If you know anything about Hip-Hop and the reason why this site is called "The 5th Element", you would know that one of the Five Elements of Hip-Hop is Graffiti.
So far in my journey I have talked to musicians. Hip-Hop & R&B alike. But for this interview I went to a place I haven't been to yet. And that's one of the reasons why I do this. To talk to people that love Hip-Hop and teach me things I or you will probably never experience personally.
With that said. For this interview, we head to France. To talk to an experienced Graffiti Artist that uses the world as her canvas. Street walls, vinyls, toast. Yes ladies & gentlemen... Toast. She's versatile and I have the pleasure of talking to her over a couple of days. She's mysterious, talented in her craft and she goes by one name. Ricky.
C: We begin, as always, at the beginning. Where your from and what's your background?
R: I was born in 80 in a popular neighborhood in France, my mother educated us as best as she could, I have two sisters.
C: So, what came first. Hip-Hop or art?
R: At the same time, in '93. I started graffiti and music goes with this element. You know the Wu-Tang video "Can It Be All So Simple"? There's graffiti in the clip and that became my first influence.
C: We'll talk Hip-Hop later and focus on your art for now. So you started out with graffiti. For those that aren't educated when it comes to graffiti in France, what's the attitude towards graffiti? Is it outright illegal & is it socially frowned upon like in the UK & US? And a little follow up, is the attitude towards graffiti the same as it was back when you started out?
R: It is illegal in France too. Some walls are legal but they're painted by very famous artists. The mentality is no longer the same apart from some elders. Now, with social networks, many people pretend to be 'writers'. Graffiti belongs to the street! Not anywhere else. That's how I was taught, and I respect my elders.
C: I respect that. Always respect the elders. Especially in something with a tight knit community as graffiti.
Talk to me about the community. Because from my limited experience. If you are a graffiti artist and you have a local reputation, the possibilities for collaboration and becoming part of a large, somewhat underground, community grow as you get your name out. When you started out, was it to find belonging so to speak, to be with people that loved to do what you did or was it just a hobby that turned into something more?
R: So the underground community is made of crews. Each crew has to destroy the territory of another. At the time I started out, two choices were offered to me. The wrong way, you can guess what that is. There is a lot of code in this community. I don't want to say too much. Or express by the positive way. I chose graffiti for the love of it. Not for being famous or recognition or street credibility.
C: I get it! Can't unload all the secrets of the street! So you chose it for the love of it, I understand that. So when did you start with graffiti that wasn't on the street walls?
R: Vandal life had to stop for a moment. I started doing art on canvas in 2010. And I still learn all days.
C: I've seen so many different styles from you. Calligraphy, Graffiti, ink. Using different apparatus' like Vinyls, spray cans. I saw you do it on TOAST recently?!
I don't follow many artists but you're probably the most versatile I've ever seen. Do you take pride in your versatility?
R: Oh thank you so much! I never wondered if I was proud of my different style. I work instinctively. For me, one can create with almost everything. Yeah my toast! I've worked on shells & pebbles as well. Creativity is a good escape.
C: So, let's move into your relationship with Hip-Hop. Obviously, most of your art is Hip-Hop related. Many famous names in Hip-Hop have given your work the social stamp of approval. Pete Rock, MC Lyte, Prodigy, (RIP) Public Enemy, B-Real to name a few. 2 questions. Who was the first Hip-Hop artist that caught your heart all those years ago? And how great a feeling is it when rappers/DJ's shout your work out?
R: It's a difficult question. There's so many Emcees I like. So I would say KRS-one's "The Teacha" as an example. (I must say I love Wu-Tang.) I am happy that my art pleases them, quite simply.
C: So with your current work, when you started out with the "legal" work, did you have any goals or were you just looking to gain more skills?
R: I just look to have fun now and progress in calligraphy. I love the letters and all the forms that can be given to them.
C: Well you've kind of answered my next question which was what are you looking to get better at? Calligraphy I guess is the answer?
R: Yes, I would like to test other letters, shapes and styles. Just continue to paint and gain a more refined style. Letters, it's cool game you know.
C: I hear that. Letters are great! So, d'you have a process when working? D'you listen to music? If so, d'you listen to the artist you're currently painting for inspiration purposes?
R: Yes indeed! I listen to the music of the artist I paint. And I try modestly to feel their spirit, power, vibes and street life
C: Sounds deep! Alright, one more about your art. If somebody is looking at your art for the first time, what is the key message you want to send?
R: Just that Hip-Hop is the most vibrant and cultural art you'll ever come across. To enjoy it.
C: Facts right there. Alright, we'll end the way I always end interviews. What's your Top 5?
R: Hmm. So hard to make a Top 5. I love Sean Price, Prodigy, (RIP) Slick Rick, MF Doom, Artifacts and many more. But for my Top 5 I'll go:
DITC, Wu-Tang Clan, Akrobatik, Rapsody & Black Thought.
C: Very interesting list! Ricky, thank you for responding and participating. Much love.
R: Thank you for taking the time to discover me, I am grateful. Much respect. Peace.
Once again, thanks to Ricky for taking the time to reply to our lengthy E-Mail back and forth.
If you want to see Ricky's amazing work then peep her IG @Ricky400ml. Trust me, I wasn't kidding about the toast!