Interview with Los Angeles graffiti artist Huems

Posted: May 2, 2011 in Uncategorized
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I met with West L.A. graffiti artist Huems back in February. He is pretty young yet has a lot of interesting stories to tell and a strong opinion on the street art world. Check out the interview to find out what he had to say.

Huems 26 February 2011

What do you think makes a good graffiti artist?

I think a couple things. I’d say first of all an artist’s ability to kind of master and take part in all forms of graffiti and that means from tags to throw ups all the way up into doing pieces, you know even murals. But definitely one of the things is being well-rounded. If you can’t tag and you have no hand style then you shouldn’t be doing pieces. You shouldn’t be spending all this time on color. Letters are obviously the most important thing but it’s kind of silly to be really good at piecing but not being able to tag. So that’s something that you should be doing from the get go. You know trying fillers and really simple things. I think another thing that makes a good graffiti artist is someone who’s willing to; you know it’s not bending the rules, but more of trying new things. Whether its color, letter structuring, the way they fade or blend things or simply coming up with new concepts, new letter forms or the way they approach new stuff. You see a lot of people all over the world taking some really interesting approaches to piecing.

What are the risks of being a graffiti artist?

The risks are obviously, well first of all your identity. Most people have an alter ego as almost a second identity. For the most part, graffiti writers don’t want people to know who they are, obviously for legal issues but you know there’s a lot of a risk. People sacrifice a lot of things. They sacrifice their time, their money, their time with family or people to go and paint and do all this stuff. Ultimately, they don’t want to get caught so there’s always the getting arrested and dealing with fines or ending up in jail. No one wants that, but you don’t want to stop painting and doing what you love either. So it’s kind of hard. You sacrifice a lot of things and you risk a lot of things. You risk obviously your freedom to a certain extent and financially, for most people who do graffiti, they do so much damage that it would be hard to even pay a small percentage of what they could do in a week. So it’s kind of interesting when you talk about how easy graffiti is to clean up, you just roll a piece of paint over it with a really cheap bucket of hardware store stuff and you pay someone for you know 30 min or an hour of their time to paint it and it’s done, but people face thousands of dollars in fines and it’s kind of just interesting how the whole legal aspect of it works. There’s definitely a lot of risk in doing something and it’s hard because you’re torn between doing something that you love and also sacrificing and putting on the line other things that are obviously important in life.

And what are those other things to you personally?

To me personally I’m a student so I definitely want to be able to stay a student and not have difficulty getting through school just because of dealing with any issues pertaining to graffiti. But then again I don’t want to stop. I’m a graffiti writer and I’m an artist and I want to constantly be able to do both things. There have been times where, I’m still pretty young, and I’ve thought about maybe taking a break but it’s very difficult. I try to be able to balance between family time and spending time with the people that I like to spend time with and then commitments. So there’s definitely a lot of things. It’s difficult to be a student because you know the first thought of getting in trouble for graffiti is ‘oh shit’ I may jeopardize my education, I may jeopardize how I’m paying for school and I want to apply for certain programs but that’s gonna be hard with a stamp on your application. I try to keep a decent balance between what I know in the long run is going to be super important but then also constantly practicing what I like to do.

You mention an alter ego. What is yours and how did you come about that?

My alter ego is Huems, Huems1. I went back and forth through a couple different names over the last four to five years. The early parts of those four to five years being kind of experimental stages, not really doing much and not being good at it yet. But I definitely had some goofy names here and there and I went back and forth. When I moved to San Francisco someone had my old name spelled differently and I didn’t want to have to deal with that because he had pretty much made a good name for himself up here. So I didn’t really want to interrupt that. I started to think of a couple different things. I really like the way five letters were balanced and then having two vowels in the middle and then an ‘m.’ I really liked the way that looked with an ‘s’ at the end and I started out with an ‘r’ at the beginning because that’s just always what I’d done. I kind of gave up the ‘r’ and put the ‘h.’ Then it all kind of came to be Huems. Back home a lot of people who are from the west side of Los Angeles or Santa Monica say things are funny or things are humor or that’s huems so I thought that was kind of funny. You know I’d say I have a good personality and I like to laugh and I’d always hear people say that was huems or that was humorous so I thought ‘okay I could go with that.’ A lot of people were like, ‘oh you should go with Fumes and stuff’ but I was like ‘I don’t dig that.’ Huems was kind of funny and had a little bit of a joke to it. I definitely took some time to think about that but I’m pretty confident that I’m going to stick to this one. There have been times where I’ve done 20 something pieces and spent countless hours painting other names and I’m finally on one where I could say ‘I don’t want to give this one up, I like this, I’m gonna stick with it, I’m gonna keep practicing it until it kind of becomes a stamp.’

