HISTORY:Spray Planet: Let’s begin with the very basics: What do you write, how did you come up with it, and how long have you been writing and painting graffiti? Also, where did your Instagram handle come from? Earwigs are sort of gross, by the way.
EKOSE22: I write Ekose 22. I started writing in ‘95. I started out as “EKO”. After awhile, writing just three letters became boring to me so I decided to extend the name. To me, it seemed like the names all had meanings to them- not just random letters and words so I gave my name an acronym: “Essential Knowledge Overcomes Supernatural Enemies.” The 22 is for my birthday and a couple of other significant life events that correspond with that number.
As far as the Earwig 22 goes, I created it as a second alias to hide who I was on flyers and at shows. I added the 22 so the two names were connected though. Just another way to keep it all under wraps. It all stems from my past though. I grew up with a pretty abusive stepdad. There was one time in particular that we had watched The Beast Master together, an old 80’s flick, and after it was over he decided to recreate one of the scenes. He pinned me down and put a live earwig into my ear. It freaked me the fuck out--definitely stayed with me through the years. Art and graffiti was an outlet for me growing up; sort of an escape from the abuse. It kind of reminds of the creative bug that keeps driving me now. You can’t get it out of your head.
Spray Planet: How did you begin your life as a graffiti writer? Can you recall that very first moment that sparked your interest in becoming a graffiti writer? What compelled you to continue in writing graff and did you ever think that you’d be where you are now? Please feel free to elaborate. What were they doing or what did they do that pushed you to explore lettering?
EKOSE22: I saw my first piece on a handball court at a school when I was driving around with my mom in a van that we... spent a lot of time in. That one piece pushed me for many years. I tried to recreate it many times over the years until I finally gave up and just decided to keep it as a memory. The cool thing is, I ended up becoming friends with the dudes who did that piece later on and they ended up being really nice people. Not one of those “kill your heroes” moments.
I never thought I’d be where I am now or be capable of doing what I can do with letters now. I was just a kid that was in love with graffiti.
INFLUENCES:Spray Planet: Different writers have different influences and, more directly, different individuals that may not necessarily be graffiti writers but have a significant persuasion in how they view and create art, is there anyone like this in your life? How did that individual influence your art or processes?
EKOSE22: Basically my go to was old graffiti magazines... anything I could get my hands on. There was little to no graffiti where I grew up. I also really liked graffiti videos like GTV and a bunch of random ass videos I got bootlegged from some video store in Tempe Arizona. I can’t even remember the names of them. When it came to technical painting, it was European writers like Daim and Seak. I never got to see the true grit of a real piece, just photos in magazines, so the standard for myself of being clean was super high.
Spray Planet: If you’re talking to a bystander or someone who doesn’t write graffiti, how would you explain your style to them? Do you call it anything specific? Do you prefer letters over characters, vice-versa, or a good mixture? Please elaborate as to why.
EKOSE22: I consider my style as sort of a mech style. I don’t really know how to explain it any more than that. I think every aspect of graffiti is important and I like doing all of it: tags, throw ups, hand drawn stickers, pieces- just helps you to be well rounded, in my opinion.
Spray Planet: Speaking of style, you just finished a huge character for the Los Angeles Meeting of Styles that was phenomenal. Is your process for a large wall different from a smaller one? Can you go explain the process that you went through to make this mural happen? Also, would you mind discussing the frustrating moments and give us some highlights on those shining moments when everything clicked or “came together?” As a whole, through your career, have you had more shining moments or more moments that want you to smash your head against a wall?
EKOSE22: I really appreciate the love on the wall--couldn’t have done it without the AD team. My process for drawing on large and small walls is not any different that when I am drawing on paper. I feel that if you know your style enough, draw enough and stay persistent, then you won’t have any trouble reproducing an image big or small. May take a couple shots, but you’ll get it... without any exterior tools like projectors... just your head and hands.
The mural in LA was an effort on everyone’s part. From colors to background to placement, you get a lot of valuable input passed around the table. The frustrating moments are when lifts don’t work, orders get fucked up, and everyone parties a little too hard. On this particular wall, we had very little problems. As time goes on, we get better at dialing it in. Always expect the worst though. Art and graffiti is like a battle. It’s very tough to balance it all. I don’t work any regular jobs. I’ve strictly done graffiti and drawn pictures. There’s been plenty of moments that I’ve wanted to bash my head against the wall and plenty of really awesome moments. It’s a constant up and down, but I wouldn’t trade this life for anything. Lots of starving and lots of struggling, but we’re still here.
