RELM KSN interview

June 18 2010 . 01:41pm

An Interview With Devin Flynn, aka RELM

This Saturday, June 19, ZPFfffft!!! opens at the Scion Gallery in Culver City. The show features Gary Panter, Bob Zoell and Devin Flynn, three artists who are identified with Los Angeles art. In particular, animator Devin Flynn contributed to L.A.’s early graffiti scene as KSN writer RELM. In this interview, Flynn talks with Zio about graffiti history.

What was the earliest (non-gang) graffiti you remember seeing in Los Angeles?

I saw Dreams Don’t Die on TV in 1982 with the kid from Escape From Witch Mountain. The first tag I ever saw in person was ALSKI—must’ve been late 1983, seventh grade. ALSKI went to my junior high, John Burroughs, and he was tagging spots at school, on buses and in Westwood Village. I also remember seeing ZODIAC tags on Hollywood Boulevard. Maybe a year later, SOON painted a little burner on the outside of the handball courts at JB. Around that same time, SEEN had come to L.A. and painted the "Dial M" piece on Sunset Boulevard, and I saw it
from the window of an RTD bus on the way home from JHS.

What influence did gang graffiti have on Los Angeles style?

I grew up in Atwater Village, and a kid named Ralphie in my neighborhood was in Toonerville Gang by the age of 12. He started hitting it up in the L.A. River, and sometimes I would ask him to let me do one too. I was only 10 at the time. I’m sure a lot of other kids from my generation had some early exposure to gang writing way before they knew anything about what was happening in New York.

Gang graffiti was always an influence. The mentality was also a factor; it wasn’t just the graffiti alone. Even on the west side, small cliques of middle class white kids were emulating cholo writing styles and attire mainly because it looked cool. Gang blocks began appearing more and more. They were just killing the alleys, parks and streets, making it seem like these nice neighborhoods were riddled with gangs

I’d say this was happening at around the time Pan Pacific was starting to get bombed. Anyone I knew that was into graffiti had started out copying gang placas or Crip writing. Any L.A. writer that knew shit about graffiti could do a relatively authentic gang placa just because it looked so evil and cool. You couldn’t resist trying to do one just to master different styles.

Most people associate graffiti with hip-hop because that was how it was presented in movies. How did punk music influence you and other KSN writers?

I think one of KSN’s main contributions was allowing anything. Especially humor and typically "uncool" shit. We did cholo characters, rastas, b-boy lizards, skulls, aliens—whatever we liked and mixed it all together. It was based on what we were into and not trying to follow the traditions. We didn’t reject all graffiti subjects or styles, but we took what we liked from all of our own weird interests.

Personally, I was always into anything that I thought was cool. As much as I was dedicated to going to punk and speedmetal shows in the mid-1980s, I was already popping in elementary school, playing video games with slugs, stealing Star Wars dudes and listening to Rodney on the Roq all at the same time. Somebody would throw a little battle in their mom’s living room, put on the strobe light and pop to Freakazoid. Songs like Herbie Hancock’s “Rockit” or George Clinton’s “Atomic Dog” were always playing out of some kid’s boombox and someone
would be trying to do a headspin on the grass. It was something everybody in the neighborhood was trying to do. It was impossible to ignore.

I got into all of it and didn’t choose sides. When something is too new to categorize, there are no rules yet and you are free to add your own innovations. I always thought that was what hip-hop was supposed to be about. Punk too.

How does graffiti inform the animated videos or fine art you do now?

I use a lot of personal experience in my animations, so scenes with gangsters or cops are usually expanded jokes based on real things I have experienced, watched happen, overheard, or even imagined happening in a situation that ended up totally different. Like a worst-case scenario kind of thing.

As far as actual connections between the art of graffiti and animation, there is a sense of flowing lines and movement which has carried over from writing, but honestly I was always trying to put as many cartoon characters in my graffiti as possible so I’m not sure which influenced which…

It’s all drawing, although I think the boldness of the marks and simplicity and looseness I tend to go for is something that has carried over naturally.

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