When it comes to contemporary graffiti, RIME is an artist that’s on top of his game. His pieces encapsulate an effortless style that’s impossible to imitate, pairing technical innovation with simple forms. There are no smoke and mirrors in a RIME piece, just honest to god laidback style. Beyond the street, RIME has transitioned his work into a gallery practice that draws on all elements of street lifestyle to create hyper-real candy coloured visions of urban life. We spoke with the man behind the name as he prepared for ‘Snapback’, his latest exhibition with TOPER at Klughaus Gallery that explores his formative years in New York City.
So how did you get a start in painting? When did it kick off for you?
I’m originally from New York City, I was born in Brooklyn and grew up on Staten Island, where I lived until I was about seventeen years old. I got into graffiti when I was about twelve. It was something that was going on in my neighbourhood, more bombing than actually piecing. I didn’t really see any pieces until I ventured out of my area and went down to Manhattan around the SoHo area. They seemed so foreign to me – like a completely different way of doing graffiti. The idea that I had was just tags, maybe the outline of a throwup or a single colour fill at the most. It wasn’t until later on that I started to get into piecing, which to me seemed easier than being able to have a good handstyle or do good throwups.
Who showed you the ropes back then?
I wasn’t ever really schooled by anyone. I got into it because it was in my neighbourhood and I’d been into art since I was four – drawing little cartoon characters and trying to develop my own and all that stuff. I got into graffiti around the same time as some kids who were the same age as me at school. Because I came from a background of being into art, people looked to me when it came to understanding style and that sort of thing. Even though I wasn’t good at the time, I was still the best one out of my friends. Early on I was able to figure things out on my own. Out of all those people I was the only one who continued doing it, for them it was just a little phase – they didn’t consider themselves artists or anything like that. Having said that, when I started graffiti I didn’t consider what I was doing as art. It was just this edgy kind of thing that you did that was wrong, and you were supposed to be quiet about it. The idea of art itself seemed very formal, whereas this was informal – associating the two seemed quiet foreign.
When did your perception change? Or do you see your gallery practice as separate to your street work?
Right now I see myself as simply an artist. I think growing up in New York you have these separations introduced to you, people say “Oh that’s graffiti, that’s not art”. For me I battled with that for a long time. I felt like in order to become a so-called artist that I needed to stop doing graffiti or change my priorities in some fashion. That felt really forced, like I wasn’t being true to myself. To be creative or be an artist you need to do something that’s honest, art isn’t just painting a landscape.
I guess this perception of street versus gallery seems like something that’s very prominent now, but you’ve always had guys like Futura 2000 who’ve walked that line.
With people like Futura or guys from his generation, many have successfully made a name for themselves in the gallery scene but still make the time to occasionally work outside. With the demands of an art career it seems hard to pull yourself away to work on projects for fun. To most writers who come from graffiti and continue on as artists showing work, painting outdoors is a rare activity and it’s even more rare to see that work in an illegal setting.
In my own experience, it gets hard to paint outside while preparing for a show. A lot of energy is typically shifted into one or the other, but in the end I seem to find the time to do it all. Juggling a few different avenues of art making, self management / production, getting lured into derelict scenarios, and constant travel has really affected my health at times.
There’s this idea in my head that one day I will post up in one city to make work in a studio daily. Get up by 9am, drink coffee and paint until 7pm. Do normal things and shit but live as this well-to-do artist. The idea seems so far off for me right now. I have a hard time staying in any one city, My art work that I show in galleries travels with me, my work and sleep schedule is completely fucked and it’s all a great time. Rocking the same pair of Levi’s for 2 months straight and keeping a beard so I don’t have to shave everyday.
It’s all done in fun. I feel that the assortment of chaotic experiences that I go through helps me creatively. Being that my art tends to be so layered, I am able to document some of the fun times, catch phrases, or wild episodes in my work.
It seems like that kind of attitude is something that MSK in particular have really championed, to be present across all those fronts. Is that something that you guys set out to do?
Speaking for myself, I still feel a connection to the type of graffiti that I’ve done since I started and I want to continue doing that. I still enjoy going out and painting, and I like the look of graffiti in places where it’s not supposed to be. In fact I enjoy it more, I’d rather paint something in some long neglected, abandoned area that maybe no one will see – as compared to that same legal wall in the center of the city that gets painted over every two weeks. I’m just kind of over that kind of stuff, it’s not exciting, the look of graffiti with a buffed out wall and a line at the top where the buff ends. Unless the work on the wall is pushing the standards of graffiti, then it doesn’t matter if it’s legal or illegal. But your run of the mill piece on a legal wall is nowhere near as exciting to look at as it is if it’s on a cement wall under a bridge or something.
For me it kind of blows my mind that you’re able to do this almost as a full time job.
Oh sure, I guess it’s a little more than full time. I felt like for a long time that I didn’t have a job, I’d brag and tell people “Yeah, I don’t have a job”. But the more success that I have in my career the more I realise that it’s more work than your average nine-to-five.
