Intro by Lack YME, SFL, (T)
Blah, blah, learn, yme, circle t, blah, blah. Since I’ve been around this shit for 20ish years a lot has changed. Learn hasn’t. He has consistently been doing what he does with no regard for trends or bullshit. There aren’t a lot of writers that haven’t given into all the things that don’t matter or do flash-in-the-pan styles. It’s easy to look around and see where everyone gets their shit. Making things technically perfect becomes easier with new paint and caps and that’s the way it is. There are dudes that just love to paint and have a crazy work ethic about it. Learn paints all the time and hasn’t stopped, and has his own thing and doesn’t care what you think, but does it with class and respect for his city, spots, yards and the history and the culture. If you never get to paint with or sit down and talk to him, you are missing out, but whatever the interview is, you are lucky to get that.
Nate Keegan: Ok, so let’s get some basic info out, full name, address, phone number, how long you’ve been writing on things that don’t belong to you, and what got you interested in it to begin with.
LEARN: Yeah, I’ll get back to you on those, haha. Be 25 years this Fall, since I first scribbled some shit onto somewhere that I shouldn’t have. Probably about 21 years I’ve been seriously hooked and made it a regular waste of time with the same name. I was a typical California surfer-town kid playing in the streets, causing mischief, pre-cell phone. Just living to be outside and exploring the world. Growing up in the 80’s and early 90’s, I just started seeing this weird writing of names all over. Especially when I used to drive up to SF and San Jose. I immediatley was interested. Why I was, is a question for a psychologist probably, but it just spoke to me, I was mesmorized. and from like ‘87 – ‘89, I just tried to figure out what it was, and how it was done. Then my Dad came home with subway art sometime in late ‘88 and from there the biting and toyness began! The shit that I was into wasn’t all this fancy pro, fancy paint art you see nowadays. What got me pumped and still does, was flair tags, gang writing, power scribes, mixed mean streaks on buses, and just straight late 80’s early 90’s California tagging.
NK: Damn, you’ve been writing since I was born you old fart! Growing up around that time period, you must have a grip of early influences as far as writers. You want to drop a few of them?
LEARN: Yup, happens to the best if your lucky…my influences early on were just the whole mystery of it, then you didn’t know shit until someone showed you or schooled you. Wasn’t like today when you can know everything and how to do a piece in a week. I didn’t even meet another writer until like ‘92. So, I was just influenced by what I saw then, unknown local legends back then…writers I saw up like Core, Tropik, Some, 8edge, repos, krazer, thero, Early FTL and HNR stuff. Then I started seeing Twist, Dream, Spie, Tempt, Orfn, Kolage, Moby, James hnr. Those were all Bay Area dudes I saw killing it in the late ‘80s early ‘90s. Great time period! No shorts were taken. You had to do your work. You had to get dirty and be out there trying to figure shit out. Nobody was gonna give you a free pass like today’s kids. Later on a lot of dudes I became friends with where influential, like Erupto, Iksoe, Diet, Renos, Gore B. in the mid to late ‘90s. I never really got inspired by someone I didn’t know personally, it was more the whole vibe and how secret it was then! Miss that a lot!
“There isn’t any shorts with freight’s. You have to do a lot to get noticed, hundreds and hundreds before anyone really gives a fuck.”
NK: Yeah, things are definitely a lot different nowadays. Lucky for you, you grew up in the hay day, where as far as freight’s, things were just getting going. I know you’ve done all types of painting, but why did you choose to focus primarily on freights, besides them being really, really awesome?
LEARN: I never even saw too many freight’s as a kid. There weren’t too many in my city. Wasn’t until 1992 when my Mom moved us up to a small town in the Northwest. Was my Senior year in high school, and after an already hectic, unstable childhood, this move away from my hometown kinda fucked me up. I started smoking a lot of weed and became pretty withdrawn. I was not pumped on this small hick town compared to where I grew up. But this town had a freight yard, and I found it wondering around all high with my SMA ever slick and 32mm wheels. I immediately was taken by the solitude, industrial mix I felt around these trains. This was 1992, so it took a few trips into the yard to see Graff. But when I did it was just the icing on the cake. I remember walking up on this e2e by crisis awr that blew my mind! I think I was hooked immediately. For me freight’s are where Graff is at its best, moving around the country! Freight’s filter out a lot of people that don’t have the heart or just want to do Graff to get some quick stupid fame. There isn’t any shorts with freight’s. You have to do a lot to get noticed, hundreds and hundreds before anyone really gives a fuck. Its a blue collar vibe with freight’s and that fits me. Just paint to have fun with your crew, not worrying about flix, who see’s it, or getting anything but the experience of that session out of it. Just paint it and let it float out into the railroad earth and see what happenes. I love the idea of hundreds or thousands of little pieces of yourself floating all over the continent! Fuck the other shit! I always thought writing Graff for fame is kinda lame, especially if your over 18 years old. I never even realized that’s why dudes did it ‘till later, I just thought it was fun! It felt good to write my name on shit. It temporarily cured and still cures my anxieties about all types of existential questions of life. To do and create something over and over, you feel a deep calm for some reason.
