Reggie Warlock: A Proper Bastard

Written by T.K. Mills

Reggie Warlock is one of those artists that emanates an old-school cool. One of my most distinct memories is watching him clean up at the pool table in Carmelo’s in Bushwick, while sets of quarters fell to his finesse. Rocking indoor shades and running the table, you knew he was the kind of guy that had a story. An unconventional one at that, even for an artist.

Art by Reggie Warlock

Warlock is a born vagabond. Raised between California and Hawaii, by 18 he was shuffling from city to city every few years. Texas for 5 years, LA for a few more, Oakland for a spell, Atlanta for a minute. We met during his New York years, where he took up residence in Bushwick and Ridgewood for about 4 years. To this day, his Love Monsters can be found at the base of telephone poles and on mailboxes around the neighborhood.

Asked if any cities in particular made impressions on his art, he responded, “Every place has its thing about it, but they’re all very similar. A major metropolis is a major metropolis, no matter how you slice it. A suburb is a suburb no matter which way you look at it. Everywhere has their similarities and the commonalities but it’s what do you do within those confines, how do you stand out from everything else that is in that space.”

“Everywhere has their similarities and the commonalities but it’s what do you do within those confines, how do you stand out from everything else that is in that space.”

As with any transient youth, Warlock was prone to his fair share of mischief and roguery, such as the aforementioned knack for poolhalls. “I love shooting pool, I enjoy it. I look at it as like a way to read people, you know? You shoot a game of pool with somebody, you see how they react to minor losses, or if there’s money on the table, how do they react to big losses. I’ve been playing since I was little. Pool hustling was a big thing for me when I was in my late teens. My mom’s – call him almost fiancée – he was a house painter by day and a hustler at night. He saw me play pool one day and was like, ‘you have this natural ability, let me sharpen that a little bit for you.’ He showed me how to hustle and we would go and stake the money. I made a good bit of cash that way, though I don’t play for money much anymore ‘cus it feels like cheating.’

Art by Reggie Warlock

The penchant for the underground activities had a natural overlap with art. As a kid, Warlock was big into comics and would draw super-heroes and the sort. Younger than most, he made the jump to graffiti around age 10, learning from the older brothers of friends. Recollecting on the past, he told me, “It was nothing serious, I wasn’t looking for style either. I was out stealing markers from my mom, and it was just about having fun at that time and being with the other guys that were doing it. Lettering was what was respected but I always leaned toward the character side of things.”

Learning young meant consequences came young too. Warlock spent 6 months in county jail at age 21 for graffiti. According to Warlock, at the time California was looking to turn graffiti into a felony charge and was heavy-handed in their prosecution. Luckily, his public defender made the case that if he was just a kid, and if he did serious prison time, he’d come out a hardened criminal.

“I love shooting pool, I enjoy it. I look at it as like a way to read people, you know? You shoot a game of pool with somebody, you see how they react to minor losses, or if there’s money on the table, how do they react to big losses.”

“Every tag or throw could add up, and I was looking at 43 felonies… while I was in jail, they’d ask me what I was in for, and I’d say I’d got arrested for graffiti and everyone was like ‘what the fuck.’ When I got out of jail I was frustrated – I had no job, no nothing, I just came out really upset and not at anybody but myself.”

The experience kept him hesitant from returning to the streets. Delving into hip-hop culture, for a few years he pursued a rap career before returning to painting around age 27. Warlock started taking it seriously, and got involved with merchandising, painting messenger bags and the like.

Art by Reggie Warlock

“Scion, the car company, used to throw parties all across the country. They would have live painting, graffiti artists – I went to one where they had a full train car setup, and we were all getting up on it… They used to just have all this merch, and I had friends there that were like ‘here just take this box of messenger bags or this box of hats’ or whatever the fuck. I was painting all of it and selling it. It dawned on me, like ‘I’m actually making a living off of this now.’ The canvases started going, but no one was buying letters, no one cared about if I would do a dope ass letter piece. So that’s when I really started leaning back into the character work and going that direction.”

