UP5 Preview - Rocking with Risk: A Colorful Career

Written by Karen McDonough

I rang the doorbell. Once. Twice. Three times. Waited. Then pulled out my phone, launched Instagram and DM’d, “Hi, RISK, I’m here. Just rang your bell.” Five more minutes. No response. This was another predictable barrier to interviewing the icon, who resides on hidden property, fortressed by a jungle of trees that I had just stumbled through, triggering a soft hum of “Welcome to the Jungle” that reverberated in my head as I stepped up to this surprisingly modest door. I was intimidated. I didn’t know what to expect.

This icon, a pioneer of Los Angeles graffiti, a multi-faceted, multi-millionaire kind of guy – up against him, I expected to feel small. Before I could go too deep into my doubts, two men walked around the corner of the house. “Is RISK around?” I asked.  “He’s expecting me.” They dropped their work and kindly escorted me around the side of the house revealing a huge property with a big grassy lawn surrounded by buildings with a full-sized pool close to the main house amidst the neighboring five other structures. We continued to the back of the property, opened the back gate to a dusty space where we discovered RISK a few yards into some brush. He half-waved and approached me calmly, my shoulders dropping down with a sense of relief.

RISK’s color-washed walls of oranges, pinks, blues, greens, and yellows started popping out at me around Los Angeles in about 2015. I was new to catching sight of public art in any city. I thought these multi-colored walls were simply an attempt to hide dilapidated eyesores from the community, distracting the neighbors with color. It wasn’t until I saw his mural collaborations with Shepard Fairey along the train tracks close to the Bergamot Station Metro stop in Santa Monica that I really appreciated his style and the complexities of the color schemes, blends, and the deliberate strokes that became impressive to me.

It was December 24th, 2016, as I recall – just days before they would begin test runs for the newly built Metro Expo Line in Los Angeles. That Christmas Eve morning these murals led me to the train tracks where, admittedly, I trespassed and walked between the steel rails. A beautiful Christmas gift, I thought, to get to stand alone on train tracks, in the company of color, devoid of movement and stare at these gorgeous color-washed walls. I stood there accompanied by the naïveté to who RISK was and to the prolific graffiti writer and artist he had become. As the sun hit the walls, the colors shone so vibrant with striking shades of orange, blue, purple, green, pink, and yellow that I couldn’t help wondering what this artist’s favorite color was.

PINK. RISK’s favorite color is PINK.

RISK started me off with a tour of his “compound.” There are six buildings on the property – a studio, gallery, workshop, printshop, inventory space, and his home. He is a man who speaks in a rapid pace, with a slight mutter, like he expects his audience to keep up because he’s already two steps ahead of himself. Or maybe he’s recited this tour so often that he’s on automatic pilot. There’s no denying, though, that he’s wicked smart, yet doesn’t really seem to care if you’re not. He’s seemingly chill. Good vibes. Big property. Fine art.



Karen McDonough is a street art photographer/hunter who has been shooting in the streets of Los Angeles and San Francisco since 2015. She finds that public art says a lot about the culture of a city, whether intentional or not, and encourages others to get out and explore their own community to discover its magic. Her motto is “Yes!” Her best friend is the Googler. She believes that walking is the best policy and blank walls should be criminal. Her theory? Birds will take over the world because people rarely look up.

Insta: @flipsidemcd 
Website:  flipsideofthecity.com