Art by Homo Riot.
Last year on a trip to Los Angeles, I discovered the art of Homo Riot. Seeing his work was the first time I’ve ever come across an openly gay street artist who uses homosexual imagery in his art. For over a year, I’ve wanted to find out more about the mysterious artist but as you know, in the world of street art, you can’t just look these people up in the phone book. Another visit to Los Angeles and a series of coincidences led me right to Homo Riot. He doesn’t often open up about his work and his life, but he kindly agreed to answer a few questions for you, my dear readers. I cannot thank Homo Riot enough for the wonderful imagery that is making its way across the world and of course, for giving us all a sneak peak into his life and art.
Read an interview with Homo Riot, after the jump.
According2G: When did you get into street art?
Homo Riot: I actually started putting art on the streets about fifteen years ago. At that time I was painting and mutilating dime store plastic baby dolls and tying them to lamp posts and street signs all over the city. But the fact that the work was often gone in a day or two really dampened my enthusiasm for it. That, and the fact that, other than myself and the city worker who took them down, I wasn’t sure if anyone ever saw them. Now I embrace the ephemeral aspect of the work. What has happened now is that the documentation of the work via photography and video has become a secondary but equally important part of the art.
A2G: What’s the mission of your work?
HR: As far as a mission, I have always been personally reluctant to embrace art that has a message. I think art in its pure form should always be open to interpretation. Work that overtly pushes a point of view, in my opinion, is more akin to commercial work, graphic design, etc. That said, my street work, in a lot of ways straddles that line. If I were to say I had one mission with my work it would be the goal of desensitizing the public to gay imagery. In that way, I hope my work is pushing more of a post sexual point of view, i.e. a time when sexuality is publicly a non-issue, rather than strictly a pro-gay point of view. Of course, I still get a thrill from the idea that I may be offending the puritanical masses by forcing them to look at two bearded men kissing on a street corner, while they wait for the light to turn green.
A2G: What was the inspiration for Homo Riot?
HR: The real genesis of Homo Riot came out of the anger I was feeling after prop 8 passed in California. I wanted to fuck shit up. I wanted to give the Mormons and the homophobes and the Republicans exactly what they were afraid of. My motto was “Give us what we want or we fuck in the streets.” And that came out in my art. My art has always had a healthy dose of sexual imagery, but taking that imagery to the streets seemed like something new. There are sexually suggestive images of women all over the street but hardly any of men.
A2G: How has the street art community taken to your work?
HR: I don’t know if other street artists get it or not. I would like to think that the current crop of guys and girls working in LA are all pretty open minded, progressive people. I mean artists typically are, right? But I did have a well respected, street art critic ask me recently, so what is the Homo Riot thing about? That question left me thinking that the message, if there is one, is still ambiguous and that’s okay with me.
For the most part, I’ve gotten nothing but support from my peers. I’ve been asked to collaborate with other artists on work and received emails from artists that I have respect for saying they dig what I’m doing. And that feels great. But there is definitely a homophobic, bigoted, hate filled segment of the street art community. I’ve been recording the way my pieces are mutilated and destroyed on the street, which should make a cool show someday.
There will be a whole wall of shit pasted and sprayed and stickered and some bitch will come along and just scratch out the kissing duo or some other overtly gay image of mine. And occasionally it’s so violent looking and desperate the way they go at it. It really speaks to their fear and rage. I guess it could be some straight angry soccer mom who pulls the van over whenever she sees one of my pieces but I’m betting it’s a street player.
A2G: How has the gay community reacted to your work?
HR: That’s the best part of Homo Riot for me. I get so much support from gay people all over the country. It’s really amazing. Thanks to Facebook, Tumblr, Flickr and google searches, people who’ve never been to LA can still see what I’m doing on the streets here and they have the opportunity to communicate with me directly. I get emails thanking me for what I’m doing and a lot of emails from people who want to sticker bomb and paste Homo Riot imagery in their own communities. And I think that’s so cool. Wouldn’t it be great if there was a touch of Homo Riot in every city in the world?
My initial motivation was to communicate my rage directly with the bigoted straight public, now my focus is to engender pride and
embolden gays and lesbians who see my work on the streets.
A2G: What is the coolest thing that has happened as a result of your art?
HR: The coolest thing was realizing how many people relate to the imagery and getting that feedback directly through emails. The most unexpected thing is that this very public form of art and expression has left me feeling personally more empowered and proud as a gay man.
A2G: Any rituals before going out?
HR: That’s a great question. I don’t say prayers or burn incense beforehand, but I totally have a rigid set of steps I go through before hitting the streets. Just the prep of the materials is ritualistic, but I also tend to wear the same clothes every time because it can get really messy. And I won’t go out unless I have a dozen or so pairs of latex gloves with me. There are probably other ritualistic things I do to prepare but I’m not superstitious or obsessed with that kind of thing so I don’t think about it much.
A2G: Who are your heroes/influences?
HR: I’ve been really influenced by the works of Jamie Reid and Raymond Pettibon. That whole art scene that developed around punk music informs a lot of my base aesthetic. Of course, Keith Haring and the artists and activists working during the ACT UP movement of the eighties paved the way in many respects for what I am doing now. Among contemporary street artists, I’m really into what Bast is doing. Also, I like Judith Supine, DFace and Jerm IX.
A2G: Have you had any close calls?
HR: Sure. I’ve had some close calls but no trips in the paddy wagon yet. I guess when that happens my street cred will go up a few notches. One thing that’s different about doing this in LA as opposed to other cities across the country is that LA has a comparatively tiny police force and no one is really caring what the guy on the side of the street is doing. When I am out in Dallas or Albuquerque or some other city doing this work, I think the cops and public are more suspicious of black clad hooded men on the street corners. But in LA, no one looks twice at that guy. So I am overly cautious in other cities but in LA I’m rarely worried.
A2G: Any messages for fans, aspiring artists?
HR: Every voice is important. Exercise your free speech. Don’t blend in. Life is short, heaven is a fairy tale, be bold and act now.
A2G: What’s next for Homo Riot?
HR: I’m trying to establish a network of like-minded artists around the world to collaborate on Homo Riot projects. I’m in contact now with some amazing and talented artists, not all of them traditional street artists, and I’m hoping to develop joint projects with these artists and create pieces simultaneously at various points on the globe and have the creation of each piece documented fully with video and photography. On a smaller scale, I’m looking for gay bar/club owners across the U.S. interested in a Homo Riot wall mural. I want to paint at least one Homo Riot mural in all fifty states. Also, I am really looking forward to participating in the first of
its kind History of Queer Street Art show in San Francisco this summer. It is being curated by Jeremy Novy and will include works from Keith Haring and Paul LeChien as well as a number of contemporary queer street artists from around the world.
A2G: What can you tell us about Homo Riot merchandise? Is this a possibility?
HR: I’ve just signed a deal with a street art marketing group. I’m not sure where all that will go right now. I’m not really keen on the idea of selling Homo Riot candles and lunch boxes but t-shirts, canvas totes and sticker packs are all in production. And of course, there are always limited prints and original pieces available through my web site www.homoriot.com. You can also connect with me on Facebook. (Click on hyperlink).
Thanks again to Homo Riot! What an inspiration!