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ARTIST JEFF SOTO talks about his favorite books – Page 4

The graffiti years...

READERSVOICE.COM: Can you talk a bit about your high school interest in graffiti, and a bit about your graffiti years?
JEFF SOTO: I could write a book about my graffiti experiences. It was an addiction. I’d tag all over, I was terrible.
There were a few things I was exposed to that got me into graf. It seems kinda cliche but skateboarding actually got me doing my first bit of graffiti. Probably around 1986-87 we started skating in a drainage ditch by my house called “The L” (it was shaped like an “L”). There was old graffiti already painted on it, not of the Hip Hop variety but just kids drawing obscenities and some gang graffiti.
We would take spraypaint out of our parents’ and neighbors’ garages. We redecorated The L with skate logos like Powell Rat bones, Independent, Santa Cruz, and lots of random arrows, checkers, names and doodles. I think I saw ramps painted with graffiti in a magazine I’d get sometimes called Freestylin’, maybe we were trying to do something like that.
Then, a few years later in high school I started looking at art books. I had always been into art since I was little, but I started getting into the history of it, and looking at individual artists. I was really into modern art, artists like Andy Warhol, Barbara Kruger, Keith Haring, all these New York artists.
One day at the library I found a book on New York street art. It had all these artists who took their projects to the streets; it had postering, billboard art, sculpture, stickering…and graffiti. When I saw the graffiti photos I just knew I had to try it.

That was 1989, my freshman year. I consider it the start of my involvement with graffiti.
I dabbled in graffiti and did my first piece before I ever did a tag. At first I didn’t even know tagging was part of graffiti, I thought it was only about painting letters. I worked solo for maybe half a year, in which time I learned a lot about can control, and graffiti etiquette.
I started painting with my friend Maxx, and we created a crew called CIA which stood for Criminally Insane Artists and Call It Art. We started meeting other writers at our high school and beyond. We painted in abandoned areas like old cement reservoirs, underneath bridges, behind buildings along train tracks and derelict buildings in vacant lots.
In the meantime the whole Chaka thing blew up and graffiti was in the news. Almost overnight graffiti became a fad and it seemed that all of Southern CA was being destroyed. By then our crew was pretty well respected in our area, at least as piecers. We painted at a place called Twin Palms (which sadly has been bulldozed recently), we considered it our yard.
Then in ’92 tagbanging came into existence. It left a bad taste in my mouth; knowing that I’d devoted 3 years of my life to graffiti and it’d turned into kids shooting each other. Looking back you can’t really blame the kids. The country was in a recession and everyone in my area was poor. The economy was jacked up, especially because of So. CA’s aerospace industry dying out. Everyone’s parents were being layed off and kids were probably not having the best homelife. Despite all this, I continued to do graffiti seriously until 2000.
I was never arrested for doing graffiti, most likely because I didn’t pursue the high profile spots and wasn’t much for simple tagging.

I don’t paint graffiti too much anymore. The consequences of getting caught outweigh the fun. Plus my wife would kill me if I was arrested.
As far as my art skills, yeah, graffiti really taught me something. I learned a lot about scale and color combinations. And it helped me develop my style.
RV: You spent many years in college doing many different subjects and I was wondering if you would do things the same way if you could do those years over again.
JS: I’m super happy with the way things have turned out. I think if things were done different, I’d be doing something else right now. All the years I spent in community college prepared me for Art Center which was a very serious college and I feel that I took full advantage of the resources that were available.
RV: What sort of jobs did you do over the years and did they influence you as an artist at all, or were they just survival?
JS: I worked fast food, was a shopping cart pusher at Target, and worked for a school district. These jobs had no influence on my art other than driving me to be a successful artist so I didn’t have to work at these places again! I quit my job at Target when I was 23 to pursue art and things were very tough.
I worked freelance for clothing companies, did logos for people’s businesses, did window painting, tried to do comics, and tried to get into galleries. I learned about certain aspects of commercial art, but the crappy jobs I’d get never really influenced my paintings. It was hard to make any money and I felt my work could improve so I stopped working freelance and decided to apply to Art Center. Things never really took off until I finished college.