TOOLS, STYLE, and PROGRESSION:
Spray Planet: In the past few years, digital drawing has taken over social media platforms, but a majority of your posts seem to be more “traditional” means like pen and marker. In a digital world, how do you feel about the use of modern devices to create artwork? Do you use tools like an iPad or tablet? What’s your opinion about artists that rely solely on these devices to create work? Do you believe that something may be lost in translation when using a digital method rather than an old fashion pencil?
EKOSE22: When it comes to graffiti, it’s fucking cheap. I do use it because sometimes it makes commission work easier and makes things print ready. It’s also necessary in some ways today, sure. But personally I’m not a big fan. But that’s just me. Artists who use it exclusively- have fun with that. I feel like, you lose the beauty of human error and the beauty of human ability.
Spray Planet: In your opinion, how has the graffiti culture changed? Is there a significant difference between your generation of graffiti writers and the new generation that is being raised on Instagram and Twitter? How can your generation help to move younger graffiti writers forward in a positive way and set aside the differences that may be arising?
EKOSE22: In my opinion, graffiti culture has changed in the sense that there is so much exterior influence. It’s not even regional anywhere except for a few cities here and there. You don’t see many original letter styles or painting techniques nowadays. Of course there are a lot of skilled people out there who can paint really well- not denying that one bit- but I feel like it can create a laziness when it comes to originality or creating stylized letters that are your very own. When it comes to internet writers, it seems like there’s not a lot of respect for writers that came before and actually put in a lot of work into creating what they have as far as style. It’s not always about cleanliness. Even though I was learning from magazines and videos, I was really out there doing it along with being in the books, scratching on paper and trying to improve my tags, hoping they would stand out from others... also putting in the work to find the spots and attempt to do pieces when I wasn’t just fucking shit up. It seems like kids are trying to do pieces these days, but the styles are hijacked from other writers that are all over the internet. Influence is one thing, biting is another. It’s key to find a way to make it yours. Only thing I can say to younger writers is to consider the advice that older writers are trying to give you. They may be looking out for your best interests. We all want to keep the game going. For example, if the older homie tells you to hit the books, then hit the books. Take it seriously if you want to get better. All in all we gotta be solid to each other. Keep spots living, keep graffiti growing.
Spray Planet: It seems that the past decade the graffiti culture has lost a lot of writers due to drug overdoses or suicides linked to drug and alcohol abuse. We understand that this is not an easy topic to talk about, but would you mind discussing your own drug addiction battles? How does having such an addiction affect you as a person and your artwork? Can you explain to us what the importance of being clean and living a healthier lifestyle means to you? If there were a group of young artists standing in front of you, what would you tell them?
EKOSE22: I don’t even know how to start with this one. It’s a long ass story. I’ve been addicted to many different drugs since I was 11 years old. I grew up in a family of hard core drug abusers and was sort of doomed to that life. I started smoking cigarettes at age 7 so as you can imagine, I didn’t have much supervision and guidance and had access to a lot of different substances from a very young age. I started smoking meth at 11. At 16, I started shooting heroin with David Bowers that skated for Etnies who OD’d in front of me and died while watching Daisy Fuentes on MTV spring break.
He was much older than I was. RIP. I kept going after that though. I pretty much have done everything under the sun. Drugs led me down a road of emotional problems. I became extremely violent and suicidal. I was depressed as a kid, it’s all I knew. It was the norm. Wasn’t till later in life that I realized that I had an actual problem with depression. Once I could no longer deny that and was called out by loved ones, I slightly started to try and improve the chaos in my life... at least when it came to drugs. That was when I was about 25.
By then I had already gotten into a lot of trouble and got clean off meth and heroin and was getting ready to have my daughter... which was the perfect reason to straighten my shit up. I did about 10 years sober with no therapy and no help besides from loved ones... which I was reluctant to take because I felt as if they didn’t get it. Then I relapsed again. I was in denial about it for awhile, my suicidal tendencies got out of control because of the drugs. My girlfriend was also struggling with addiction at the time and she ended up getting her shit in order and going to rehab and that helped give me the push to get clean again in order to save my personal relationships, be a whole father for my daughter and get back to doing what I love, which is graffiti. It actually has been way more enjoyable to be at the spots with those people being clear headed, regardless of what they are doing in their personal lives-because we all have demons. I’m not one to judge anyone for shit. I’d rather you be you.
The reality of the situation is, it takes more balls to get a spot sober because there’s a pure drive behind it where fear is irrelevant. It takes a lot to accomplish something good under that pressure. So if you’re worried about it not being fun or whatever when you’re fucked up, then it might just be something you do when you’re fucked up ¯\_(ツ)_/¯. But hey if that’s your thing, that’s your thing. I know I did it. Staying up till 2 in the morning, mobbin’ around, thinking my own clear thoughts has made it so much more fulfilling. I get to experience the entire thing.
