From spray paint to white walls, the evolution of Los Angeles graffiti artist Jose “Prime” Reza.
From the heart of Los Angeles, Prime, born Jose Reza, has secured his legacy amongst graffiti artists with a hybridized style that continues to influence the new generations of street artists. Coming up at a time when graffiti art became infamous for its divisive nature, Prime seemingly brought together the cultures of the East and West into a cohesive style; the Cholo influenced lettering and often monochromatic palette were met with a classic geometry of east coast stylings.
With this level of renown, he has found his name included in the history of the genre and has been able to collaborate with some of the biggest names throughout the decades of his career. While his formative years building an artistic foundation took place with a spray can in hand, he went on to build an artistic legacy that broke down the walls of the gallery. Working between street art and the fine arts, he has challenged and changed the game on how we perceive graffiti in the greater context of the visual arts.
Bringing his grounded attitude towards art-making, and his own notoriety, to the readers of Tainted Magazine, he shared some insight into what shaped his career, developing a style all his own, and thoughts for the future.
The Layers of a Legacy
Prime has become synonymous with some of the most iconic styles of graffiti art we see being made today. His style was formed in his early years of working with graffiti when he mainly used accessible mediums such as house paint, spray paint, tester tips, and even sketches on paper. Today, as his career has moved to also inhabit more traditional circles he picked up new tools of the trade such as da Vinci brushes and Japanese calligraphy. However, his creativity and inventive spirit never ceased as he came up with his own inventive mediums and approaches to make stunning works.
But what truly makes an artist like Prime? There is the inherent talent and ingenuity that has propelled his career of course; however, his style encapsulates so much more. His signature approach to paint is almost autobiographical. It is indicative of his undeniably Los Angeles upbringing, capturing the soul of the artistic side of the city. It is the experiences that took his life in unexpected, and sometimes tragic, directions. It is his intuition, emotions, and responses to life’s sensations that culminate in a style that continues to diffuse the line between the street art and the so-called spaces of fine art.
TM: You are a born and raised Angeleno. Can you share what influence the city of Los Angeles has had on your style and why?
PRIME: I believe that some of the style I’ve been influenced by is some of the sharp angles that you can see on writing from earlier years, maybe gang writing, I can’t really pinpoint one other thing. It becomes a bit more difficult, but I can say that being here in Los Angeles with such a large diversity of people and art, being able to take all those things in, and develop what I have developed, it’s hard to just pinpoint it.
TM: When reflecting back on the development of your practice, are there any life experiences that you feel have shaped your career or driven your career in a new direction?
PRIME: Several years ago, I was involved in a shooting where it left me disabled for some time and prevented me from spray painting, which was a medium I used then. So I had to adapt to a new form of painting, which I’ve been here a few years with my left hand since I was originally right-handed. While recuperating from my injuries on my right hand and at the same time regaining my strength and ability to use my right hand, I took more to the brush. I used the same ideas we had, and modifications of tools to use with spray paint, and began to apply them to the brush. I feel that that is one of my experiences that has shaped my art today.
TM: Looking more closely at your work, we notice a juxtaposition between a monochromatic approach, in a contrasting use of black and whites, alongside works that embrace splashes of color. Can you explain what role color has in your work and what dictates your choice to use it?
PRIME: Yes, it is true, I use the 19th black and white…. I’m not afraid of color. I’m aware that we can bring our emotions that I may want to convey to the audience, so you may find some times that I may use a single color of red or gold…for what I think is able to express my feelings at the time that is also aesthetically pleasing
TM: Your graffiti lettering has become an iconic part of your style. As we have watched your career transition into more traditional forms of art, can you share what elements of lettering influenced this fine art style?
PRIME: I am always looking to develop letterforms. Maybe breaking them up, maybe making them a little thicker, but always wanting to influence my ability to create a unique form[s].
Inscribing His Name in a New Era
“The feeling I get when I see myself in galleries after years of acceptance is honored, humbled, and proud.”
His work has been exhibited throughout his career in recent shows with notable institutions including the Museum of Contemporary Art Los Angeles, Pasadena Museum of California Art, El Segundo Museum of Art, and part of the LA Art Show.
His work exists in a liminal space between two historically opposing realms of our art world that have only more recently found stasis. Angst infused gestural brushstrokes and pops of color are elevated in minimalist compositions. The iconic letterform style obscures and fades into lines and shapes drawing in viewers with peculiar textured surfaces leaving viewers enthralled as they are now presented in the esteemed halls of museums and galleries. Now cemented in both worlds, we see that Prime’s ambitions are still driving his career to the cutting edge. Just as he has done throughout the entirety of his artistic journey, rather than shy away he embraces the ‘new’.
TM: Having witnessed firsthand how graffiti and fine art have intersected, how have you understood the relationship between these two to have changed over the years, and what is the relationship between them today?
PRIME: Graffiti can find art. The relationship, I don’t know how to answer that, you see because I’m not totally emerged in following either one in order for me to keep doing my work.
TM: To wrap up our conversation, can you share with our readers what is next on the horizon? Are there any upcoming projects or long-term endeavors in the works?
PRIME: What does the future hold? Well, as we all know, times are changing, the art world is changing. So, I’m gonna give it a go on this new medium, which is the computer programming used in NFT, LSD, whatever it is. I’m interested in it. I have done some [projects] with some friends of mine but I think it’s the future. So I think I’ll dabble a little bit with it.
As I said before, thanks again for having me and keeping a lookout for my work. Thank you everyone for joining me on this journey, to discovering myself, my city, and my people