RISK is a man with a lot going on. The artist also known as Kelly Graval is a legend among taggers, writers and muralists for his heroic lettering and, perhaps even more so, his eye-popping large-scale color-wash pours. He long ago added a solid gallery practice and curatorial efforts to his outdoor heroics, and in addition to museum shows, books and film projects, he’s also been busy curating the entire situation at the newly renovated Mayfair Hotel in downtown. It’s a lot.
Asked how he juggles it all and what inspires him the most, he laughs, making a sweeping gesture that takes in the global totality of his workshop, archive and to-do list. “I just want to write ‘RISK!’” he says.
Graval once said that to his friend and colleague, artist Ron English. One day some years ago, English apparently sort of cornered Graval and asked him, “What makes you tick? Like, what kind of artist are you?” Gravel thought and said, “color,” and promptly began experimenting. “I thought, let’s see what color can do without the characters, the letters. Does it evoke the same things, the same emotions and responses that I look for in the writing? Can I still get where I want to go that way?” He says that’s when the ideas that grew into his architectural-scale color washes started, and he realized English was right: He was at heart a color-field painter.
“Street art is all about freedom,” Graval says. “But you know, a gallery can mean freedom, too — the freedom to take your time, elevate your materials, use neon….” And in fact there are many different careers in art, and different kinds of artists. Graval himself is not only a writer and a painter but also a sculptor, curator and filmmaker, and his book is being turned into both a documentary and a scripted reality project.
This year, he added Mayfair Hotel artist-in-residence to his purview, when an initial idea for a mural turned into six months of consulting, turned into a year and a full-property curatorial program, which has finally turned into a long-term, open-ended engagement. It’s truly possible to say that at the Mayfair, under his influence, hotel art is real art. Graval describes the vision of his street and urban art roster as L.A.-centric and responsive to local history, flavored by being open to how the space inspires the artists showing there.
Aside from a dedicated art gallery, Regime Contemporary, each floor at the Mayfair is given over to a single artist, whose large-scale works hang in the hallways and public spaces, while prints and editions hang in the rooms. Everything is for sale, and sold works are quickly replaced. The floors will change out, but slowly, one at a time, over months and years.
The main lobby, bar and cafe spaces in the rest of the hotel are more permanent installations, with neon works by RISK as well as rare prints by Shepard Fairey, Geoff Melville, Jason REVOK and others, and with several being integrated into the architecture and design itself, like wall paintings from Defer, carved wood by Cryptik and a mural by Patricia Torkan.
RISK is busy off-site, too. He’s currently working on dueling solo shows, surveying different aspects of his career and recent evolution. One is at New York’s Chase Contemporary, the other much closer to home at CMATO (California Museum of Art, Thousand Oaks), both in March.
Before that, he’ll be a featured artist at the L.A. Art Show in January, installing a pair of recent sculptures from his "Shark" series, courtesy of 5 Art Gallery. Related to the works he showed earlier this year at “Beyond the Streets,” these are sculptures made from license plates, machine parts and other salvaged industrial elements, assembled into large-scale sharks, often suspended from the ceiling for an almost naturalistic effect. Almost.
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“The shark is a tribute to Damien Hirst and his 'Natural History' series,” Graval says. "Considered as one of the world’s most dangerous predators, working on them made me think about what would be the equivalent in our world.” Here on land, in the cities, especially as street artists, he immediately thought of the police cruiser. “They are just as dangerous, they are our predators. So the dissected cop car, that’s still part of the 'Shark' series.”