Close Up: From the Streets to the Studio

U.S. artists Pose and Revok discuss the evolution of graffiti and how they've made careers out of street art

Pose (left) and Revok in Dubai
Matthew Eaton/Library Street Collective
By Adam Grundey
May 07, 2014

American artists and graffiti veterans Pose (from Chicago) and Revok (Los Angeles) are in Dubai to exhibit their latest solo work together. They’ve finished setting up their show (curated by Detroit’s Library Street Collective), and are now (slowly) recovering from a night spent celebrating that fact. Both men have been involved in the street-art scene for well over 20 years, but their visit to the U.A.E. has reminded Pose of just how young that art form is.

“Coming to places where there are small, budding scenes – or no scene at all – is really eye-opening,” he says. “Because [graffiti is] so powerful in the rest of the world; it’s just dominating youth culture. So it’s kind of fascinating to see.”

“[Graffiti’s] a world that I don’t think is even possible to really exist here [at the moment],” adds Revok. “Because it all comes down to being exposed to, and interacting with, what it is you want to do.”

Both men talk of the “global graffiti community” that they’ve become stars in. And, starting out in pre-Internet days, Pose says, made those connections even stronger. “In those formative years, you really had to seek people out; send pictures in the mail and stuff. You were part of this sort of secret club. And it makes the world really small.”

Revok admits that when he began painting graffiti, he could never have imagined that his art would one day turn into something he could make a living from. These days, he spends up to 10 or 12 hours a day working in his studio, but back then, he says, “I didn’t even know what a studio was. I grew up in a blue-collar, working-class family. We never went to museums or anything. My idea of art was, like, my dad’s album covers, skateboard graphics, comic books, video games…”

Pose laughs. “That’s what I’m still obsessed with,” he says. “That’s what my paintings are still based around.”

“Yeah,” Revok concedes. “But through that, I learned about other stuff. I became interested in art through graffiti.”

But graffiti artists have to be resigned to the fact that their work is unlikely to last long on the street. And as you get older, Revok (who’s faced several court cases and police raids over the years) says, that gets old too. “If you painted something and it stayed up for, like, a month, you were stoked. I started making some studio work, seriously, around 2009. And that was out of the frustration of getting my house raided and, like, a decade of my personal archives of my work being gone,” he says. “At that point, I’d finally had enough of working so hard and it just being – not for nothing – but I wanted to make things that would outlive me, instead of disappearing. And I wanted to explore new things.”

But graffiti culture remains at the heart of both artists’ work. Particularly, in their Dubai exhibition, the tension between the opposing forces of street art – the writers trying to express themselves in a public space and the authorities trying to erase that expression. “In the process of these two forces going back and forth, you can see this struggle happening physically in paint on a wall, and both of us are into that weird phenomenon of unintentional aesthetics that happen,” says Revok. “That’s a very big part of our work.”

Revok incorporates that struggle into his latest work by painting two separate images “then I chop them up, and half of each painting gets scrapped. Then they come together to make one image. I’m playing with that same concept of two visual forces competing, and the new image created as a by-product of that.”

The pieces that Pose is showing in Dubai are a result, he says, of “a similar fascination.” “I painted these paper murals in the studio, then ripped up all the murals and repositioned them back together,” he explains. “Some really intentional, and some just really spontaneous to try and keep that energy of the stuff that happens on the street, when you never have any idea what’s going to happen to [your work].”

While both men admit there’s a certain romance to that battle, they also talk of their excitement about finding a way to transform their teenage kicks into something that could sustain them in their adult lives. “[Artists like us] are kind of a new thing – it used to be that you’d paint graffiti for a while and that was it, you’d put it to bed,” says Pose. “So this is something new. I feel very privileged, but it’s also a difficult – and very exhilarating – transition at this stage in life. Every day’s a new experiment. And it’s kind of fun to push this stuff you’ve spent the majority of your life mastering into the art world, where a lot of our peers are maybe still just doing graffiti – which is a beautiful thing in itself – or might have hung it up altogether. And it’s great. It’s great having that same kind of hunger in adult life that you had as a 12-year-old.”

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