By Aaris A. Schroeder
Ricky Watts comes from a creative family, being raised in Petaluma, CA after being born in San Francisco to his mother, a journalist and father who has always had his artistic side. “I don’t feel like I’m walking in their footsteps but I do feel like there’s something in my genes that’s been passed down.” Says Watts who remembers “doing art” as an adolescent. He was very much into reading comic books to the point that he began drawing his own comics.
“The classic Army vs. everything. Sometimes it was nuclear dinosaurs and other times the Russians or Commies [Communists]. The Army always won in my comics, naturally.” remembers Watts who reminiscences how much influence G.I. Joe had on him as a youth.
Young Watts loved X-Men. “I used to tape plastic knives to the tops of my hands and pretend I was shredding my little brothers to pieces. Wolverine was my dude back then.”
As a youngster, Watts was able to watch his dad “break out the easel and paintbrush” to work on a piece. This was inspiring and helped Watts become an artist but he never really knew how much it influenced him until he was a young adult and Watts came across drawings and paintings that his father had created in his late teens. Watts found that the style of art was similar to his own.
“I took one of them home with me, where it hangs today in my living room,” Watt says.
Watts seems to be able to reason the idea that choosing the path of an artist starts during puberty, with the idea that if the kid is not good at his hobby or skill or cannot improve then they do not pursue it anymore. Watts knew he enjoyed art however it was not until after high school that he really knew he wanted to pursue a career in art. He spent his high school years playing sports, collecting baseball cards and riding BMX bikes. He was a boy’s boy who built forts and hung out with neighborhood kids in the ‘burbs.
Everybody remembers working on art projects while in elementary school and taking notice to that one kid who was better at art than all the other kids. That kid was Watts. He says that he did not set out to be “that kid” however it was what it was. Being the artist of his class was an advantage to him especially since he had a stuttering disability, it kind of made his weakness not so debilitating.
Watts has had a speech impediment ever since he began to speak. He attended speech therapy sessions around five-years-old. Watts didn’t realize that he even had a “problem” until he attended elementary school and other kids would belittle him.
“Kids would mock me, mimic me, cut me off mid-sentence, make fun of me behind my back. It was really frustrating because there wasn’t much I could do about it.” Watt explains that he was also pretty small in size and this made him non-confrontational. He chose to escape within by creating art.
“My imagination would run wild on paper and those stories going on inside my head never stuttered.”
Watts wants other youngsters with disabilities to know that right now it “feels like their worlds are in the present and their futures are unimaginable.” He has a comforting way of communicating how things can turn around for those with disabilities in a way that almost seems karma-like.
“Those bullies are going to grow up and either realize what a dick they were and be cool to you or become total losers, in and out of jail, strung out on drugs, wishing they were in your shoes because you are crushing it now. The best advice I can give is to tell you that things get better. Weather the storm and find your escape,” consoles Watts.
“I quickly figured out that me doing art was a way to get other kids to like me and more importantly, I didn’t have to talk while I was doing it.” Watt tells. “I accepted my role as the ‘art kid’ in class and [stayed] busy drawing pretty girlsʻ names on [their] Pee Chee folder or a monster on someone’s backpack.”
By high school, Watts discovered that artists had “graffiti names,” even though he was not a graffiti artist. He adopted the name “Junior” because he was smaller than the other kids and wrote his alias on everything. A school buddy (of whom is still friends with Watts to this day) showed a copy of Can Control (Seattle, WA publication) magazine for him to check out, Watts knew his future was in graffiti.
“I fell in love. It became an obsession. I started stealing spraypaint [when] I was 14, sneaking out of my room at night to paint my name under the cover of darkness.” says Watts. He learned a lot about composition and color theory in his early days. He also credits a lot of his artistic foundation to his early experience in graffiti and influences in graffiti were BIAS, BYPED, JPEE, JELOE, STYLE ONE AND Mike Giant (Rebel8).
His parents never knew of his secret love affair with graffiti however he did divulge his mysterious alias and childhood past to them as an adult. By then, the coast was clear, of course, and they found it more amusing than terrifying.
“[My parents] have always been very supportive of my artistic endeavors.” Watts proclaims proudly.
“I loved spray painting because I could be artistic but the adrenaline rush from getting away with it was the ultimate high. I still get that same feeling I felt back then,” explains Watts over 20 years after his start in the graffiti scene.
“My parents never pushed me to grow up and be this or be that. They let me figure it out on my own. Dad allowed me the opportunity to be an artist, something he was never able to do.” Says Watts who feels that he is living his Dad’s lost dream of becoming a successful artist, “He’s my biggest fan and that’s something I don’t take lightly.”
Watt’s first crew as “Junior” was with the Twisted Mindz Krew (TMK), they didn’t really have a rhyme or reason, it was just the beginning for him. When he first was “getting up” he used typography (lettering) and didn’t develop the styles he has today until later on.
