Jason “REVOK” Williams’ entrance into the art world coincided with his exit from a window in 1990—the year he began sneaking out of his parents’ Riverside, California home to write graffiti. Flash forward 26 years, and the 39-year-old self-taught artist is still opening windows to redefine his identity as a fine artist. This Saturday, his evolution from his graffiti roots will be on full display in SYSTEMS, a one-man, one-month solo show curated by Detroit’s Library Street Collective. The L.A. exhibit features 17 new paintings—Williams’s first on canvas, many of which he created by repurposing the materials used by the cops who facilitated the impressive arrest record he accumulated during his two-decade rise. (Among other transgressions, he was booked at an L.A. county jail on graffiti-related charges in 2011, held on $320,000 bail and eventually sentenced to 180 days in the can.)
“It was always my intention to break free from graffiti in terms of both style and materials,” William says. “Going indoors to create work that resembled what I had always done illegally outdoors had no appeal for me. So instead, I choose to sample the environment I spent so long exploring and painting—to reshape and recontextualize it into something new.”
Before his ascent as a public artist began being chronicled by central booking, Williams was a California kid inspired by comics, skateboarding and his dad’s collection of 1960s and ‘70s vinyl. His late-night trips out of his bedroom window paved the way for a reputation not only with law enforcement, but as an artist who respected old-school writers’ techniques while developing wild styles all his own.
As Williams’ skill grew, so did his visibility, and his combination of talent, versatility and personal history paved the way for a natural crossover to fine art. His résumé grew to include shows with acclaimed gallerists such as Jonathan LeVine and an invitation to paint the coveted Bowery wall. In spite of his success as a pioneer member of the once-rare club of writers like RIME, POSE, Persue and Smart Crew, who managed to preserve street cred while achieving commercial success, Williams got restless. “After 20 years of doing graffiti in the street, it just became boring and redundant,” he says.
While being a king in the U.S. graffiti scene is a crown he no longer has any interest wearing, Williams’ style has evolved into a provocative, full-circle reconciliation of his worlds both on and off the street. “I am now mostly using the tools that have played the role of my oppressor in my past graffiti practice,” he says of SYSTEMS. “Twenty-five years of my work has been destroyed or erased by industrial air sprayers and rollers. I adopted these tools for this new body of work.”
The artist formerly known as REVOK’s maturation is personal, outside of the studio as well as within it. “My wife and I have a three-year-old daughter now,” he says. “I created the works in SYSTEMS knowing they’ll still be around when she’s old enough to process the narrative behind them. The show is really deliberate and based on the idea of permanence.”
SYSTEMS opens October 22, 2016 at the Castelli Arts Complex in Los Angeles. The show will be on display through November 12. For complete exhibit details, click here.
All images courtesy of the Revok/Molly Krause Communications.