By Jeff Alexander
Spawk’s initiation to art began in the most nontraditional way, thanks to his uncle. Serving a prison sentence, he would send the 8-year-old letters decorated with original designs and vivid color schemes, ultimately inspiring young Spawk to learn more about art while attempting to replicate his uncle’s unique style.
Spawk and Co. launched in 2019 as a vehicle for his graffiti art, pinstriping, and sign painting work. Spawk’s graffiti artist group, The Graff Aholeks will be celebrating their 25th anniversary and he reflected on how his uncle initially inspired him to seek out the underground subculture of graffiti.
“I feel my uncle wasn’t aware that he was influencing me so much growing up! I loved receiving his letters and was really into the artwork and the olde English lettering. I would practice tracing the letters and while in school, during our library sessions I found this art book detailing how to letter. I stole that book and it grew my passion further,” laughed Spawk.
Hailing from Arizona, Spawk summarizes the local kustom kulture community as ‘heavily influenced by lowriders’ but his passion for art had him gravitate to the underground graffiti world. He recalled how his uncle’s artwork shared similar lettering styles as the graffiti artists that inspired him.
“I really identified with graffiti and the intricate, easily recognized styles of the artists. I began noticing some similarities between my uncle’s work and what I was drawn to within graffiti art. I would work hard to develop my own style and to ‘get up’; having my work seen by people and earning respect. My family moved from California to Arizona but I loved East Coast music and I had a hip-hop mentality. I was very well-versed in the history of graffiti and met so many talented people. We formed The Graff Aholeks out of nothing but love for art and the friendships it helped create and keep to this day,” said Spawk.
Spawk shared anecdotes of growing up poor and how the bonds formed with his fellow artists helped him fully realize where his passion could take him. He learned the contrasting styles of his peers, suffered consequences for painting illegally, and proudly represented the subculture of graffiti.
“There are many differences with street art, muralists, and writers. Graffiti is art done illegally, without any permission. Muralists are generally hired artists to paint a space, nothing wrong with that. People use the term ‘street art’ loosely. I feel that’s like saying you’re a kustom artist but you just began, which is fine, but you have to build a foundation of learning so you can evolve,” he said.
After working to build his foundation within the underground graffiti community and grow The Graff Aholeks, Spawk was befriended by Eddie ‘ET’ Torres in 2005. This proved to be a turning point for Spawk. Torres was a well-respected artist and pinstriper and Spawk still cites this mentorship as one of the most positive, impacting relationships he has experienced.
“Eddie realized my love for art and lettering and introduced me to pinstriping. I was working as a sign painter but what I really did was, I approached local auto shops and worked out deals. In exchange for painting them a new sign, I would be permitted to paint one of their alley walls or whatever, but with full creative control. This gave me a blank canvas to really grow my graffiti art style. Eddie was a legend and I was honored when he took me under his wing and mentored me. He taught me the fundamentals and took me to painting jams and introduced me to many of the OG painters. It was an honor to learn and paint alongside them,” reflected Spawk.
Spawk emphasizes the value of mentorship and how Torres still impacts him today, despite the void left by his recent passing.
“Eddie meant a lot to so many people. He mentored me and I learned so much and finally had the confidence to officially start pinstriping in 2009, and launch my business in 2019. Eddie took me to a lot of panel jams where he introduced me to so many talented, respected artists. I worked hard to learn as much as I could and sold some work but the money all went to charity. I eventually had to learn how to create something sustainable with my art. I actually started with stickers when Spawk and Co. began” he laughed.
Spawk and Co. preserve the value of mentorship with their ongoing pinstriping workshops, right in the studio with Spawk himself. He views it as an opportunity to pass on the knowledge his mentor shared with him, and to get the newer generation actively engaged with underground art.
“I’ve learned the value of teaching and it can be powerful to see the young people work hard and you can just feel which ones will take it seriously and build on it. We don’t do anything too technical, just the basics for them to learn the foundation. Just like I did. We already do art for a living so it’s no big deal for us to take a few hours out of the day to show people that are willing to learn,” concluded Spawk.