Risk Recieves Lifetime Achievement Award
‘An Addiction I Could Never Shake’: Street Art Pioneer Risk on How He Brought Graffiti From the Street to the Gallery
To write his first bit of graffiti, a young Kelly Graval didn’t travel very far. He staked out his high school until it was dark, before jumping the fence with four cans of red and white spray paint. On a wall, he painted “a big piece” that simply read “SURF,” a nod to his hobby.
“It was terrible,” he said of his debut as a graffitist—though by the next day, the work managed to draw the attention and admiration of his classmates, most of whom, back in the early ‘80s in Los Angeles, had yet to encounter any form of graffiti.
From there, Graval’s canvases would only grow larger and farther as his adventures in graffiti took him to train yards and freeways across L.A. His legend would develop alongside his tag, Risk, an apt moniker that captured the rebellion and peril inherent in graffiti writing, and that, yes, he borrowed from the board game.
For Risk, it made sense that he should persist in writing and tagging the city. “You have the art form and you have the strategic form,” he told Artnet News of graffiti. “It’s just an addiction that I could never shake.”
Decades on, his endurance is paying off. Recognized as a pioneer in the West Coast graffiti scene, Risk has seen his work included in exhibitions from “Art in the Streets” at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles to “Beyond the Streets” in Los Angeles and New York. His recent forays into fine art and sculpture, too, have fetched prices upwards of $200,000.
Over Art Wynwood weekend which was from February 16 through 19, Risk will be collecting the fair’s Lifetime Artistic Achievement Award for continuing to “innovate and shape contemporary art through his work.” His sculptures will feature within the fair, which is presented by Art Miami, and his graffiti art will take up an entire mural that flanks the entrance.
Certainly, the honor is “mind-blowing,” he said, but it’s also been gratifying to watch what once was deemed vandalism enter the art conversation.
“My whole life I wanted graffiti art to be a mainstream art form—to just be considered a genre of art. I wanted to see this art form be in galleries and museums, and celebrated around the world,” he said. “And now it is.”