How important is that stamp?

It’s very important, to me. It’s something that along with school, family and any kind of athletic commitment, I always have that graffiti. I want that to be a part of that life I want that to remain a part of my life and I want it to constantly be an important thing. And a lot of people say ‘is it a hobby or is it a passion?’ A hobby is more of a weekend thing and I think it’s a passion because I can’t stop doing it, I really like it. Whether my stuff gets buffed or painted over and stuff, I’m not gonna stop doing it. You know people always have a lot of problems and stuff in graffiti but it’s definitely something that’s gonna stick and I just love it like anything else. I’m not gonna stop.

Would graffiti be as appealing to you if it weren’t illegal?

I don’t think it’d be graffiti if it wasn’t illegal. You’d just be any other artist or muralist doing abstract lettering which is something you could say goes back to traditional graphic designers 40 years ago. Essentially I don’t think it would be what it is. If it wasn’t illegal it obviously wouldn’t have that raw twist to it. It wouldn’t be as out there. And a lot of people, like myself, as nerve wracking as it can be, there’s nothing like that adrenalin rush and that thrill of doing it. It definitely takes away that aspect when you’re doing something and you have hours and hours of free time and space to do it. I think you would just be a regular muralist or an artist if it wasn’t illegal. So, maybe not as appealing. I would just be like any other of the thousands upon thousands of people in this world who just draw and paint and take pictures and do all that kind of stuff. I think graffiti has always had its cool twist and it definitely needs the illegal aspect to it. That’s how it began and I think that’s how it’s going to continue to live.

How do you feel about the term ‘vandalism’ when describing graffiti?

I think that vandalism is like mysterious and destroying or harming something. It’s kind of weird because graffiti, as much as it is illegal and it is an interesting art form and stuff, its art and you can’t deny that there are a lot of fucking talented people out there. There’s people who are spending hours and loosing sleep and putting jobs on the line to go out and leave a piece for not the average person to see, because a lot of people don’t recognize it they just think ‘oh that’s that crap that’s not supposed to be there,’ but you know there’s a lot of really talented artists. And I don’t know many art forms where you could do a full-scale, let’s just say it’s 10 by 30 feet long piece in under 25 or 20 minutes but it’s in full color and looks like someone spent hours doing it. So it’s kind of weird, the term and the stamp vandalism, because you’re like yeah are you a vandal if you’re destroying things that are not yours and you’re not supposed to touch than I guess yeah you are a vandal and it is vandalism. But at the same time it’s an art form too so they should treat it differently. They shouldn’t put it in the same category as breaking windows and stuff because breaking a window or destroying someone’s property in a physical manner that costs a lot more money than rolling over a piece of art with paint. So I think it should be handled differently and not considered vandalism because it is a very predominant art form with young people across the world. So I definitely think it needs to be restructured in the way that they go about calling it vandalism and what not. People are doing art and it may be vandalism and stuff but to them its art and if they’re vandals than so be it, it’s not gonna change or stop the output of work.

Can you describe your most thrilling moment?

Thrilling how so?

The most exciting and exhilarating. The moment you realized this is really what I want to do, regardless of the risks involved.

Almost like an epiphany type thing.


I’ve had a few instances, especially being more into it now and being in college and being in San Francisco and on my own and painting with new people and new friends. There have been multiple times where we’ve found some awesome spot and we’re just hyped to be there and it’s like the colors and everything is working out perfect and you’re like shit this is looking awesome and you pull off something that you love, and this has been multiple times. There was one time at a party on someone’s rooftops; I started hopping roofs and painting people’s roofs and having a fucking blast doing it.

In San Francisco?

In San Francisco. And that was a cool thing to do and obviously super fun and there have been other times where we’ve found old abandoned train yards and simply spent 20 to 25 minutes to do a killer piece. The spot is good, the vibes are good, you’re hanging out with good people so there have been a lot of pivotal moments. And most of all, every time it’s like a little kick in the ass to go further. Like ‘shit I had so much fun but what could I do next time,’ and ‘this came out great but now I really don’t want to stop.’ I’ve definitely had a lot of moments, especially with my new name and having a shift in my mind state and saying this is it, this is who I am; this is what I want to do, where I’m kind of like alright ‘now you may as well do something great every single time.’ It’s mostly an inspiration to keep going. Lots of inspiration to keep going. It’s like falling in love all over again each time you do something really sweet, or you come off with something that’s next level for you and you’re kind of like ‘shit what could I do next?’ The first thing I think of when I take a picture and walk away from a wall is what am I gonna do next week. It’s a constant thought of how could I get better and step my game up. It’s like an addictive thing.


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