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TEMPT ONE, the Paralyzed L.A. Graffiti Artist Who Draws With His Eyes, Tells Us About His New Documentary

TEMPT ONE's 3D graffiti sculpture in 2011 at the Pasadena Museum of California Art, a collaboration with ANGST, EYEONE, DEFER, PRIME and SLICK
TEMPT ONE's 3D graffiti sculpture in 2011 at the Pasadena Museum of California Art, a collaboration with ANGST, EYEONE, DEFER, PRIME and SLICK
Rojelio Cabral

Anyone that is a fan of American graffiti art knows about the legacy of TEMPT ONE. His iconic hand style, taking from his Chinese and Mexican roots, is believed by a lot of fellow graffiti artists to have helped put Los Angeles on the map. He is known for harmonizing the precision of Chinese calligraphic lines with the boldness of classic serif Los Angeles "cholo" letters.

TEMPT ONE was diagnosed with Lou Gehrig's Disease in 2004 and became fully paralyzed, except for his eye movements. But he can draw and talk thanks to an open-source DIY device called The EyeWriter, which tracks his eye movements. It was developed through an unlikely friendship with a stranger, Mick Ebeling, founder of the Not Impossible Foundation, with a lot of help by the Graffiti Research Lab.

A fundraiser auction and screening of a documentary about him, Getting Up: The TEMPT ONE Story, was held on Saturday night at the Downtown Independent theater, organized by his lifelong graffiti crew-mate and close friend, ANGST. The proceeds went towards funding his 24-hour upgraded care. A handful of TEMPT supporters showed up and took home some original works by featured artists that donated their time, such as Shepard Fairey and DUKE, and photos from graffiti historian Steve Grody. An original piece by CHAZ sold for a mere $550, when they normally go for $2,400. All for the love of TEMPT ONE.

We reached out to TEMPT ONE and asked him a few questions about life and graffiti, and how it feels to have the support of fellow highly-admired graffiti artists.

Why did you choose life when many people in the same position don't choose life? Where does that will to live come from?

Growing up in a working class community, it was common to see the majority of people around me struggling against overwhelming odds, in a system that is/was predominantly unequal. The kinds of people I looked up to were the kind that didn't let an unfair playing field stop them from providing for their families or doing what they needed to do. They would make the best out of whatever situation that life gave them, roll up their sleeves and take care of business.

So who am I to complain about my problems in the face of all the strong and humble people that get up every day and continue to struggle? Often with no light at the end of the tunnel. Who am I to quit? Just because the going got tough. No, the elders would say that you don't get to throw in the towel just because you feel like it. Turn your hardship around and use it to benefit and inspire others. So that's what I try to do.

How was it to go through the process of filming the documentary while you were in the hospital?

Very frustrating! The hospital had insurance and privacy issues, coupled with the 'round-the-clock nursing procedures I need, which kept interfering with the filming process. The documentary team was incredibly patient and understanding, but in the back of your head you know that filming has to stop because you need a medical procedure done, and meanwhile everyone is standing around waiting on you.

NY vs. LA graffiti -- we know you've done your rounds. What's your two cents on the ongoing battle?

Well I don't subscribe to that whole ''who's better'' mentalilty. I'm proud of my Los Angeles graffiti roots and traditions, which date back to at least the 1930s. On the other hand, no Los Angeles graffiti artist in their right mind can deny the contributions of the New York scene on the world, as well as right here in Los Angeles. I was writing placas as far back as the late 1970s, and I personally witnessed the New York influence that began in the early 1980s, so I'm not speaking from speculation or personal opinion, but from historical fact. And that's something that can't be denied.

People like SOON (from New York ), RICK ONE and RIVAL laid the foundations for what is now known as one of the most sophisticated, forward-thinking graffiti scenes on the planet -- our own hometown, Los Angeles. But that's not to take anything away from the New York writing scene, which I have a huge appreciation for, but for different reasons. Comparing the two scenes is an apples and oranges thing.

A bunch of your homies that happen to be Los Angeles graffiti icons like CHAZ, Shepard Fairey and ANGST collaborated for your fundraiser. How does it feel to have their unwavering support?

Yeah the artists were amazingly gracious to lend their names to the event, as well as donate all that incredible art. But also all the people who spread the news via their blogs, all those that worked behind the scenes at the event, everyone that rolled through, everyone that bought some art, and especially the organizers Roy, Caitlin, Mick and Caskey. There's no words to express my deep admiration and respect for everyone that took part -- however big or seemingly insignificant.

Uniting for TEMPT ONE, at the fundraiser: BIG SLEEPS, DEF, SLICK, ANGST, Shepard Fairey, CHAZ and NUKE
Uniting for TEMPT ONE, at the fundraiser: BIG SLEEPS, DEF, SLICK, ANGST, Shepard Fairey, CHAZ and NUKE
Javier Cabral

If you would like to donate to TEMPT ONE check out his documentary's website. If you would like to read more on The EyeWriter, check out the Not Impossible Labs website.

Follow me on Twitter at @theglutster, and for more arts news follow us at @LAWeeklyArts and like us on Facebook.

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