His trademark ‘Love Monsters,’ for which he is best recognized now, came from this concentration on character work. Explaining the origins, he said, “I was 29 and at a friend’s house recording music in Los Angeles and I was drawing – I used to just draw shapes. You know, as an artist’s practice type thing. You draw a shape, you try to make it into a face or a character, an animal or whatever. And I just traced my thumb a couple of times and that’s the shape of the monster…  I made it into a character and left that piece of paper behind and my old boy was like ‘I really liked this character.’ He ended up using it for the album cover for the sample record.”

Art by Reggie Warlock

With a smirk he noted, that while there was a book of around 30 characters, that was the simplest one, and the one people gravitated to. Fans started calling it, ‘the Love Monster.’ Warlock began to draw the character more and more. Particularly, he would stack dozens of them in one piece, a recurring theme in his work to this day. For me, one of his definitive murals was a 3-story piece down in Miami, where he painted a stack of Love Monsters up the side of Racket.

Art by Reggie Warlock at Racket

The anecdote on the origins of the ‘Love Monsters’ alludes to one of the major influences in Warlock’s life: music. Born in ’78, he grew up on hip-hop and found a love for rhythm. “My mom played piano and would sing like musicals in the house, Sound of Music and Carousel. There was always music in the house, she’d be playing some jazz records like Miles Davis. When I was a kid living in Hawaii lot of my friends were Asian, and they showed me these dope-ass breakdance cuts.” The amalgamation of musical genres inspired an open mind.

Music even played a role in his pseudonym. During his rap years, he went by Adam Warlock, after the comic book character. “My friend Shaper was like a mentor to me in graffiti and rap. He was like ‘you’re not an Adam, it doesn’t make sense. Sounds like garbage.’ He told me, ‘you’re kind of a proper bastard, like a real nice arsehole, you know what I mean? More of a Theodore or a Reginald or something like that.’ And I was like Reginald, Reggie, yeah, let’s go with Reggie.”

“Reggie Warlock is the artist. The brand is the Love Monster.”

“Reggie Warlock is the artist. The brand is the Love Monster.” The artist explained to me while defining his beliefs on art as a career. In his time, Warlock has painted thousands of canvases, walls, and a fair array of merch – from keychains, to coffee mugs, to custom hoodies, to hats, and even furniture. “I always tell any artist that is asking, ‘what do you want?’ Do you want to be the mysterious artist that never sells his paintings, or do you want to be the artist that is consistently selling paintings? There’s a difference – I’m an artist but I consider myself more of a brand.”

Art by Reggie Warlock

While he loves the craft, the brand mindset means he separates himself from the work. Asked about some of the most memorable projects, he responded with a rhetorical, “Do you remember the dopest day that you worked at Starbucks?”

“Who remembers the best day at the accounting office? For me, that’s the job. The love is hitting the street, going out riding and painting tracksides and trains and shit like that, that’s still where my heart is at. The brand side of what I do, this is how we pay the bills. It all has meaning to me because it’s all part of me, but this is the part of me that we sell. That’s my delicate balance. That’s why I’m okay with like looking at what I do as a brand.”

“That’s the anonymity and notoriety that I’m looking for. I want everybody to know the Love Monster and I want nobody to know me.”

Looking to the future, Warlock is aiming to make moves again soon. He’s been in Ohio for the past year or two, and while the slower pace of life has allowed him to take stock of things, he’s never been one to stay any one place for too long. Lately he’s been eyeing up a return to Miami, though nothing is ever certain.

As we rounded out our interview, I asked him what his ultimate goal is.

Art by Reggie Warlock

“Well, I got one dream,” Warlock said. “I want to be as big as Hello Kitty and I want to be as anonymous as the artist who created Hello Kitty. Everyone knows the brand, but no one knows who drew it. That’s the anonymity and notoriety that I’m looking for. I want everybody to know the Love Monster and I want nobody to know me.”

Closing off, he added with a sly smile, “just keep paying attention. We’ve been doing this a long time, we’re going to keep doing it a long time. And I love what I do.”

T.K. Mills is the Editor-in-Chief of UP Magazine, a street art publication based in New York City. After receiving a Master’s Degree in Global Affairs, he discovered a love for graffiti while backpacking through Cuba and pursued life as a writer. Outside of UP,  T.K. enjoys writing poetry, personal travel essays, and occasionally short stories. His work has been published in The Smart SetThe Vignette ReviewGenre Urban Arts, and Eternal Remedy among others. Beyond art, T.K. loves reading and traveling.

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