When Won Kim (aka Revise) puts brush to canvas, people take notice. As a longtime member of the famed Chicago's Most Wanted crew (aka CMW), he has played a key role in hip-hop's emergence in the contemporary art world, thanks to work often described as controlled chaos molded by a kaleidoscope of colors, letters, and shapes. Kim has been featured in a number of art shows including Hello My Name Is Chicago, Urban Garden Walk, Impaired Visions: Chicago and most recently the Winter Block Party at the Victory Gardens Biograph Theater.
Before he got caught up in something new, Centerstage sat down with him to conjure up his perspectives on the scene.
Tell me a little bit about where you grew up and the impact it had on your development as an artist.
I was raised in West Rogers Park. It really didn't impact me that much as an artist growing up around that area. If anything, it taught me how to accept a lot of different cultures and people. It was a pretty diverse area where Pakistanis, Jews, blacks and Assyrians just sort of got smashed together.
You mention in your bio that you decided to take on a demanding art form when you entered junior high. What went into that decision and what was your experience like as a budding artist?
I initially wanted to do graff because my locker partner in grammar school did it. His style and letters were something out of this world to me at the time. That grew into curiosity which grew into research and then obsession. It was the only thing that made me feel like I was progressing at a rapid rate. It was almost liberating to do something self-taught and not have boundaries or a set of rules.
What local artists helped your progression?
I think a lot of local artists influenced my style as well as opened up my eyes to technicalities that I to this day try to perfect. Underground artists like Chris Silva, Antck, UFG crew, CMW crew of course, Raven SB, DC5 crew, ASC, Arem and all of the heavy hitters at the time who adorned the train lines with color and cleanliness.
How did you link up with the CMW crew?
I linked up with ERIE from CMW at a b-boy event in, of all places, Northbrook. He was wearing a winter hat with CMW embroidered on it and I, like a groupie, went up to him and asked about the letters on his hat. I happened to have my sketch book on me and showed him some stuff and he seemed impressed enough to ask if I wanted to join because they were trying to recruit some younger members with newer styles to advance. There are only a few crews in Chicago that have made the kind of mark that CMW has as far as stature, work and progression. CMW has more of an impact on the graffiti world more than anything. We don't consider ourselves as artists-some cross over but the majority remains bombing and doing what real graffiti is supposed to be-illegal. CMW is a crew that will always come up in any graffiti conversation regarding Chicago so I can say that I am a proud member and will continue to be.
Some idealists really make a fuss about putting graffiti on canvas, what's your response to that?
Well that's funny because these "idealists" always end up painting on canvasses anyways. I don't really care for idealists because situations and opportunities change. I know a lot of hardcore bombers that will shun the art community, yet attend all of the openings to see if their names are recognized. There are rules that are self-implicated so they always change and are up for debate according to each individual. I know that I struggle with it sometimes, but in the end, I'm losing sleep over how I'm going to pay bills rather than whether or not I'm keeping it "real."
What's your feeling on graffiti becoming more of a commodity; does that alter or fuel your creative process?
I think like any other art form where something is seen as an investment, you have to think about the audience and what is relevant. The commodity portion doesn't alter it as much as opinions - the likes and dislikes. I take everything to heart and always try to switch things up. I don't ever go into a piece thinking about the possibility of a sale because that would make me feel like more of a sellout than I might be! I just paint what comes to me - as cliché as that is.
How do you price your pieces?
A lot of people tell me that I underprice things, but I price things realistically. I take into consideration the time it took, the size, materials used, blah blah blah. I am by no means famous enough yet to price things in the thousands. I guess I need to document crazy things I do to look more unstable, maybe that'll get me famous a la "Jackass."
Compare Chicago's style of graffiti to other major metropolitan areas.
I think that Chicago style has a certain edge and bite to it. It's very sharp and angled - the blue-collarness really comes through in my opinion. It's clean and dirty at the same time. It's not as free flowing and large as the West Coast and it's not as grimy as the East Coast, where bubble letters are prized. I think we have the best of both worlds here with influences from all over.
How has your work been received overseas?
I've only had direct contact in Seoul and they loved it. They loved the fact that I was from the U.S. and had a completely different style from them and my methods were so backwards. Graffiti is one of those unexplained things where you don't have to have any kind of history with someone that does it, yet this one commonality is enough to fuel a comradery that is universal.
Are there any favorite spots in Chicago you use as sources of inspiration?
I like to walk a lot so I get to see a lot of details about this city that you miss when driving or on a bike. I think everything about the city inspire me. The limited intentional nature everywhere, all of the construction, the segregated lines of neighborhoods, pot holes, shoddy construction, dirty alleys, fire escapes, tin ceilings - the city is its own organism.
You DJ as well. Does one part of your art bleed over to the other?
I haven't really noticed but if I had to guess, it may be impatience. I never hear a song to the end, it's mixed out after the second chorus or breakdown, of a song...I started [doing it] as a stress-reliever to graffiti and now it's vice versa.
What are your upcoming projects for 2009?
I am always doing my Sketch Monday over at Corosh, Sketch Monday is something I started to get some work done outside of my home with other artists who may have the same kind of cabin fever. It's also a chance to connect with other styles, methods and personalities. I also have a show with the fellas over at Oh No Doom at the end of February, I'm going to New York for a live art gig, a project with Whole Foods...all over the place.