Huge shout to Kems for taking the time to do this interview.
1. Who are you?
-Greetings! I write Kem5, Kems or Kemr depending on the day. I currently live in the North Eastern part of the United States.
2. What do you do and how long have you been doing it?
-I’ve actively been writing graffiti since 1995. It has grown from a childhood interest into a lifestyle. I never thought I would be still writing as an adult but this is the path life has chosen for me. Everything has a purpose so I don’t really question it. Graffiti has been a journey filled with experiences that no money or education could offer.
3. What crews do you rep?
I push UPS, FLY ID, 3A and PYC. I suck at remembering to put up crews and that’s a terrible thing. Sorry guys
4. What got you into graffiti?
-I’ve been into graff for as long as I can remember. As a child I would ride the train and look out the window at passing trackside spots. I often wondered where it came from or who did it? When I got home I would try to draw what I had seen. I made piles of sketches that depicted my interpretation of graff. Oddly enough I went through grade school and never met any one who wrote.
In high school I started skating in the city. Some of the kids that I hung out with were into tagging, mostly with paint pens. They would hit up spots as we skated around the city. None of them took it seriously it was more of a mindless activity to do in passing. One day I met this kid named Lenin who airbrushed tees at the mall. Airbrushing interested me greatly because it was the closest thing that resembled spray painting. Randomly I asked him if he knew of any writer’s? To my surprise he quickly pulled out a black book and showed me a bunch of outlines he had been working on. Instantly my eyes burned and I wanted to know everything.
From the start I chose the name Kem One it had no specific meaning but I liked the way the letters looked together. They were easy to stylize and didn’t require a lot of space on the wall. I remember doing my first Kem piece on the tracks near my folk’s house. The color scheme was so toy; I choose white, silver mauve and true blue. It took me 15mins to paint this burner of a piece. When I was done, I stood there in amazement. “That shit was hot”! Well…..not really, it was straight garbage. Some days I miss being a toy everything seemed much easier.
Shortly after that I dropped the “One” and started writing Kem Five out of respect for the original Kem? At that time I wasn’t sure who the original Kem was but I assumed he existed. I was told this was proper graffiti etiquette? To this day I have no idea why I picked 5. I guess it doesn’t really matter, today I mostly write “KEMS” or “KEMR” because it allows me more options.
5. Favorite writers?
Tough question. I have to many favorite writers, I will list the few that come to mind: Wane, Sento, Dondi, Dem’s, Roids, Zoer, Dem 189, Futura 2000, Demote, Sno, Totem2, Rage, East, Kwaze, Doves, Jive, Sp One, Large, Niche, Zek, Bacon, DZ, Druid, Hews, Virus, Serve, Ges, Gorey, Sofles, Oger, Yes2, Seb, Ewok HM, Much, AST, Supe, Stae2, Aroe, Sofles, Vibes.
Crews that I’m a big fan of: TATS, TCI, HM, FMK, Creatures, FC, HSA, GT, Adult Entertainment Crew, VTS, Dirty Thirty, Love Letters,
6. Any crazy chase stories?
-My chase stories are lame so I am going to bring up the dead body story…. again.
The first body I found, scared the shit out of me. I was crossing this saltwater marsh by the highway trying to check out a possible spot. As I jumped over a flooded channel I almost landed on what I thought was a bag of clothes. In the fading light of the evening, I slowly made out the shape of a human figure but I was not certain. The body was so badly decomposed to the point it was unrecognizable. The chest cavity had been inflated from all the gases and the limbs had withered to the bone. I thought my mind was playing tricks on me. The scene was fucked and I quickly dipped out of there.
When I got back to the city I ran into some friends and explained what I had seen. They didn’t believe me and wanted to see the body. So we returned back to the marsh as night was starting to fall. As we ventured out scenes from “Night of the living Dead” keep flashing through my head. I thought at any moment we would be mauled to death by a zombie. Using a dimly lit flashlight we found the body laying face down in the dirt. For some reason the smell this time around was unbearable. My friend’s girl began to freak out and started puking everywhere. We preformed a quasi CSI autopsy with a stick and left before it ate our brains.
The second find was not as exciting. Rath and I were painting an abandon army base near the city. While cutting through the woods I noticed two covered figures lying in the entrance of a bunker. Right away I knew something was up and tossed a rock into the entrance. Flies began to scatter but there was no movement, we decided to keep things moving and avoid the whole situation. A few days later I saw on the news that a runner discovered two dead bodies right were we had painted. For many years the murders remained a mystery. Just recently it was discovered that a mentally ill kid from a near by group home murdered the two homeless people as they slept. The world is fucked, look out for each other and beware of zombies. LOL
7. Favorite country you’ve painted in and why?
-Hands down Canada is one of my favorite places to paint. There are plenty of things to rock and everyone is chill for the most part.
8. Do you rather bombing or piecing? Why?
That’s a tuff question because I enjoy both, there totally two different experiences. Piecing is a mental escape where you can zone out and not think about anything for a few hours. You have an infinite amount of time to experiment with different colors and techniques. Bombing is more instinctual and organic. It’s all about the moment and doing what comes naturally. It’s important that all aspects of graffiti experience are explored. Sorry for the shitty response it didn’t really answer the question.