NK: I agree. You mentioned earlier, writers getting “free passes” and what not, what are some of the differences between painting then, and now. A lot has changed, I mean nowadays your almost irrelevant if you don’t have a GoPro on, and Google Glasses updating your Instagram with every tag or sticker you put up. What are your thoughts on that? Unleash!
LEARN: Haha..shits weird today! The desire to document everything for strangers is odd to me. I understand putting up stuff from 5-15 or more years ago, nostalgia and history, but to flick and post shit you did that day, week, month, or even year seems in my opinion to be purely ego driven. I dont see why people wouldn’t want their stuff benched freights or walls flicked naturally, by a stranger or an admirer, then posted some day who knows when. Thats real admiration for your work and dedication to this craft. I guess self-promotion gets done in all other aspects of life in this capitalistic, shitty country, that usually involve money and fame. I like to keep one thing I love away from that shit! That is my own graffiti. Sucks it has slowly creeped into this culture. I remember we used to call dudes that sent flix to magazines “stamp lickers” and used to laugh at that shit. Now people dont even blink an eye at that. Happens every millisecond on Instagram or whatever else. I remember laughing at dudes filming themselves skating, too, in the early mid ‘90’s. I was always like, “Why can’t you just skate and have fun?” Maybe I’m wrong and need to get on the bandwagon, instead of being a salty, old buzzard. I just, at the core, believe that if you work hard, keep painting, skating, or whatever it is you genuinely love to do, year after year, people will notice and appreciate it and come ask to document you, want stories, flix, whatever. Might take decades, but if you are doing it cause you love it and can’t really exist without it, the time will go by in a flash.Believe me it has!
NK: For sure, never force a good thing. It used to bother me that a lot of people that share the same hobbies as I do, don’t do it for the right reasons, but realized the act of doing them, and myself, have never changed. So I just try to pretend it’s not 2014 and do my thing. Still skating 7.5, because my shoe size has been the same, and still benching cuz, in person seeing things roll is exciting. Not knowing who’s on the next car, etc. I’m sure some of your motivation to keep going out is the same, and some has changed. What keeps you going out now, and how does it compare to going out back in the day?
LEARN: For me, with all the changes, the one thing that never changes is the process and experience of painting. That’s what keeps me going. Never gets old to crack a gloss black outline under the moon onto a rusty old boxcar! That’s the motivation. Everytime! Just a beautiful feeling to be with close brothers and go do something that nobody else may be doing in your city. Something that isn’t really bought or sold. Something that has pretty much saved me from getting involved into other dumb shit! I stay loyal to graffiti in the same form I started when I was 14, its one aspect of life I don’t want to evolve in, change, grow, or make money at. I want it to stay pure to me and be there for me to release all of life’s shit on. It’s always been there for me so I stay loyal to it also. As far as what’s changed going out…a lot man! As far as freight’s, when we where doing tons, I mean 400-500 a year, it still felt like a secret society. Freight dudes were kinda different, it was sort of a fraternity around the country. You had HM, A2M, Network, TCI, BFK, BA, NSF, TVC, YME and T and a few others focusing on freight’s. It was a nice little scene. Didn’t have to worry about toys too much, or finding a clean panel. People where trading flix, tracking freight’s, benching, and loving freight’s. It felt really pure and real, seemed everyone had a serious love of freight’s and the life. Not just Graff and getting noticed.
NK: Yeah, it defiantly seemed more pure back then. Personally, I was lucky to always hangout with older people growing up, so I was schooled correct, no matter what it was. As far as writing, I think there’s a large percentage of them without any knowledge or respect, when to go out, when not to, etc. Any advice to the younger generation coming up?
LEARN: I think collectively, kids nowadays, in any avenue, need to just slow down! Stop worrying about “being down” or knowing it all. Knowing shit is easy, you got to actually do work for years and years! Just relax and find out if you wanna do this or have the heart to stick with it. If you don’t, you should stop and try something else, cause this in my opinion takes serious dedication and sacrifices if you keep at it. It can ruin and save your life, give you the best of times, and worst. It’s really like life itself. So, I’d tell kids to slow down, realize its a marathon not a sprint, worry about the fame in a decade or two, if at all. Have fun, learn the history (especially where you’re from) and rules and stay off the internet! Take flix for you and your crew or friends! Respect those that came before you and again have fun, travel, be humble and enjoy life!!!
NK: Well said. Hopefully history repeats itself and those cheap, quick fame kids, die out and jump onto the next thing leaving more clean panels! I think nature has its way of filtering out all the shit that doesn’t matter, and never belonged there. Any last words, and shout outs? That’s a rhetorical question, drop those names baby!
LEARN: Just thanks for the interview!! Love and blessings to my heart and life, my family. And peace, respect, and more rad sessions to my crew and brothers in YME, circle T, and SFL.
I think collectively, kids nowadays, in any avenue, need to just slow down! Stop worrying about “being down” or knowing it all. Knowing shit is easy, you got to actually do work for years and years!