These Streets are Talking: On Skateboarding and Graffiti with Nelson 'Cekis' Rivas
THESE STREETS ARE TALKING: ON SKATEBOARDING AND GRAFFITI WITH NELSON ‘CEKIS’ RIVAS
- 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?
- So when you started skateboarding you were already graffing or not yet? Was it a natural progression for you, one to the other? Why?
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.
- 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.
- 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.
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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- What’s your favourite trick?
Too many, but I would say Kickflip 360/ Tri flip.
- Any advice for folks who are just starting to pick up the board or the can?