Arrested Motion recently caught up with prolific graffiti artist Saber for a thorough and in-depth interview. The well-versed artist speaks about his background and his thoughts on various relevant matters including the buffing of his massive piece on the banks of the Los Angeles River. An excerpt of the interview can be seen below.
AM: You are one of the best graffiti writers and artists today and have earned that reputation throughout the years from your work on the streets. You’ve endured countless physical injuries in getting your work up, have had trouble with the law, and even seen others die. Some artists working in the “street art” genre today have never paid dues, yet claim affiliation and piggyback off the hard work that others, such as yourself, have created in building it up. How do you feel about them and how it affects the fundamental integrity of street art and graffiti?
SABER: First of all if any artist says that they have and or earned “street cred” to define their place in an art movement then they are very confused on the definition. Here is a small list that defines the term “street cred”:
You have been to prison.
You belong to a street gang.
You sell crack on a busy corner.
You are great marksmen in a moving vehicle.
You have gang-blocks tattooed on your face.
Basically,what I am trying to say is the credibility factor has to be judged on an individual basis. If you have been putting in work for over ten years and are humble and respectful to the history before you, then it seems the universe sorts it self out.
Most “street artists” at this point really have no home roots within the neighborhoods or really can fathom the struggle and innovation that is covered in 1,800 layers of “Palomino Beige”. I am not talking about going on the internet and dropping current names but actually recognize the chain of style influence. But, I am not completely hopeless. The fundamental integrity of these movements lies within one’s own effort to produce great high-risk work. Graffiti evolves within its environment. By the way, letters will always hold precedence…….
AM: It has been almost 8 months since your historic L.A. River piece was buffed. It was one of the greatest pieces of graffiti ever created. How are you feeling about it today, after the initial shock?
SABER: I was honored that the United States Army Corp of engineers used federal stimulus money to buff my piece. What a way to go out. The Army uses millions of federal funds to help fuel the LA war on graffiti, painting out layers of raw history in the armpit of the city while schools have no books and hospitals are closing.
If I knew they were going use stimulus money to buff my piece, I would have painted out my own piece on principle. The new city attorney and the sheriff’s department used this as a media stunt to kick off their new war on graffiti. The city attorney actually calls it “the end of days scenario”. This is a massive campaign and my piece was the first to go.
When I heard they where buffing it, I raced down there to capture the moment and even offered to take over for the fat ass on his cell phone. They called the police on me instead. It seems to have affected others more than myself. I have had some pretty emotional emails from far away places. One kid told me he was going to kill himself over this. I told him that everything will be O.K.
This piece lasted 12 long years and as far as I am concerned, if you paint it outdoors, it will be gone.
AM: Prior to unveiling your Flag piece to the public, did you have any concerns over how they would reconcile the representation of the American flag, a symbol that’s been ingrained to be honored and pledged to by Americans since preschool, being painted with and over using the medium of spray paint, which is usually associated with vandalism and graffiti? Did you hope controversy would arise as part of the dialogue it would ultimately create?
SABER: I had been playing with some abstract paintings using the flag so this project felt natural. I definitely did not expect the magnitude of the reaction. I had a feeling that some red neck somewhere might loose their senses.
My flag video ended up on the front page of many right wing websites, it’s alarming to see the demographic of the republican conservative party as you travel down the rabbit hole, you funnel to Nazi white power sites. When I googled, I got sites that ran from Politico.com, to where it starts to get weird with URLs like angrywhiteguy.com. From there, you hit the violent racist white power and guns obsessed sites like glocktalk.com, ar15.com, etc. They all had my flag on the front page and the comments were basically to find me and cut me to pieces.
It’s interesting to get to see this vision of the evangelical extremists in the Republican Party. They’re angry, dangerous, racist, self-entitled old white guys. I have had several death threats, but it’s funny because I am already jaded on the wrath of the 1990s. These assholes don’t visit L.A. anyway. I don’t want to come across as some hard ass, but I really have no problem defending myself with a smile.
Really, I was inspired by my wife to participate in the video contest and my intentions were honest. I have epilepsy and it is out of my reach to deal with this condition without any health care. I am thousands in debt on medical bills and they will not get a dime from me on principal.
Fuck medical insurance companies. There is no room for empathy when there is a motive for profit.