Now I know we’ve got your attention, let me introduce you to the artist that ‘painted’ these pretty pictures: Mr.Unek. Hailing from New Mexico, Mr. Unek grew from a skilled graffiti writer to an amazing artist doing design, bodypainting, graffiti, photography and even floral design! And the best thing, he knows how to combine all of these skills together and is succesfully doing his thing with his company Lefthandimages. Of course we got to know Mr. Unek because of the gorgeous graffiti girls, and let’s be honest, we rarely’ve seen bodypainted graff-girls with such a sense of class. I was intrigued and now I am honored that I can present you this interview with the versatile Mr.Unek!
You’re a full ‘Navajo’ and grew up in a Navajo reservation. Could you tell us something about growing up there?
Yes, I’m full Navajo also referring back to the original name Dine’ (Dineh), Which means “The People”. I was born and raised in a small town on the Navajo Reservation called Shiprock, New Mexico, which is located in the area where Arizona, Utah, New Mexico and Colorado meet in the Four corners. Growing up living on the reservation to me is just a way of life. Values and the respect of life are taught and we remain strong culturally balanced. Life is a bit harder because some parts of the reservation don’t have running water and electricity nor the modern technology that we see today. But that doesn’t stop the people from living the life and no needing to be materialistic. It’s a good thing because it keeps the values strong that society has lost when things got too modern.
What got you into graffiti?
I got into graffiti like half of every writer out there that saw the classic hip hop movies like “Beat Street”. Also when my parents where still together my dad would take us on vacation like to Los Angeles, Tucson, Canada, San Diego and before living here in Albuquerque I saw graffiti all over. I had the attraction of the colors and how letters had funk to it. Like someone dancing and bend in different positions. I was amazed. When I got back from vacation I would start doing my own. I started drawing letters in the 5th grade. I didn’t touch the spraycan till I was in the 9th grade. I had my mom buy me some spraypaint and went out that night painting my very first piece on an abandon trailer off the side of the highway. She always told me if I got caught doing it “you’re on your own”. In morning on the ride to school on the bus I heard kids talking about my piece that I painted. I loved hearing them talk about it. That gave me the passion and addiction to keep doing graffiti.
Can you describe what it was like starting off with graffiti in the era that you did?
Coming from a small town on the reservation there wasn’t a lot of people doing graffiti. So I was the odd ball and along with the skate heads that painted too. It was hard learning when all you got is magazines. At that time my family was too poor to have a computer. We didn’t have the luxuries. So magazines and movies is all I had. I studied from the FX Crew NYC and the DF crew because they where hitting magazines hard. They influenced me in coming up. After I graduated I moved to Santa Fe, NM in ‘98. I met a lot of people who did graffiti like my boy Cereal. We called ourselves Dynamic Duo because we painted together a lot. So we learned a lot from each other painted pieces and going out bombing at night. The more I painted the more I met people around Santa Fe and Albuquerque. Around that time I think graffiti was booming. I was always amazed to go into the yards see full productions and also see throwies up along the freeways.
Did you do a lot of illegal stuff as well?
Now a days I don’t do illegal’s that much. I was caught when I was 27 years old in my graffiti career. I was out bombing one night, when all of the sudden a ghetto bird spotlighted me and police cars came out from everywhere surrounding me. I ran and tripped on a rock. I was caught and beaten up by the police. I spent 7 months going to court for graffiti. I think God helped me and gave me a pass to move on. Because the police officer that took me in came to an agreement with me. I didn’t do harsh punishment. Just stay out of trouble and community service. I lucked out from doing 2 years. So that was an eye opener that made me think of how was going to spend the rest of my life. I knew I couldn’t be out there doing illegal’s anymore. I already established my career as a graphic designer and illustrator. I couldn’t piss away my life doing dumb stuff anymore. I still catch tags now and then to get my fix of adrenaline. That was my addiction when it came to doing illegals like a drug I needed to feel.
” All of a sudden I hear a voice yelling “He’s on the roof”, “
What is the most funny/hilarious/memorable painting story you can tell us?
One of the most memorable painting experiences was the time I just got into graffiti. One night I went out bombing. I had gone to this old abandon building and I climbed up on the rooftop. I started painting big silver block letters “UNEK” across the top. All of a sudden I hear a voice yelling “He’s on the roof”, I turned around and ducked down crawling to the edge of the building to see what was going on. I look to my right there was a lady standing there yelling and pointing, so I quickly turned to the left and saw 4 police cars pulling up with spot lights and more coming from behind the building. I freaked out, quickly ran and grabbed my bag ran through the broken window to the inside of the building. Made my way down the stairs and I tried finding a way out, but every room I went to had a boarded up window. Finally I found a missing door to the outside but I saw flashlights coming from that direction with cops running. I started to panic and sweating. I was running around and saw there was a boarded up door behind me with 1 board missing. I quickly threw my bag of paint inside and I made myself fit into the small hole. I hid in there for 2 hours while the cops are walking around looking for me. I could see the lights flashing around through the whole. I started to pray hoping I make it through the night. The 2 hours pass. I slowly creeped my head out and noticed it was clear. So I tried to fit myself through the door again. When you scared adrenaline can make you do strange things and I thought how the hell did I fit through that hole. HAHA. As I made my way out, I saw a shadowy figure standing in the corner in the dark. It creeped my out, because it was just standing there watching me. I walked pass it quickly and ran down a hill. I turned around saw that figure standing there looking at me. To this day I still don’t know what it was. Just one of many weird stories I have had. HAHA.
