Mural Conservancy of Los Angeles

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Kelly “Risk” Graval


 In a career spanning 30 years, RISK has impacted the evolution of graffiti as an art form in Los Angeles and worldwide. RISK gained major notoriety for his unique style and pushed the limits of graffiti further than any writer in L.A. had before: He was one of the first writers in Southern California to paint freight trains, and he pioneered writing on “heavens,” or freeway overpasses. At the peak of his career he took graffiti from the streets and into the gallery with the launch of the Third rail series of art shows, and later parlayed the name into the first authentic line of graffiti inspired clothing.


Before he’d ever heard of graffiti, RISK was unconsciously writing it. As a kid, he filled sketchbook after sketchbook with images, not just of people and things but of letters too. He even had spray paint in his hand before ever applying it to a wall, using it to paint BMX bikes. “Even back then I think I was addicted to spray paint,” he recalls. “I just loved painting with it.”


 In 1983, his family moved to Los Angeles, and 16-year-old RISK enrolled at University High School on the city’s west side. Risk made the high school his personal canvas, tagging his name everywhere during the day and returning at night to do pieces. He turned some of his buddies onto graffiti and started a crew, Prime Crime Artists, with them. In 1985, RISK was painting in mid-city when RIVAL approached him and asked if he wanted to start a crew. Just like that, West Coast Artists (WCA) was born. One night, RISK and fellow writers WISK, MEC and SER were sitting on an overpass above the Pasadena Freeway just north of downtown L.A. when RISK decided to hit one of the signs hanging over the freeway. To get to the sign, he had to shimmy across a piece of wood supported by two cables. His friends, scared for his life, begged him to come back to the overpass. RISK didn’t listen, and managed to get his name up. The other writers were in awe, and they took the idea and ran with it.


The next phase of RISK’s career came out of the Hollywood lifestyle he was living. He partied with rock stars, and he found himself being asked by some of them to get involved in Hollywood projects. His first was a photo shoot for Hot Rod magazine, and after the issue hit newsstands, he started getting more recognition as an artist outside the graffiti world. RISK continued to work on movie and music video sets, including the film Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure and videos for The Red Hot Chili Peppers, Ice Cube, Bad Religion and Michael Jackson.


In 1988, RISK went to New York and painted subway cars, making him the first L.A. writer to have his work run, and probably the last (in 1989, the New York Metropolitan Transit Authority mandated that all subway cars be free of graffiti before they ran). The following year, RISK and SLICK were invited to travel to the U.K. to represent the U.S. at the Bridlington Street Art Competition. They won the competition and took home a silver cup and silver spray can as trophies.


Back in L.A., RISK was determined to keep pushing the boundaries of graffiti, and he and fellow WCA writers embarked on a series of tours: “Bum Rush,” an all-out bombing effort in the San Francisco Bay area; “Planes, Trains and Automobiles,” a quest on which they hit everything from Elvis Presley’s limo to private planes; and “Hitting Metal,” a tour aimed at vehicles, street signs, heavens and any other metal objects they could find.


Meanwhile, RISK had started putting his graffiti on canvases. Along with DANTE and SLICK, he created Third Rail, a series of gallery shows. Knowing that many of the people at the shows couldn’t afford his canvases, RISK started making T-shirts to sell. RISK turned Third Rail into a successful clothing brand, with RISK winning designer of the year awards and sponsoring celebrities like Kid Rock. While other clothing companies tried to co-opt graffiti images to present themselves as streetwear, Third rail prospered from its authenticity.


Today, Risk is still involved with graffiti, surrounding himself with writers and supporting them in their art. WCA evolved into other crews, first CBS and then AWR and MSK, and both are proud to have him as a member. “I’m probably one of the only writers who’ve come full-circle with generations,” RISK says, “to see what I started go where it went and then be a part of it.”


Timeline of “RISK”




o Kelly Graval begins writing “SURF” at his school and throughout his neighborhood.




o Kelly Graval begins writing “RISK” and launches his graffiti career.


o RISK paints illegal murals around the City of Los Angeles.


o RISK travels to New York to explore the ancestory of graffiti.




o Risk breaks into University High School and paints murals throughout the halls, one consisting of a wave traveling from upstairs to downstairs.


o RISK creates “Locker Rockers”, a series of painted school lockers.




o RISK wins National Scholastics Art Award, receives scholarship to Pasadena Art Center.




o RISK paints mural which is featured on cover of January 1986 issue of Hot Rod Magazine.




