It's tempting to look at the spray-painted handiwork of Kenos One and Shucks One and call the two “taggers.” You might see their bold, 3-D lettering, deft line work and portraits blasted on walls, rest stops and bus benches as projects done solely for the glory of giving society the finger. But for these men and countless others like them, the art goes deeper than that, and their dedication to it is anything but transitory.
“I don't even like that term–'tagging,'” Kenos says, carving up a monstrous wet burrito while sitting next to Shucks on the patio of Taco Mesa in Costa Mesa. “It's more like an old media term. I call us 'writers.'”
As nighttime closes in, they're taking a brief break to enjoy a hot meal. Then it's back to work on some lingering masterpieces before their inspiration runs cold.
Considering how much time both artists have committed to their craft (20-plus years and more than a dozen arrests each), they're definitely seasoned pros. In the spirit of honoring tradition, the two longtime friends and street artists, both in their early 30s, are opting to put their creativity on canvases for their first collaborative art show, “Classic Icons,” this weekend at GCS Clothing in Santa Ana. Centered on hip-hop culture, the exhibit boasts approximately 20 portraits, some of which are the usual suspects–Biggie, 2Pac, KRS-One, even Sade. But for each well-crafted icon, there are one or two faces you might not know from scanning your iPod. You'll see old-school Brooklyn graffiti writers such as Dondie, legendary, late great b-boy Frosty Freeze and underground LA rapper Aceyalone. Kenos One and Shucks One say the show is like a crash course in hip-hop history from a graffiti writer's perspective.
“That's pretty much the point of it,” Kenos says. “For the young kids born in the '90s, no one's really showing them any kind of history of anything. To them, Lil Wayne is old-school–that's just crazy to me. So we're opening their eyes to something that was out there and still is there. And it represents what we are to the fullest.”
Kenos and Shucks have been running together since their middle-school days in Cypress in the early '90s, a time when graffiti writing was a booming pastime for just about every kid their age. Kenos (born Rudy Kenos Polar) acquired his skills in OC from a cousin who moved here from New York and showed him the basics. Shucks (née Carlos Villalobos) got hooked by his older brother while growing up in LA. Since that time, they've been in multiple graffiti crews and seen people and fads in the culture come and go–from cholos with baggy pants tagging Stussy logos to hipsters rocking skinny jeans and pasting Obey faces everywhere.
"Now, most graff-heads start with a character or a brand name or a logo,” Shucks says. "Before, we were clueless. Everybody just threw up whatever they threw up.”
Today, their skills with everything from tattooing to watercolors shine through. Each piece showcased in "Classic Icons” combines mixed-media elements that have a street-level aesthetic, with a dose of fine art finesse they've been honing for two decades.
"Spray paint is so fast; it's like instant gratification,” Shucks says. "So if you start something, you could finish it in an hour. But when you're using paint brushes and stuff, it gets a little more time-consuming.”
Eventually delving into realistic murals and portraits, the freedom in their experimentation makes each piece unique. Of course, even though all of their techniques and tricks have helped them make a name for themselves on the streets (literally), this show is less about showing off and more about honoring those without whom their art form wouldn't be possible.
"These people [we're painting] are timeless to us,” Shucks says. “We try to keep to a lot of the traditions and not stray too much. It's like paying homage; it's a dedication.”
“Classic Icons,” featuring the works of Kenos One and Shucks One, with DJ Prime Meridian, DJ Abel and others, at GCS Clothing, 209 N. Broadway, Santa Ana, (714) 541-0300; www.gcssantaana.com. Sat., 7-11 p.m. Free.