You’re also a graphic designer. Do you often feel that you have to water your style down to make a customer happy?
HAHA yeah..I sometimes have to at my main job water down a lot of my designs, But when I design at home freelancing I’m usually designing custom designs for clients who leave the creativity up to me. There’s a certain style they come to me for. It’s a big difference from my main job and freelancing at home.
hat do you think of ‘street art’ and what do you feel is the difference between graffiti and street art?
I think street art is cool. It’s just not my cup of tea tho. I respect what they do. I’ve seen some amazing stuff out there being on the streets. To me graffiti is going out marking your name in destruction showing you exist and street art has become more of making a political statement with wheat pasting and stencils.
Are there any specific graffiti artists you’d like to work with in the future?
There are so many other graff heads I would love to paint with. If I had to pick it would be my boy’s Woier and Gil from LA, are the 2 main guys I’ve been wanting to paint with for awhile. I also soon hope to go to Milan, Italy to paint with my friend Raptuz and the other Italy CBS heads.
You really are an all round artist, because you’re also a photographer. Can you tell us how that started out ? And how did you find the fine combination of graffiti and girls? (the Win/win combination)
I got into photography about 3 1/2 years ago. I was getting started with body art. I went out and bought a pretty decent Olympus point shoot camera. I started learning the settings of the camera. The next thing I know I’m setting up photo shoots with the camera after I would get done painting. The quality wasn’t good but I had the eye of what I wanted to capture. A year later I finally forked out the money and bought myself the Canon XSi Rebel and it made a big difference in my pictures and under low light. I really wanted to do graffiti photography when I got in taking pictures like Montana Germany with their ads. I wanted to go out with my friends on missions at night to take black and white images, but that never happened. HAHA. What a big turn from what I wanted to do.
I found the combination of body art and photography when I saw the female body as a beautiful canvas because of the curves, shapes and when lighting hits the body you can see it come to life. When I started adding my razor letters I tried making sure that I can make it flow with the contours of the female body. It was something original and unique that I haven’t see other graffiti body artists do. That to me was fine art in itself and photography added another touch into a whole new level that I haven’t seen done with graffiti on girls. Because a lot of writers would just take pictures with a regular digital camera and not take the time to take it beyond what they can do. Putting the two together makes one hell of a masterpiece like a painting.
We see quite a few latina models in your photostream, any particular reason for that?
HA HA, living in the Southwest the majority of ethnic race is Hispanic and Native Americans so that’s pretty much what you can find, but I don’t limit myself to just one race. I love working with all types of women. If they are photogenic and creative..I’m game.
Lighting in photography is hard to learn, but you’re a master. Are those skills all self-taught?
Lighting has always been a artists hard thing to learn and understand. Yes it’s self taught. Since I’ve come from graffiti and being a 3D writer, I came into photography with the understanding of light and shadow. When I’m doing photography with lighting, I always go back to concept of 3D letters. How am I going to sculpt the body? So I bring out the strobes, study the body, surroundings, and time of day before I set up lights. From there the magic happens.
At the end of the day, what are the things making you happy to be alive?
At the end of the day my family back home on the reservation, my friend Lauren and her kids are the ones that make me feel happy that I’m alive today. I’ve been thru a lot and experienced a lot growing up, they pretty much have saved my life from me getting into trouble and worse. Everyday I thank the creators (Navajo culture) that they are in my life. They have made a big difference in my life. I love them all dearly. Graffiti is also the other happiness that keeps me going looking forward to painting my next piece and has opened many doors to my career.
If you could fill a swimming pool with anything, what would it be?
I would fill it with German Montana Black label paint or MTN 94’s. That paint smells so good. HAHA.
What can we expect from you in the future?
My friend Lauren and I have started a business back in April called Elaborate Collaborate which is a fashion/photography industry meet and greet. We help people who don’t know where to start and help build up portfolios with workshops. It allows them to networking with people and make diverse connections. It’s something new besides graffiti. I hope this company can stay going.
I will also continue to paint and see how far I can push myself in all areas of art and graffiti. Going beyond with Unek CBS World Wide Family