o RISK is featured in “Spray Can Art” book, his first graffiti publication. o RISK is featured artist in each issue of “Ghetto Art Magazine”, which later became “Can Control Magazine”.




o RISK travels to New York and paints last series of running “bombed” subway trains.


o RISK is the first “West Coast” based graffiti artist to be part of the New York Graffiti scene.


o RISK launches legendary “Bum Rush Tour” where he and fellow writers put Los Angeles on the graffiti map. o RISK paints 4th Annual MTV Music Awards set.




o After photos from the “Bum Rush Tour” appear in the historical “International Graffiti Times”, RISK. Along with fellow artist, “Slick” are chosen to represent the United States and compete in the World Graffiti contest held in England. RISK and Slick win 1st place in the competition.


o RISK paints MTV Comedy at the Improv set.




      o RISK attends U.S.C. School of Fine Arts.




o RISK paints mural at the University of Southern California. The Daily Trojan features the mural in their newspaper and later U.S.C. makes poster of mural, which is distributed to high schools across the United States.




o RISK launches “Third Rail Clothing”, the clothing industries first “street art” clothing company, which he operated for nearly 15 years.




o RISK is featured artist in “Fat Cap Magazine”, Oslo, Norway edition.


o RISK is featured artist in the “Los Angeles Reader”.


o Participates in “Gallery X” show and in “Word From The Underground: Art Is A Crime” show in Los Angeles, California.


o RISK is featured in a group show with Sandow Birk, Robbie Conal, and Coax.


o The Los Angeles Times features RISK and Robbie Conal in an article.




o RISK is featured artist in “12 once Prophet” magazine, as well as numerous graffiti magazines.




o RISK is cast for a graffiti movie “Walls of Fame”, he is the only Los Angeles graffiti artist to be characterized in movie with New York TATS crew members, “Vucan”, “Bio”, and “Lase”.




o RISK works on several murals around Los Angeles.


o RISK is hired as the one of the set designers and artist for Michael Jackson’s “The Way You Make me Feel” music video.




o RISK continues to work in the entertainment industry painting for various movies, commercials, music videos and magazines including clients such as Budweiser, Playboy, MTV, Warner Bros. and many others.


1998 – 2003


o RISK operates “Third Rail Clothing”, managing the operation, design, distribution and marketing of the high successful clothing brand.


O RISK spends time travelling abroad painting and studying graffiti in various regions around the world, including Germany, Switzerland, Japan, China, Korea and others,




o RISK is featured in “Enamelized”, graffiti art book. 2005


o RISK is most prevalent artist in the book, “The History of Los Angeles Graffiti”.




o RISK sells “Third Rail Clothing” and decides to focus his ambitions toward gallery and studio work.




 o RISK travels to Barcelona Spain, as a featured artist in the “Seventh Letter” exhibit held at the “Bread and Butter Show”.


 O RISK is featured artist in the ”Letters First Barcelona Spain” book published as retrospective.


O RISK participates in “Hooray for Humans” show with fellow artists Shepard Fairey, Joe King, along with many others.


O RISK is special guest artist for the Los Angeles “Red Bull’s West Coast Graffiti Party”


O RISK is featured in “Los Angeles Graffiti” book.


O RISK is featured in “Graffiti L.A. Street Styles and Art” book.


O RISK travels to the Philippines and Hong Kong to paint for “Tribal” exhibition, which is featured in the “Beyond the Four” DVD.




o RISK debuts “Twenty-six”, his first Los Angeles Solo exhibit at Track 16 Gallery at the Bergamot Station in Santa Monica, California.


O RISK participates in the “IRONLAK Paint Live” exhibit at the Mid City Gallery in Los Angeles.


O RISK paints live at “King’s Destroy” DVD release at 33Third, a Los Angeles based paint store.


O RISK travels to Korea for the “Seventh Letter” Korea Tour for the R-16 World Urban Street Competition, where he is featured artist painting in an exhibition at the Olympic Arena in South Korea.


O RISK attends Art Basel Miami and paints mural with various “Seventh Letter” artists including.


o RISK travels to Barcelona, Spain and paints various murals around the city.




o RISK paints “live” in Downtown San Diego at the “Gaslamp Artist Showcase”.


o RISK participates in “Sinless Design Art and Lifestyle” exhibit, a group show in Long Beach, California.


o RISK is featured artist for an interview in “Rime Magazine” and appears as an App in iTunes.


o RISK is featured artist in the March issue of “Juxtapoz Magazine” in a 14 page retrospective on the artist and his solo show.