Old Habits Die Hard: An Interview With RISK
The L.A. legend talks bombing trains, documenting the past, and getting clowned by RIS crew.
Words by Jamie Maleszka / Friday, July 31st, 2015
Photos courtesy of 1xRun
RISK is the Zeus atop the Mount Olympus of L.A. writing culture. He’s scaled “heavens,” bombed buses, planes, and NYC trains. Name it. He’s done it. And crushed it—bigger, badder, better, and always first. Museum and gallery shows? Check. Painted on set for Michael Jackson videos and Playboy magazine shoots? Check. Launched a pioneering streetwear brand? Yup, that too. In a career spanning more than 30+ years, RISK has put in the work—day in and day out—undeniably elevating the writing game not only in Los Angeles, but worldwide.
We recently sat down with RISK to discuss his new monograph, Old Habits Die Hard. With over 350 pages of stories and personal insight penned by Roger Gastman, and more than 700 graf flicks, we had plenty of fertile ground to cover. We talked his letters as studies in architecture, innovation as a mindset, and painting trains, and getting clowned by RIS crew.
Risk Old Habits Die Hard Book Cover
Mass Appeal: Old Habits Die Hard was a real labor of love. It took a couple of years to come together?
RISK: Yeah. It was probably around seven years ago, Roger [Gastman] approached me [with the idea] and then started to archive stuff. So, yeah it took a long time. And he really dug deep. There’s weird stuff in there. He got my parent’s divorce papers in there. Like random shit.
Everything about your career and your work is forward thinking. With the book, why go beyond merely documenting the work and opt to delve further and go into your actual personal life and story?
Well, Roger’s view on the book was that it really is the story about my life. It’s about a kid that came from New Orleans and started doing art and the history of the trials and tribulations. His idea was that it was that book first and it had obviously a lot of graffiti in it.
It’s mind boggling that you were not only able to snap flicks of a lot of your work, but that you were able to hold on to so many of them. Were there pieces that you missed and wished you had gotten?
Yeah. You know, Roger says that I have a lot of flicks and I felt like I didn’t have that many. At all. Most of my flicks, I took [with] 110 [film]. A lot of it had deteriorated and were bad. Also, I was kicked out of so many studios when I was younger. I lost so many boxes of photos every time I was going from one studio to another. So, I really didn’t think I had all that much, but Roger thought it was a ton of them. And I was like “Yeah? I wish I had all the other stuff.”
Let’s start from the beginning: the itch to put your stamp on shit was absolutely instinctual?
Yeah. I mean, I totally had that fever. I just had to write my name on everything. I wanted to do it bigger and better. It was a mindset.
I heard that you first made landfall with writing when a kid from New York transferred to your high school and showed you flicks of trains.
Yeah. I was drawing on my desk and he was like, “What do you write?” And I didn’t know what he was talking about. I kept saying, “What? What? What?” And then he busted out those photos and I was like ,“Oh shit. That’s cool.” I went that day to try to do my first piece. And that was it.