Half a Life Painting Walls: The Trajectory of Graffiti Artist Miguel "Kane One" Aguilar

By Aguilar, Miguel | Art Education, September 2013 | Go to article overview

Half a Life Painting Walls: The Trajectory of Graffiti Artist Miguel "Kane One" Aguilar


Aguilar, Miguel, Art Education


I've developed a mental stamina to conceptualize an idea and keep revising it while I complete other, everyday tasks. It becomes this roaring rumble of momentum under a tight deadline. By the time I arrive at the wall, it's go time. I'm focused. I scroll through different genres of music on my phone until I find one that plays off of the dynamics between my current emotions, the weather, and the physicality of immediate landscape; I am already thinking about my fourth and fifth permutations as I begin to paint my first layer.

This is how I paint graffiti at 37 years old.

I did my first graffiti mural in 1991, 2 years after I began tagging. It took me about 2 weeks to fumble through the process. I was 15 years old and worked on it every day after school. I didn't get any money for it and I paid for all the spray paint materials. The mural was approximately 50'xl2'. I felt it was a fair trade to have the opportunity to paint a wall because I valued access to the practice, so I was glad to fund the project myself. Once I was done, it gave me credibility within the graffiti community to be able to paint other walls. I was able to get more "permission walls" on my own by using photos of my first piece as a reference, and I started to get asked by other writers to paint on walls that they had permission for. Whenever a graffiti artist obtained permission from a property owner, the artist inherently become the curator for who else would paint there and how often installations rotated on that wall.

I became pretty obsessed with developing a fluency in both process and aesthetics. I wanted to make more informed decisions on the fly and have my pieces identified as my style. The following two summers I painted two pieces per week on average and spent 10-14 hours on each wall. This work-rigor really crystallized these parameters as my standard practice. I continued like this until my wife and I had our first child in 1998.1 tried to continue painting as I normally had but it presented brand new challenges with my familial responsibilities. I think I must have tried quitting graffiti at least half a dozen times over the years. We had two children by the time I received my BFA from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago in May 2000.

It took me the next 10 years to develop a harmony of priorities that didn't neglect my wife and children or whatever noncreative jobs I tried to withstand. I had to come to terms with how much of a hold my graffiti practice had on me since I was a teen. I had to let go of completing an installation within a 48-hour time frame. I started painting in 2to 3-hour sessions over 1- to 2-week periods. And I didn't die.

Enter the iPhone.

I started taking progress-photos after each session so I could review them back at home. This reflective activity allowed me to revise the decisions I had made. I was able to put the art down, walk away for a while, do laundry, and then look back at what I had done. At first, I did it to keep up a mental momentum in anticipation for returning as soon as possible, but it slowly became an aesthetic benefit because I could spend more time flushing out different options. …

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