9. What are your 3 favorite pieces you’ve done?
To be honest I hate most things I’ve painted and the sight of older work makes me cringe. It took me some time to pick three favorites and even now I’m second-guessing my selection.
I painted this quick piece with Wane in the fall of 2009. For some reason it sticks out in my mind, I really like the letter structure and colors.
This piece was painted in 2010 at Art Basel it’s probably in my top five. The background is so over the top, I’m not sure what’s going on. I think I lost my way for a second.
This is not the best thing I’ve painted but it’s memorable?
10. What are your 3 favorite pieces by other writers?
This is my all time favorite photo even though it’s a bit expected. It blows my mind that the architects of graffiti had no reference for what graffiti looked like. They were basing everything off their own visions of what it should be. This photo is the definition of graffiti to me
11. How would you describe your style?
I have a technical style that is letter driven. I have always been an advocate of emphasizing letter structure and not whoring out a piece with tons of color. I try to base all my pieces simple styles and carefully add in extensions where needed. I love high contrast color schemes filled with subtitle details. When selecting a color scheme I try to find colors that tell a story and create mood. The more foul looking the color scheme, the better. My obsessive nature for technical lines came from what I saw happening in NYC and Connecticut in the early to mid 90’s. During this time Connecticut was a hot bed for experimentation, writers were not afraid to try anything. It would not be un-common to see pieces with glowing orbs and tornados in the fill. Writers would even go to the extent of using “Hex” or “lightening” caps to do in-lines on both the 3D and the piece, a practice that is hardly seen today.
Over the years I’ve worked hard to evolve my style and keep it relevant but true to its roots. My attitude towards graffiti has changed with age and now I paint for the sheer enjoyment. I don’t really give a fuck about the politics anymore.
12. Top 5 tunes?
My current top 5 tunes is an odd mix so don’t judge me…. LOL.
-Kendrick Lamar “Money Trees”
-The Jesus And Mary Chain “April Skies”
-Flying Lotus -any track off “Until The Quiet Comes”
-Hendrix “Peace in Mississippi”
13. Other than graff, what do you like to do?
I love taking photos even though I’m a bit of a hack. Growing up I read a lot of skateboarding magazines and was inspired by the epic photography. The idea of capturing a moment on film strangely appealed to me. For one of my birthdays my folks got me an automatic Olympus camera. It was one of the best gifts they ever gave me I still use it to this day. I have this motto that “you didn’t do it unless you have the photo”. Since the 90’s I pretty much photograph everything I came across. I have thousands of printed images and even more digital ones. My photo collection is a giant mess.
14. What did you think of the Irish scene while you were over here?
From an outside point of view I was really impressed with the Irish scene. Over all it had a nice mix of styles and a good energy. It was great seeing so many new kids putting in work but still having active older writers to balance everything out. I think it’s a huge accomplishment that you have such a healthy scene in such a small city. You guys have a better scene than some cities in the United States.
15. Favourite letter and colour?
The letter E is by far my favorite letter. There are unlimited options as to what you can do with that letter and in the end it always looks badass. I am a sucker for chrome though technically speaking I think its considered a metallic. Regardless, Chrome is my weapon of choice because it’s “honest”. You can’t really hide behind chrome like you can with colors. It’s bold, straight forward and there’s no faking it with chrome.
16. How many trains have you painted? And any good stories from painting them?
I’m always down for steel. Whether it’s cleans or freight’s there’s nothing better than seeing chrome getting fogged onto panels. Starting out I painted a lot of freights. I did mostly panels but in the early to mid 2000’s I got obsessed with painting whole cars. I’ve never kept track of how many I’ve done but recently I did a rough count of photos and there were about 250+ whole cars.
To most writers out side of the United States freights don’t mean much but once you paint one it becomes very clear why there so significant. There is a certain romanticism attached to freights that needs to be experienced in order to be understood
17. Top 3 graff movies?
-Style Wars with out a doubt!
-The Grifters Video part 3 very entertaining.
-The Warriors not a graffiti movie but still bad ass
18. What do you think of the internets effects on graffiti?
Like all great technological advancements there are both positive and negative results. The Internet brought the graffiti community together allowing writers to communicate instantly on a global scale. The days of doing photo exchanges have now been replaced by immediate access to webs sites, blogs, and social media. The process of graffiti has been sped up to a dizzying pace.
I started writing during the pre-internet age so I’ve seen both sides of the coin. Personally I believe the greatest injustice the Internet did to graff culture is kill the sense of discovery. Graffiti these days is pre-packaged and ready to go. You don’t really need to figure anything out everything is at your fingertips. Nothing is special or sacred everything is aired, quickly digested and left for the next big thing. I often miss the days of nerding out to mixing colors and finding new spots. These moments have become a rarity. I fear for generations ahead where their whole lives will be consumed by the Internet and social media. It’s such a false sense of reality.
19. What plans do you have for the future?
I just want to chill with good peoples and paint. Life is way too short and it’s passing me by quick. We need to live every day to the fullest. I’m trying to get more organized to better live up to this saying. I have a couple of projects in the works for the coming year hopefully they will come to fruition.
20. Any last words or shouts?
I want to thank Lost In The Mood for giving me the opportunity to share some of my thoughts. I also want to apologize for taking 8 months to do it. Big up to my crew, friends and Liz for putting up with me. I feel blessed to have met so many amazing people along the way. I wish the very best for 2013.