, two to three crates of fill colors, box of white streakers, box of black streakers, three 2oz mops, three scribes (because you’re going to inevitably lose them), a box of Prestos, various disguises for different locations, sleeping bag, roll of toilet paper, box of almond butter filled cliffbars, bag of astro fats, bag of skinnies (I use the old stock caps from 94 but I’m almost out), bag of NY fats (because they always work when everything else fails), a few adapters, a skateboard with soft silent wheels (so you're not hitting rocks in the dark) and a crate of stickers of varying sizes. I used to cary wheat pasting stuff too but I think I just got tired of being covered in glue all the time.
Then I can just grab from that stuff for the micro missions. Two cans for outline and a few for fill for a quick little spot. I always bring twice what I need because you’re always going to have duds. Maybe the paint is to old (who knows how long it was at the store). Maybe you didn’t shake it good enough the first time you used it because you were next to someone’s bedroom window on a rooftop and now it’s clogging because the pigment is to thick at the bottom. Maybe you didn’t clear your cap good enough because a cop rolled up on you. Maybe you forgot to make a sacrifice to the graffiti gods. Whether you’re painting a throw or building a bridge… redundancies, redundancies, redundancies. Oh, and an extra pair of shoes for when you sink into the mud up to your knees. Also, a jacket so you don’t freeze to death when you end up hiding from the police all night in the winter (or San Francisco Summer).
I’m pretty familiar with all the MTN products, except for the 750ml Krink can with the straw. I’d like to test out a box of those. Do you guys have a biodegradable paper straw option? Just kidding, as I spray all this xylene and butane into my lungs. On that note though, I would like to play with the water based paints more. I like that people can't smell you from a block away. I’m also glad to see the Alien cans back on the site. I always think I can catch one more little tag with those and then it lasts all night. The everlasting low pressure gobstopper. You can also carry more colors in your bag than if you had all full size cans.
Spray Planet: Do you have a favorite image to paint? Why?
GATS: The mask. My hand knows where I’m going before my brain does. Like when you accidentally drive home on autopilot when you meant to go somewhere else. That and the circled one liner tag I do. There is something physically satisfying about a continuous stroke like you are catching a wave that you just have to ride out. The mask was initially designed as a one liner. That’s the bay area influence I guess.
Graffiti Inspirations, Spot Preferences and motivations
Spray Planet: Who and what were some of your early inspirations when you were first coming up and developing your own style?
GATS: Early on I was really in isolation from a larger graffiti community. I describe my evolution as doing things wrong and then trying to make it work. I was watching artists like Ed Templeton, Gee Vaucher, Jesse Michaels, and Eric Drooker. When I think about artists who inspired me it wasn’t about their style as much as their tactics and drive. Revs is one of my favorites because he kept evolving and exploring new mediums regardless of what all other graffiti writers were doing.
Spray Planet: What makes for the best setting when creating? When it comes to graffiti what are your areas of expertise (Ie: streets, yards, underpasses, Etc.)
GATS: I’m looking for an interesting composition. One of the main reasons I work in the street is to interact with the existing architecture and environment. An endless rectangle like a freeway wall or warehouse is not interesting to me because a piece floats out of context. Context is what makes graffiti interesting. I paint the beard so I can wrap around corners, pillars and windows. It gives it motion, life and a challenge.
I prefer a spot I have to climb to or has some sort or physical challenge or risk I have to overcome. Every city and country is different though. You have to change your tactics based on the local abatement, vigilantes, political climate, legal culture… in some countries the planks on billboards are rotting off, their roofs are not load baring, and they generally shoot at you for any reason with handmade guns. In the Philippines I bolted from these cops and they made me come back and finish the piece. That was awkward. I didn’t know if it was a trick or what they would do to me if I refused. If you ever see a super slanted messed up GATS face out there that’s the story.
Spray Planet: What motivates you to continue in this industry and what's your ultimate vision? Lastly, can you share with us any goals you have in the future.
GATS: As soon as I start thinking of it as an industry I’m going to walk away from it. My goal has always been to create a bit of mystery, mischief and fun while simultaneously drawing people into positive social causes.
I’m going to continue traveling to more countries to collaborate with other artists and learn from other cultures. I want to connect as many diverse people as possible and spread the idea of mutual aid and voluntary cooperation. I constantly debate with myself whether I should start a foundation or just continue donating to other not for profits. I like having the fluidity to move support around where it is most needed but I’d like to create something that outlasts me that other people can be a part of.
The mask I paint is a symbol. I want to spend my life adding positive meaning to it so that when you look around a room and see someone with it tattooed on their hand you know that person has your back. That they believe in compassion, equality and solidarity… and that they wash their own dishes. Metaphorically. Literally.
When you see something wrong in the world don’t wait for someone else to fix it or for permission to act… just fix it.
One last rant for young writers. Graffiti can be taken away from you. You can lose your health or freedom. Who are you as a person when it’s all gone? Did you spend your spree building real friendships or running with scum bags who don’t care about you outside of graffiti? Don’t be someone who has a crisis when they get caught and realize they have no friends. Be humble because glory fades. Someone younger than you will do what you did harder and better and no one will remember who did it first. Maybe this graff messiah hasn’t even been born yet. That’s the beauty of graffiti as a movement. You got to contribute to the conversation for a beautiful moment.
Interview with GATS by Jessica P.