I guess it’s almost more of a lifestyle than a profession.
Absolutely. This chaotic scheduling becomes normal after a while. Preparing for events or shows there’s a lot of raising funds or support needed in order to make your ideas happen. For the show at Klughaus Gallery with Toper we were pulling all-nighters for well over a month leading up to the show. Many of those night were spent making art, but there was also time spent fucking around in Miami painting, promoting, and wiling out. It’s very tiring and it’s a lot of work, but at the end of the day I wouldn’t be doing anything else.
I think one of the things these days that this culture is now very much of the radar of the wider public. Do you think that’s changing what’s happening with graffiti?
It’s only natural for something good to expand. If something brings enjoyment to people who do it, there’s only a matter of time before that gets blown up or put out there. Maybe the steps and the challenges involved change so there’s more shortcuts or ways to get successful – things like maintaining a virtual reputation become another aspect of it. Something can be on Instagram before the paint is even dry. It’s something that’s changing, it’s just an evolution of challenges.
Do you think there’s a risk of diluting the impact of graffiti? You say that you like seeing those abandoned spots, but at the same time more people are going to see that online than will ever see it in real life.
You can go and paint anywhere and if it ends up online more people will see it there than will ever see it in person. With things like painting panels, you have people who took the photo when it was running for a few minutes on one trip – but it will have a virtual life that lives on longer than the piece. There are all kinds of sides to it, you have people who say “Oh it’s way easier to do graffiti now because you’ve got all these caps and paint brands”. But then you’ve got people who say it’s harder to paint now because the cities are harder on it and there’s cameras everywhere. Or it’s harder to paint because if you get arrested your going to catch a felony if you get caught. Or it’s harder to paint now because they can track you by your IP address. Or they’ll fingerprint your cans nowadays, or they’ll use facial recognition software. There are plenty of different sides to an argument.
I’ll tell you this though, having access to good spraypaint doesn’t mean that you’re going to paint a good piece. There are plenty of kids who go out now and they have the best possible paint, but they still paint a shitty piece. When you have too many options sometimes you get lost. I think that when I started there was maybe eight colours available at the hardware stores near my house. Now you have spraypaint companies releasing 300 different colours. Even now people might say that I paint really colourful stuff, but in actuality I might only use eight or nine colours that I tend to repeat.
I guess for yourself you’re very much a visible presence in global graffiti culture. Are you aware of the fact that yourself and your work are now more accessible than they ever would have been before? Particularly for kids coming up.
Well I think with what I’m doing I do realise that people see it, but I try and keep a very simple outlook on my involvement in graffiti. You know that naïve idea that you have of I’m never going to change or I’m not going to sell out? Part of me is very much still into that. If I have money I really don’t spend much on myself, and I really try not to buy into the whole notoriety thing. I’ve got a group of friends that I paint and make plans with and we just do our thing. To us the lifestyle of traveling, painting and doing projects is all very normal. Sometimes I meet people and they’ll be all starstruck or some shit like that as if I’m like Tom Cruise, when really I don’t see myself like that. I just learn to say thank you and I talk to people. Sometimes when people meet me they just shove a book in my face, and they want me to sign it, or write on their shirt, or take a picture with them. I feel like if they’re going to come up and meet me, I don’t want to be treated like an assembly line of signatures. I’d rather give them a more individual experience, you can have a conversation with me. We can have a drink and just chit chat you know? Sometimes I’ll put kids in a position like that and they’ll just freeze up. It’s all good, it’s part of it and it’s nice to have people care. But that whole mystical, romantic thing that people have with graffiti is gone for me. It’s a very simple thing for me, and I don’t really build it up in my head. Now it’s more about the creative side, my motivation is to contribute something good and people who are bringing something new or fresh into art or graffiti excite me.
I was speaking with Pose when he was down here recently and he made a comment about graffiti losing its infatuation once you see how the sausage is made. It sounds like you might be coming from a similar place?
Absolutely, I think for some people the loss of that makes them lose interest in graffiti. But for me the mystique and fascination with the behind the scenes aspects of graffiti has been replaced with an overall interest in the progression of it, whether that be taking on grand projects or stylistic things that come into play. I’m excited about that stuff.
Any plans to head back to Australia?
I’d love to at some point, I just need a reason to go. I’ve been travelling a lot lately, so the idea of getting on a plane for thirteen hours isn’t that appealing. But you know, I’ve had a good time down there before. I was arrested in Sydney, we were painting over in Kings Cross on the train tracks and we all got arrested. Me and my buddy Host ended up with a separate court date because we told them that we needed to leave town. I lied to them and said that we were going to fly back to America, but in actuality we were going to fly to Melbourne. I ended up representing us in court; it was kind of trippy going in there to defend us. I told them that they caught us down at that spot, but we didn’t have any spraypaint on us, and we didn’t have any paint on our hands. I ended up beating the case and they dropped the charges.
See more of ‘Snapback, Dangerous Drawings About New York’’ at Klughaus Gallery