Kelly “RISK” Graval
May 9, 2019 to September 4, 2019
Writing under the pseudonym RISK, Graval rose to prominence as the originator of a bright, colorful, west coast graffiti style. He pioneered “hitting up the heavens” and tagging freight trains to spread his name across the country. By the early 90’s, RISK could be seen all over Los Angeles. Steeped in the commercialism of American culture, success and fame were synonymous for a young Graval. Reflecting on his past, he said, “I wanted to be just like Coca-Cola.”
Graval’s mixed-media work follows in the rich tradition of Pop Art. Iconography from Buddhism, rock and roll, advertising, and cartoons figure prominently in his work. Working in neon translates his bright palette into light while painting on metal calls back to the many nights spent in the rail yards of Los Angeles County. Graval’s work plays with visual and material juxtapositions to both draw in and push back on the viewer. Metal, lights, paint, grit, and shine are the materials of Graval’s practice and the materials of the city that raised him.
To Bomb and Beautify: How RISK Got Up
By Natalie Hegert
Beautifully Destroyed, the name given by Kelly “RISK” Graval to his color field painting series, is an apt way to describe the paradoxical relationship between graffiti and walls. The element of destruction is embedded in the vocabulary—to hit, to bomb—as well as the ethos of graffiti, which stands in contrast to the undeniable beauty of the results—brilliant, saturated colors adorning previously blank walls with the soft diffusion and sharp lines of spray paint.
The More You Know…Graffiti Glossary
hit: To tag or bomb a surface
bomb:To apply graffiti intensively to a location. Bombers often choose to paint throw-ups or tags instead of complex pieces, as they can be executed more quickly.
Subway Art: a collaborative book by Martha Cooper and Henry Chalfant, which documents the early history of New York City's graffiti movement. Originally published in 1984, it is known by many as ‘the bible’ of graffiti. Subway Art quickly acquired the dubious accolade of becoming one of the most stolen books in the United Kingdom.
Style Wars: an American 1983 documentary film on hip hop culture and its American roots, directed by Tony Silver and produced in collaboration with Henry Chalfant. The film has an emphasis on graffiti, although bboying and rapping are covered to a lesser extent.
write: to graffiti
RISK: sign of the times
By Joel Kuennen
Nicholas Baurriaud coined the term “semionaut” in his book Postcommodity to describe an artist who “produce[s] original pathways through signs.” You’d be hard-pressed to find a better description of legendary graffiti artist Kelly “RISK” Graval. Graffiti began as a system of place-making, signs used to demarcate contested space. It was also used as a way for individuals to become known. Both of these impulses, writing the name of a community and writing one’s own name, have the sign in common, the purpose of which is to make known. Semiotics, or the study of signs, is the origin point for everything from visual studies, anthropology, and contemporary art history, to literary criticism. To understand where we are in culture, we must look at the signs.
Over his 30-plus year career, Graval has moved from the impulse to make himself known to an artistic practice that seeks to make American culture known to itself. In one of my first meetings with him, he recounted a story from his childhood wherein his uncle climbed a railroad bridge that yawned over the main road into town and painted the town’s name on the side in big block letters. A forgotten fishing village in the bayous near New Orleans, this act of place-making served to unite an impoverished community even if the act was illicit. It made an impression on Graval.