He never really put being a professional artist and graffiti artist together as one idea or profession until his senior art teacher, Mr. Harry Frank brought the thought to his mind. He spent the next couple of years out of high school working odd jobs and going out at night to paint the streets.
Around ’01, Watts joined the infamous LORDS crew, a loose-knit group of young people who spent their time creating art and, of course, going out and painting the city. The LORDS crew has a long-time reputation for being an elite group of artists. At this point, his canvasses were getting bigger.
“I am very proud to be a part of this crew.” says Watts.
He attended The Advertising Arts College in San Diego for Graphic Design soon after and began showing at local galleries in San Diego and even sold wild style lettering pieces on canvas or wood panels. He also participated in a few group exhibitions until he landed his first solo gig in Petaluma at a place called Boomerang Gallery in ’04.
“After I left the 9-5, things became clear. I was focused, driven to be the best artist I could be. I was free to do what I wanted, as long as it was generating income. So I went for it, fully consuming myself in exhibits, commissions…” remembers Watts.
Ten years later, quit his print shop job to go full-time into creating art. He was tired of his wild-style type of graffiti art and started to experiment with different styles. He chose to utilize different shapes, color schemes and “movements.” His pieces were getting even bigger, as 15×40 and his largest mural-to-date is 4000 square feet.
If you look at Watts artistic resume, he has progressively shown his art murals and pieces at more and more galleries and has had more and more write-ups over the years. From ʻ03-ʻ09, Watts built up his portfolio and after ʻ09 his shows have become more frequent. Watts has been able to include solo exhibitions more recently throughout the years. This has been a huge accomplishment for Watts and his art career.
Watts moved back to The Bay Area in ’03, bouncing around with jobs and art gigs, eventually landing in Sebastopol where he has lived for eight years.
“I love it here, it’s quiet and laid back, referring to it as my hideout. I feel like I can fly under the radar, being able to work at any hour of the day or night.” says Watts. His art studio is the workshop behind where he lives with his wife. He also appreciates how close he is to the Bay Area.
Watts has performed over 65 group exhibitions since ’03 and working on over 13 solo art shows. These shows vary in types of galleries, outside events, graffiti events, colleges, community centers and murals and city walls.
In ’12, Watts worked with Endless Canvas, an East Bay Area Art Collective. Endless Canvas shares graffiti from all over the world, hosts events and writes articles about artists on their website. The event was called “Special Delivery.” Watts painted a wall with LORDS Crew in a huge abandoned factory that was set to be redeveloped.
“It felt like every square inch of the building was painted on by some world-class painters,” says Watts, whose enthusiasm was cut short when a fire marshal shut down the festivities after hundreds of people were waiting to get in outside.
In ʻ12, Watts had the opportunity to do work for the large music festival, Outside Lands. One of his LORDS Crew-mates assisted in helping Watts get the gig. The art directors loved Watts style and submitted some of his work for stage designs. Since then, he has done three years of live paintings for Outside Lands. Luckily, this has spiraled into more work and helped him to network out for more art-jobs.
A lot of his current gigs involve painting office walls or murals for businesses. Sometimes he makes posters, print design with his catchy patterns. The best thing is that each client has allowed him to scratch that creative itch that he has. This has allowed Watts the ability to work free-formed, without purpose into a pre-arranged art-idea.
These catchy patterns which are dubbed “Space Rainbows” by Saber1, an infamous graffiti artist. Saber1 wrote for Juxtapoz a few years back when Watts was featured in a Twitter contest. The name, “Space Rainbows” stuck. He creates these paintings by “starting in the upper right corner,” Watts always says.
“Each shape build[s] off of the previous. It’s almost like meditation. I can sit back and allow the movement of the painting dictate where it’s going.” Watt tells.
During the summer of ’15, Watts had the chance to travel to Upper Playground in Portland, OR. This is where he took part in UP-PDX. Because of his work last summer he is promised a show August 4. ’16 for their Thursday Art Walk.
Watts realizes he wanted to be an artist when he began to get involved in graffiti. He considers himself a muralist and illustrator. Illustrating comes about from when he was younger, back when wrote and illustrated his own comics. Drawing comes naturally to Watts whereas creating murals is derived from his days as a graffiti artist; using spray paint.
“I don’t feel like I should continue calling myself a graffiti artist. The term bugs me for some reason. It just sounds dirty to me now. Art is an evolution. I feel like I’ve evolved into something greater,” reasons Watts. Now, Watts creates large murals and gets paid for it, legally.
Nowadays Watts is able to work with artists such as Alex Pardee and Greg “Craola” Simkins, Dave Correia and Quake, Wayshack, Robert Bowen and Rat 136.