A Conversation on Miami Street Culture with ATOMIK

By John Anthony Ruiz

Atomik wildstyle graffiti

If the thought of Valentine’s day makes you want to puke, then perhaps you too should attend the opening of Atomik‘s exhibitNo Love, this Saturday. In this interview, we are reminded of the hatred and negativity that stems from graffiti culture, “I get a lot of love, but I also get a lot of hate,” says Atomik. Thus, in spite of the hypocritical nature of this Hallmark holiday, Atomik set out to remind the world that obsessing over love for a day is kinda, well, a joke. Curated by fellow artist, Christopher Maslow, the show will feature a selection of Atomik’s latest pieces.

SEE: Christopher Maslow ‘Beautiful Death.’ 

Out in the streets, I don’t get any love, my shit gets crossed out, people paint over it, they buff it, they chase me, report me, whatever it is vandal style.No Love. The exhibit serves as a reminder that there is a thin line between love and hate.

You are known through the destruction of The Orange Bowl, how has the character evolved since its inception?

I didn’t support the demolishing the Orange Bowl, so at first there wasn’t a smile. At first, I took the original logo and flipped the smile, into a frown. Then, I added the teardrop to further express my disapproval. Shortly after, I received a cease and desist order on the MSG Cartel blog that we were using at the time. From there, I took the logo and  further manipulated it. Now, what I use is just a raw, hand drawn. You can still see some of the original elements like the eyes and the nose-to-lip connection. I lost the crown and I changed the leaves. It’s completely different now and I have the copyright.

[He whips out the original Orange Bowl logo]

I began to paint the Orange more frequently. People ask me, “Why do you paint the Orange so much, you’re so good at letters, fuck the Orange.” Well, look dude, its 2015 and I gotta make a living off of my artwork. I don’t want to do graphic design and logos and deal with someone else’s image and trying to figure out what they want. I’m painting what I want and people like it and it’s perfect. I had been painting since 96, 97 all the way up to 2007 and I had never gotten such a response to a character that was smiling and the eyes lock in. If you look at that character the eyes lock in, that’s the quality of it.

I noticed one in Wynwood with legs, was that the first?

There’s a seafood restaurant on 28th Street and 7th Ave with an abandoned hardware store, behind the parking lot. That’s where I painted the character with legs for the first time last year. The second one I painted was off of Biscayne and 20 something. You saw the third by Baiamonte’s Gym. What I have developed now is a throw-up character that I can draw with my eyes closed. Backward, with my right or my left, doesn’t matter. I can paint that fucker on surface of any material. Yet, although I’ve been painting it for years now, it was only recently that I incorporated arms, hands, legs, and accessorized with glasses, and a hat. There is still a lot to come.

How can you tell a good spot if placement is key?

It’s a gamble when you hit a spot because you don’t know if it’s going to get painted over the next day or the next morning. You don’t know who’s gonna approach you, put their hands on you, or even hurt you. Still, I like painting rooftops, I like painting cuts, I like hitting high-visibility street level spots, I like painting trains or trucks, putting stickers, doing tags…I paint on everything, abandoned buildings especially. 

You’re an influence to a lot of people now but who would you say was the earliest graffiti influence for you?

A direct influence of mine is Meer.I mean Meer was the man. He was with Inkheads, WoWCrew, and SB. Growing up in Miami in the ’80s, there was a lot of graffiti artists but Meer stood out to me amongst them all. He went the extra mile, went really big, and then he began to add characters. When I was in the Southwood Magnet Program for Art, one of my friends was neighbors with Meer. He would bring Meer’s sketchbook to school and a photo album of Meer’s graff. Then one day, my friend gave my sketchbook to Meer, and he bombed that shit. He did an all out piece, characters, background, getup, 3D, fill-ins the whole 9 yards in my book and I had something to look at from the dude whose work I’d been looking at for 4-5 years just getting into graff. That blew my mind. 

What’s the main challenge for street artist who wants to take the leap towards a career in art?

Take a look at the art on my wall [points to his living room gallery], these are very detailed artworks and took much time and effort to complete. I think that to succeed as a professional artists, graffers have to move on and stop obsessing over the insignificant details and create a lot more artwork because not doing so can cause you lose interest and then you’ll loose your momentum too. Showcasing your work is also very important. When you paint in the streets, it’s right there where the public can see it, but if you’re gonna make and sell  artwork on canvas, you’ve gotta showcase it. 

You’ve also gotta chill out and sacrifice your integrity as a graffiti bomber. You can’t really piss people off. Sometimes, I really want to paint these Oranges on the front of highway signs, but if you put yourself in the spotlight, you will get burned. The hype isn’t worth sitting in jail for three f*cking years.  


This Saturday, February 14th, join Atomik and his homies, at the opening of No Love at Viophelia


 Please Exit Through The Atomik Gift Shop