A Conversation With River

In Spring 2017, we released Thoughts On The Walk, a brand new print available in our online store designed by Sean, aka RIVER. For the Twin Cities-based artist, his first-ever print represents a staple in his graffiti career and a beacon for nostalgia. Not unlike other painters who were drawn to the allure of box car graffiti, River took it to another level and released Thoughts On The Walk with us back in June. The dream-like piece is dotted with bright colors and found retro imagery, resembling the very places that conjured up his love for the art in the first place. We caught up with the artist and discussed inspiration, creative process and the natural progression of using new and different mediums.

BURLESQUE: When and how did you first get into graffiti and street art?

RIVER: Graffiti first caught my attention in my early teen years. I was a shy kid who loved to draw, and in class my friends and I would decorate our notebooks trying to outdo one another with our elaborate layouts of words and cartoons- competitions to see who could make theirs look the coolest. Then one day, while traveling down Lake Street in South Minneapolis, I saw bold, legible names written repeatedly on bus benches and curbs.  Seeing these words written creatively over and over again really impressed me, not only because of how cool it looked, but also that someone was brave enough to do this illegally all over town. Once I came to the conclusion that I didn’t see anything morally wrong with it and figured out that I could do it myself, I was hooked.

B: What inspired you to pursue graffiti?

R: I was inspired to pursue graffiti by seeing it all around me. The more I saw, the more I felt the need to do it myself. Although the Twin Cities didn’t have as plentiful of a scene as some larger cities, it was all I noticed walking around by myself. Seeing the names written openly in public, searching for pieces in the hard to find places and patiently waiting for the freight trains to roll by. It was the adventure and I loved it.

B: Was there ever a question as to whether or not you wanted to pursue if full time?

R: Once I started painting and noticing my own personal creative progression through graffiti, there was no question whether or not I wanted pursue it as much as I possibly could.

B: How does it shape your work in other creative projects?

R: I relate back to graffiti all the time in other creative projects in my life, no matter what I’m doing.  I’ve learned and I’m continuing to learn from graffiti every time I paint and want to apply the knowledge as much as possible because of graffiti’s unique nature. 

B: What was your creative process like when you first started graffiti, and how has it changed as you developed your style?

R: When I first started painting graffiti I thought of the process as a set of rules you apply to your creativity to build a piece or a throw-up or a tag. Something like instructions to follow in order to make graffiti properly.  Now, I use the exact same method but I enjoy breaking the rules and applying them in different ways. Kind of like Legos; you can build something amazing if you carefully follow the instructions, but you can create and build something even more amazing when you know how to build something but choose to rearrange parts in order to make something that’s never been made before.

B: What’s the transition like from graffiti painter to creative artist for you?

R: I have always been a creative artist outside of graffiti just not as prolific, so there hasn’t been much of a transition. I’ve never really enjoyed combining the two until recently. I’ve always thought of them as oil and water- impossible to mix and that they have their own separate places in the world. Now I consider them to be more like oil and vinegar- occasionally mixable temporarily if shaken properly and flavored with the correct spices.

B: What's your start-to-finish process like now?

R: Spend a super long time with the initial sketch, do something different, then just have fun with colors, line and space. And usually get stressed out and take it down to the wire during the process.

B: Trains seem to play a large part in your work. My first introduction to your work was Thoughts on The Walk. What is it about trains, beyond the obvious graffiti connection, that you're drawn to in your artwork?

R: Well, as a wise man once said, “Train is best.” That man was right. And trains have been of most importance to me in my graffiti career and have always been there for me to paint. The particular joy and nostalgia I get when I’m around them is unmatchable. It only made sense for me to make the subject of my first print to involve the love I have for freight trains.

B: Do you have any upcoming projects you're particularly excited about?

R: I’m always excited about painting, no matter the project. Have fun.