Mike USA - I have done things that put me in a lot of risk in order to write my word on them. Because the general public looks in disgust at graffiti, I will always be going back to that tagging shit.
Apart from graffiti, I enjoy looking at paintings on walls, or murals, but I am unsure of what the term “street art” even means nowadays. I don’t think I feature street art on my blog. When I think about that term, what echoes in my head are the big brands and famous names involved with that so called “art movement.” Personally, I like the term painting, and love the term graffiti. – Pablo de Pinho, Art SF Blog 2014
Pablo de Pinho: Os Gemeos once mentioned that they do what they do, and they let other people name it and put it into categories or boxes. Unlike them, I know everything you paint is on the street and illegal. Do think it is important to have a clear definition between graffiti, street art and muralism?
Mike USA: I call it good old fashioned spray painting. Society calls it vandalism. By definition they could be agreed with. You should do whatever you want for good reasons. If you want to just make money off of it, go into web design. You want to take old walls with graffiti history away with a mural, you are not contributing to the scene, you are part of the problem. The only thing we have in common is the medium. We use spray paint. What you call it is on you. I’ve been called an artist and a scumbag. I embrace both.
Recently, I posted a flyer for the show “At Home With…” at Guerrero Gallery on the blog. You mentioned it was one of the most blue collar and hardworking line ups you’ve seen. How are these people real and honest with what they do? Whose work are you inspired by?
I feel in order to understand where something’s going you have to know where it came from. I’m inspired by the people in the show and scene who still have a backbone. Espo for keeping it blue collar, the man works for a living and still maintains to keep his work creative and appealing. The other who stood out was Reyes, for one he is painting what he wants and is a bomber at heart. He’s providing for his family meanwhile keeping his original secret recipe his own. With decisions to make for a family, he is still holding on to his own style. This I respect. If he struck rich I couldn’t say he didn’t deserve it, he put in years and years of work and earned it. Most people on that flier could have the same said. It’s the hacks who haven’t contributed to the scene and expect to only get money and publicity. Some people earn the right to eat. I feel, if you put in enough to graffiti and it rewards you, then and only then no one can hate.
Supe once told me he is more like an artisan than an artist. In the way that he wants to do what he wants and have all the creative freedom to do anything. An artisan is more blue-collar than a commercial artist, and may turn down big money, and deny working with corporations. How do you see corporations?
Do I hate people who have got dealt a good hand? No. Good for them. It would be nice to hit easy street. But I work hard for my money and do my graffiti because it keeps my sanity. I have turned down every money making opportunity up to date that has to do with graffiti. There is a time and place and it will come someday, but when I get lost in my own head I realize I’m just trying to progress and take more steps into the projection of the imagination of my adolescence.
What are some of your favorite cartoons?
I watch cartoons from when I was a kid anything early 80s and earlier. I like propaganda cartoons with the poor renditions of iconic cartoons.
Tomcat identifies with the punk lifestyle and punk aspect of graffiti, instead of hip hop. Hardcore music is very prominent in your video “A Mile in Mikes Shoes’, how do you see the punk lifestyle in graffiti as it relates to you, the Bay Area, and politics?
I identify with all sorts of music, hardcore especially. Punk rock isn’t selling you on the idea of being something you are not. Graffiti is all passion and usually little to no financial gain, a lot like the music identify with. I feel there is a code people should live by and abide by; having loyalty, honor and integrity. It’s comradery. The Bay Area has its own thing going on, but I’m not exactly attracted to it. East coast olde tyme hardcore has always been tried and true. The Bay Area politics are quite crazy, and turns graffiti from checkers into chess. A lot of people with opinions are bar vandals who paint to and from the bar and hand shake and ladder climb, wanting any cool guy on the crew. I feel respect should always be earned, which is most likely how feathers have been ruffled.
Kegr states that he wants to live completely free of consumerism, and go against the establishment. Do you relate to him, is that why you do graffiti?
I have done things that put a lot at risk in order to write my word on them. Because the general public looks in disgust at graffiti, I will always be going back to that tagging shit. I feel tags are business cards, they lead everyone to your work, yes. But, some people have that plain white card, and some people have extravagant engraved cards. None the less, it is part of the game and people make judgments solely on that. The public can deal with a company jamming a product down their throats. I like to think I’m in advertising myself. Where I paint and what I paint, but in the sense that it’s an ad for not holding yourself by other people’s limitations. Do I live free of it? I don’t think so. Does anyone truly live free of it? Hard to say.
You mentioned before, graffiti is a form of meditation for you. Not many writers in the bay produce illegal full-color pieces with cartoons; is it a different feeling for you than just bombing?
No, I feel it’s one in the same. Some spots are chiller than others but the comfort-zone is always temperamental. You have to always be aware, at any time the party can be over. I feel the game is changing and you have to be well rounded in every aspect to really make a name for yourself.
When you travel to other cities, does your graffiti adapt to that city, or do you stick with just one approach?
You should always be on your toes and treat each city as if it’s the sketchiest. Get used to being keen and aware, no matter if it’s solo or with a look out. The police can mess up 1000 times and keep a job. You mess up once and your ass is grass.
Do you feel that the Bay Area has the best (illegal) graffiti at the moment? Where would you go if you could not be in the Bay?
Well there is always an exit strategy, and where to would be giving too much information. There are a lot of good things coming from the Bay. It’s artistically progressive and has always been. There are more pros than cons about this place but the fun bubble isn’t impenetrable and will eventually pop. I feel it’s good to get all the oil out the well before I call it tapped.
Graffiti magazines and snail-mail, were very popular in the 90’s as a way for writers to share their work and communicate back and forth. Do you think social media like Instagram, Flickr, and Tumblr have changed graffiti?
Yes, there is a lot less stamp-licking, but it breeds self promotion.Graffiti is and has always been self promotion regardless. But now it’s good to know you have an audience and you want to keep them entertained as well as yourself.
Do you prefer walls over trains?
Graffiti will always look better on passenger trains, but orange jumpsuits will always be unflattering. I feel like the scenes still alive in American steel, but risk-over-reward is not exactly on an even keel here.
What was the most insane experience you have had?
I have had a lot of close calls. I think the most insane experience was Canal Street ledge. I had done it a few times but the 3rd was the most hectic. It’s a ledge you can’t fit your whole shoe on. As you are up there you are visible from the Brooklyn Bridge and a few blocks away from the Manhattan Tombs/police station. As I was up there with all that stress, I had to stand and hold still for 30 minutes as the police pulled someone over for a DUI below me. So tired, barely able to hold on whole, the tow arrived and retrieved the car, and I had to just stand there. As the police finally left, the sun started rising, and I had to finish as the sun was beating on my back. I got home so happy and weakened from the extensive workout 8 stories up on a 10 inch ledge. I didn’t even go back to take a picture, I got all the view of the spot I ever needed. ❖