I had the great opportunity to connect with Ruben “Like” Aguirre who I originally met 3 years ago during the EstriaBattle in Chicago, Illinois. Mr. Like’s current work over the past year has caught my eye because it is so different from the normal graffiti. From the floral patterns to the asymmetrical flows, he definitely is moving forward with a very progressive style coming out of “ChiTown” and knows how to change the aesthetics of both large public and private spaces.
MB: I dig all your work that is coming from you now. I left the streets to learn Graphic Design. Did you take the same path? Can you tell me about how your art now has evolved from when you used to run the streets doing letters?
Like: I wouldn’t consider myself a designer. I’m actually not very computer savvy. I’m more of a painter who is influenced by design. Obviously a lot of the work I have done in the past has been based on letters, but I think the transition was a combination of things – Mostly needing to set some new challenges for myself. When I went to paint for the first time last year (coming out of winter 2011) I was feeling a little rusty, and the spot I was going to do wasn’t really conducive to doing a regular piece because the ground was high and low and weird in places so no one else wanted to do it. So I just decided to experiment and do the whole thing myself without any letters. I kind of thought of it as a warm up. And it turned out to be fun. The response I got from that wall was so overwhelming, I figured I’d do another one, and the ball has been rolling ever since. I still love painting letters, but when I took them out it really opened things up for possibilities that I felt like I couldn’t do before. I think every writer has certain parameters that they apply to their letters, which I love and feel is a necessary part of graffiti maintain a style. But the temptation to experiment and play with new things is just as exciting for me. So now when I go back to letters I try to bring some of the abstract elements and techniques with. It’s still something I’m figuring out.
MB: A lot of my canvas work with Geisha’s used Japanese floral & kimono patterns and that’s why I connect with your work also. Can you explain how the compositions or floral-like expression occurs with your work?
Like: It’s not really based on anything specific. It’s really just a result of line drawing that builds on itself. So it’s more about the process of building, and in turn there are groupings of shapes that form relationships with each other. But in theory, this also applies to many things in nature. For example, plant life, body organs, microorganisms, et cetera. A lot of the line work I use is still similar to the line work from my letter pieces, but as I’ve gotten looser with it. It has tended to have some organic movement which has some floral resemblance. But it’s really just about shapes and lines that build on each other to imply growth and movement.
I was actually oblivious to the kimono textile resemblances at first, and someone pointed it out to me and I was like, “Whoah, this is amazing I have to learn more about this!”. It was also very encouraging to just get looser. Japanese design in general is really awesome to me. The kimono patterns that I’ve seen are such an eclectic genre for art/design in general. I see it as very collage-like. Considering the way my work has been changing, and that as a Latino from the Midwest I’ve just been very separated from Japanese culture, it’s been really awesome discovering that. There’s such a harmony to the variety of design elements that I personally just haven’t really see anywhere. And I think that’s how I got to where I am now, exploring, and using graffiti as the medium.
Like: Spray paint is always my favorite, that’s what I feel most comfortable with. I use brushes on occasion, but it’s not really my preference. I’ve been doing a lot of collage work as well. I collect a lot of paper. Stylistically the collages resemble the murals, but it’s a different process. What I love about collage is that I get to physically build the layers that I try to create when I’m painting. The most recent wall I did I used both spray paint and paper collage, which was pretty cool for me to fuse the two mediums for the first time. So now I’m hitting a point where my collages are playing into my abstracts, and the abstract pieces are playing back into my letter pieces. It’s been a gradual process, but I think I’m now starting to hit the progressive point of all these things. It’s fun.
MB: How do you like the MTN products so far?
Like: The 94 is awesome. Great color selection, which super important to me. Not just bold colors, but a lot of the muted ones too. Those are always great for subtleties. And of course the control you can get with it goes without saying. Shadow black is always within arms reach too. MTN was the first European paint to be easily accessible in Chicago, and for those who don’t know, it’s illegal to sell spray paint here. So when it came around and all those colors were available on the low, that was a huge turning point for me.
LIke: The work I’m making now is just lines and shapes that build up on one another. I’ve always tended to use bright bold colors even with my letter pieces, so I’m still kind of doing that. The nice thing about working abstractly is that when I remove the notion that “this or that is going to have to mesh well with my letters”, it really loosens me up to experiment with techniques. I like my stuff to be clean, fluid, and have a lot of motion going on. But I think there is still this element of combining things hence my interest in collage. With graffiti you spend so much time trying to make things match and balance, and now I’m just trying to do the opposite. I try to do something I haven’t done before with every piece now, whether it’s a technique, a shape, or even color palette.
There’s no real secret to anything I’m doing, It’s just after so long of having the mindframe of taking everything you learn, and experience and apply it back into painting letters, that over time you have been working on this formula for, I just felt like that finally started to be limiting. It doesn’t have anything to do with mastering anything (because I’m no master). I just can’t take everything I’ve lived until now and put it back into one specific thing anymore (like the one thing of doing letters). Because it’s everything. It’s your life experience that you’re putting into that as well. I love letters but I’m not married to them. It’s turned out to be more about the painting experience for me and how I can play with that. “Play” being an important part of it.
Like: It might be a line that I see in a piece, or it could be something simple like a pattern, a color, the way someone paints a shadow, or when I see someone breaking away from what they’ve been doing for a while. It also when I see someone use a color combo that I would never think of and it looks awesome. Color palettes definitely get me jazzed!
MB: Are there favorite other artists you like to collab with nowadays? If so who & why?
Like: Since I started doing the abstract pieces, my process for collaborating with people is totally different now. I do enjoy it because it really pushes me to challenge myself with a new set of parameters depending on who the other artist is. It really becomes a mental game. I did a wall with Chris Silva, Justus Roe, and planning to do something with Cove very soon.
Like: I have to just put everything on hold once in a while to get (letters) out. I have to go back and forth, otherwise I’ll burn out one or the other, but lately I’ve been doing more of the abstract pieces. The abstract stuff is definitely bleeding into my letter stuff and it’s kind of experimental, but having that formulaic process of producing letters just has a completely different feel to it.
MB: You’ve evolved out of the everyday writers that are running around Chicago. Do you have any advice or words for the teenage bomber that’s running around ChiTown that wants to get into the commercial arts or do what you do?
Like: It’s hard to give advice, all I can say is that the harder you work, the more you will get out of it. I think that goes with anything in life. Don’t be afraid to experiment. Don’t bite, but acknowledge your influences. Research, study, practice. Be you. The idea is to find where you’re groove is and run with it. Finding that place is the result of a process. Whatever you do, don’t do it half ass.
You can check out more of Like’s work on his site at: TheShiftChange.com