These Streets are Talking: On Skateboarding and Graffiti with Nelson 'Cekis' Rivas

These Streets are Talking: On Skateboarding and Graffiti with Nelson 'Cekis' Rivas


Nelson Rivas, or “Cekis,” is a self-taught painter who was born in Santiago,  Chile. His career as a visual artist began in the streets of Santiago, after the end  of the military state of the country in 1990, in which the expression on new medias was a dangerous act.

Nelson Rivas artwork
Photo Credits - Taken from Nelson Rivas's blog

Nelson's first murals were deeply influenced by Chilean muralists and political propaganda from the ‘80s, as well as the new imported New York graffiti culture that began to colour the city at the hands of expats in the late ‘80s.  He became one of a handful of young artists whose work was able to transcend local communities and ignite a massive street art and graffiti culture movement in Chile at a time when the country greatly needed the expressive, subversive outlet. His work talks about the times we are living in, and it depicts a social representational portrait of his view of the world. 
Nelson, as it would have it, is also an avid skater. Today Anusha Mehar caught up with him to talk about his crossroads introduction to the worlds of graff and skate.

  1. Paint us a picture of the moment in your life you were first put on to skateboarding  - where are you, how old, who’s with you, what’s in your backpack?


    I was pretty young when I got my first skateboard. I remember I had seen other kids with penny skateboards before and I wanted to skate, too, so I asked my father if his sister, who lived in the States, could buy me a board and bring it to Chile on her next visit. It must have been in ’88; I was 11 or 12. Once I got this board, which was very low quality, I was hooked and really interested to learn more. 
    I had just moved into a new neighbourhood, and pretty much I had the luck simply to live in right time at the right place in Santiago, Chile. It didn't have a big skate scene at the end of the 1980s like in Brazil or Argentina, so if you wanted to run into a real skater and watch him skate, you had to be in the rich areas. Also, there were no skateparks or plazas. 
    I was lucky because in my hood there was a "gringo" who just moved to Chile from the states. He was such a good skater, and when some friends told me about him, I went to his block to meet him. He already had a group of Chilean skater friends from his block. I started learning my first tricks from them. 


    1. So when you started skateboarding you were already graffing or not yet? Was it a natural progression for you, one to the other? Why? 


    I was skating way before I started painting graffiti; however, I have been drawing or painting on paper since I have memory. What happened is that when I started skating more seriously around 1990 – I had made a strong group of skater friends in my neighbourhood and we started to explore the city on our boards. We were meeting new people from other parts of the city, travelling to different places in our town that we would have never known about if we were normal kids. 
    This is how I came to realise that some people were writing graffiti Downtown. For me, having the chance to see it live, it really turned me on. It was from this moment that I knew it was possible to do, I knew other people were doing it, and it just looked so fresh.


     Neslon Rivas working on one of his art pieces
    Photo Credits - Taken from Nelson Rivas's blog


    That said, I didn’t start spraying until a couple of years later. I was 14 and graffiti was something you had to start doing at night. In 1990 Santiago, Chile, it was impossible. By that time, everything in Chile was changing. We had a harsh dictatorship for 17 years that had just ended, and this year was only the beginning of a new transition period in the country. Only then did everything start to open up a little more with less risk of getting killed if you wanted to paint at night.




    1. Both skateboarding + graffiti subculture was adopted by Chile from abroad during your youth in the 1980s and ‘90s. Skateboarding, from the surfers and punks on the West Coast of the US and graffiti from the Hip Hop heads on the East Coast. How did this inform the subculture you grew up building in Chile?


    In Chile Skate culture and Hip Hop culture come from different backgrounds. While Hip Hop was adopted by mostly the poor and some middle-class people, Skate culture, in the beginning, was dominated by the people that could afford it – which was mostly the rich. This slowly changed until now, it’s everywhere, the same for Hip Hop.


    1. What was it like to skate + paint during the repression of Pinochet? Why did you risk it? How did that change with the transition to democracy in ’89? How did your move to NYC influence you?


    I was pretty young during that era. The first 14 years of my life were under Pinochet, which is right when I started skating and getting into Hip Hop culture. I don’t feel I did anything special during this time, except watch and observe other people, so I had references for later. After 1989, I started to get more creative and adventurous.

    Nelson Rivas standing next to two art pieces
     Photo Credits - Taken from Nelson Rivas's blog



    I skated hard for 4 years, and then I suddenly stopped skating. All my motivation and energy I had for skate, I just moved it into graffiti and art. I guess I figured out what I wanted to be in life, which was a painter, so I totally retired from skateboarding and started doing graff. I didn’t skate for 20+ years until I moved to New York when I slowly I started cruising again. Until now. Now I’ve officially come back to street skating, and I’m really happy because of it. It was totally natural. I guess I accepted the challenge to skate again.


    1. Skateboarding has evolved a lot since its inception in the 1950s. The sport that started as dry surf practice became more about one’s ability to ride the bull right and do tricks. Today one could say it’s come even further with the inclusion of the film – not only to document the skating but also to capture the beauty of different people and places around the sport. 

      The same can be said about graffiti. Some even argue that the most important part of throwing up a new piece is the photograph since that’s what lives on forever. What are your thoughts on this?




    Nothing lives forever, so the best for me, is the moment when you and the piece meet in real life and have some sort of interaction with each other. You can try to do it with a picture from a big book 10 times a day, but I’m sure it will be less exciting than if you are in front of the piece, you see the proportions, colours, details, technique everything around.


    Nelson Rivas's graffiti
    Photo Credits - Taken from Nelson Rivas's blog


    1. Both skaters and graffiti writers tend to get a bad rep from the media for vandalist/ anarchist type behaviour. But both are providing (particularly) young people with tools of expression and activity – creating the new creative class. How, in your opinion, do skating + graffiti go hand in hand as a viable alternative?


    For sure, they are both renegades from society and contemporary to each other. I also think they complement each other, they share the public space and have made us rethink the urban landscape and its function.


    Nelson Rivas's work on a building
     Photo Credits - Taken from Nelson Rivas's blog


    1. Both skating and graffing make something very personal of public spaces. What does the street mean to you? Why do you feel drawn to street-performances like graffiti + skate? Why is the ‘conversation’ with the street important to these two crafts?


    The outside is important because it’s ours, so this is a way to use it while you are alive and to have fun with it. Skate is similar to graffiti because it’s about style, spots, travel, crews, fail, and fail and fail and fail…and get up keep going.


    1. You’re on the board or the wall. What’s on your mind?


    When I’m on the wall, I’m on the wall. It’s paint and shapes and colours. But I realized not long ago I can skate to paint better – it’s like a meditation – so I try to skate as much as possible.



    1. What’s your favourite trick?


    Too many, but I would say Kickflip 360/ Tri flip.


    1. Any advice for folks who are just starting to pick up the board or the can?


    Just try to be you. The good thing in arts is that each one can be each one. This means not to fear looking different if you are different. It’s good to get influenced by others – try to learn from people that have been practising the craft for more time – and then try to do it your way, so you can define your style in the future.

    An intricate art piece by Nelson Rivas

    Photo Credits - Taken from Nelson Rivas's blog

    Follow more of Nelson’s work on Instagram as el_cekis and his blog at



    Written by


    Anusha Mehar 



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