Spray Planet: As you move forward in life, looking back on your past, where are some places that your travels have taken you? Which have been the most memorable or impressionable? Why? What are some places that you haven’t been that you’d love to travel to and paint? Do you have a “dream” list of writers that you would like to paint with and check off your bucket list?
EKOSE22: I’ve only stayed within the states. Basically I’m like the poorest motherfucker you know. I’m not joking. I’ve got like 56.90 in my bank account right now. I don’t even know why I have a bank account in the first place because it’s fucking me over. My favorite place I’ve been to is Kansas City for Kansas City masterpiece event. It was thrown by some awesome individuals and it was super memorable. You had to be there. I’d really like to go out of the US though. Places like Spain, Australia, Italy, Japan... just to paint with someone doing something completely different than what I am doing or what I even know. I don’t really have a dream list of writers. More or less if I get to paint next to someone that I looked up to as a kid would be awesome. I’m not really on some ego shit, so just some cool people in general.
Spray Planet: Do you have any future walls in the mix for your fans and social media followers to keep an eye out for? Do you think that you’ll ever trade in the can as you become older? Where do you see graffiti in the next 5 years? With graffiti becoming more and more mainstream, do you believe that the line between street-art and graffiti will become so blurred that they will eventually become the same thing? Or do you believe that graffiti is already a significant part of the mainstream?
EKOSE22: AD crew actually has story coming that will all be on walls. Part one was the mural we did at the Los Angeles Meeting of Styles. Other than that, new things will always be coming. I don’t think I will ever put the can down, unless I physically have to. I hope that in the next five years that the graffiti community will become more thorough and learn to communicate better without ego because spots are sacred. This shit is important. If we want to keep being able to do these things, there has to be a formula. We need to watch out for each other. If you just don’t like each other then just leave each other alone. Bringing it back to like old style battles and shit would be ultra cool...... but I don’t expect any of that to happen. I understand fighting is a part of shit, but try and maintain. Let’s push each other to get better at what we do and how we do things. Graffiti will never be street art. If it is, you’re doing it wrong. But I do condone letting people believe it is whatever is less threatening in order to snag or obtain a wall... but shortly after we will confirm that what they have on their wall is indeed graffiti. Hey, we’re just warming them up for what I hope will be graffiti pieces everywhere. I want it to be everywhere. I think graffiti is trendy, but I wouldn’t call it mainstream yet.
Spray Planet: Lastly, you’re a full time artist, but do you have anything else in the works business wise? How can our readers and your fans help to get your work out there and food on the table? What’s the best way for other artists and collectors to get in contact with you?
EKOSE22: Nope. Doing the best I can wingin’ it.
I mainly survive via IG these days so if you wanna help out, just share my work and spread the word I guess. If you have any ideas, I’m open.
Spray Planet: We appreciate you taking the time to show us a glimpse into the world of EKOSE. Would you like to share anything else, suggest anything or give our readers any words of advice? Are there any shout-outs that you would like to make?
EKOSE22: If any advice at all I would say be persistent, but be smart. All I know is graff. If that’s what you really love and you work hard at it all comes together. Don’t be scared to get out there and put in time. This isn’t a label, it’s a lifestyle that not everyone’s fit for and that’s okay. You can still have fun and do it right, even if it’s just a momentary hobby. Just remember if that’s what you do that others are in this for life. Whether we think so or not and to keep it going do your best to contribute and help this stay moving. Keep our spots clean by just doing your part.
I want to shout out a grip of people in no particular order. Thank you to KASM for hooking a dude up with a voice for a moment—that really means a lot. Y’all asked me to ramble for minute--Huge shouts to my crews and fam: 4SK, PFE, VRS, SHK, TDR, AD CREW, DFT, TNR, AIDK, AYAK, LO-LIFES, BURN-UPS, GET IT GANG, and YPN (If you know you know I rep man so if you’re not on here you know I got you regardless), JADE93, ONSET, TIMER—we are on the road to bring y’all some new big things so keep your eyes peeled. Shits not easy out here, surround yourself with good people. Also, shouts: CULPA, BLAME, PENZ, TIPER, OHSEK, NEKON, ABNR, MERES, BAD, KANT, PERKS, ROAMR, GIMER, AND KEPTOE.
All we have is ourselves and each other, so do your best to hold shit down because it’s us against them.
Ekose22 can be reached for commissions and art sales via:
Interviewed by: @Kasm78