Nino “tselone” Rodriguez is a legendary graf writer, philanthropist and humanitarian in the making. He has paved the way for countless artists (including his own 17 year old son) to do their thing in Chicago as well as abroad. His technique is absolutely as original as it gets, and he utilizes pop culture and symbols of today to evoke sentiments of the past. He’ll help you get in touch with your roots while keeping you present and aware of what’s happening right now. We sat down on a sunny winter day at a Chicago Dunkin’ Donuts (Nino swears they have the best coffee) to talk art, life and history among other things. Nino “tselone” Rodriguez, everyone:

So first of all, what’s the story behind the name “tselone?”
It’s an African plant (teasel). If you look it up in the dictionary, they’re the thorns that get stuck to your leg when you walk through a bushy area. So I sort of condensed that to tsel and added the one. That’s what I like about it, it stands out. It’s tselone, it differentiates you from everyone else. The only one with that name in the graffiti world.

Tell our readers about your own blog.
http://tselone.blogspot.com/
A blog is just another way to get your words out there and multi images spoke those words, but recently I’ve had a lot of stuff to put up. And with that I always try to give a brief story, definitions, what the story is about, have a link to it, you know. In the future, you’ll see more stuff on there, it’ll be more interactive. Right now, it’s kind of private, I keep it to myself, but obviously I want to get more people involved with it.

That’s cool because people will want to interpret art how they want to interpret it, but you’re giving them a story, some background.
Exactly. The best part about it is this morning I was painting some hearts on Michigan Avenue with Columbia College, my alma mater. So, I went and one was an Aztec heart and one was a graffiti heart, my two specialties-graffiti and Aztec. They’re interchangeable, but I try to keep them separate. This one was a really cool Aztec heart, and I did a little piece with Fox News and I was able to put a link to it right there on my blog about this event with other artists for Heart Health Awareness Month in February. The blog helps me out to keep the word out there.

I like that Al Capone piece you have on the blog right now. How do you feel he has influenced and shaped Chicago?
In many ways. As a Chicagoan, we all think and grieve differently, and I know that he’s a big part of it. His home still stands on the South Side. That’s amazing. He’s walked the streets that I’ve walked. I grew up on Lawrence and Clark. He knows the streets that I know. He went to The Green Mill a lot which is in eyesight from where I grew up. Anything that’s associated with Chicago, I always embrace. Whether it’s good elements or bad, I embrace them both. It’s still Chicago.

Looking at the Headline Book that you have and the USA Today piece you did, why do you feel graffiti is important?
On this one, I like the color pallet. As an artist, you see things pop out. And when the war started in Iraq, you’d see these HUUUUGE images pop out (in the newspaper) and I thought, “This is pretty powerful.” I see New York, my city, Los Angeles, and of course Philadelphia and Miami, so I strictly use graffiti for that piece. I like putting graffiti on everything- napkins, airplanes, I love aviation, anything that catches my eye.

Do you want to talk a little bit about your Aztec and Graffiti Shop?
It’s in the process right now of opening somewhere on 26th Street or in Pilsen somewhere. Or I might even open one up in my old neighborhood up north. Just doing the paperwork, you know. It just goes with what I do in Mexico, trying to share with them. I’m looking for an opening in March.

Your work has has been in clubs, art shows, galleries, on the streets. What is your favorite place to show?
On walls (Laughs). I like showing in galleries, stepping back and looking at it. I want to make this multimedia art that I do more interactive. I wouldn’t mind moving into sculpture, doing big installations.

What is your favorite thing about being a multimedia artist?
I can use interactivity and other things. You know, use the senses. Feel it, see it, touch it… I want to use more technology. Being multimedia, I had to figure myself out. I wouldn’t mind adding sounds or music to some of my work. I’ve had the opportunity to work in a lot of different mediums.

What do you have coming up and what can our readers expect to see from you in the near future?
The shop is #1 in my  mind right now, I’ve got a few shows coming up. But in the future future, I want to open up a hotel with graffiti or Aztec theme. Imagine walking in to check in, you got your B-Boy theme, Run DMC playing, bellboys with Shelltoe Adidas, you can tag if you want, but it’s still professional. Different boutique hotels are opening up, and that’s cool getting away from the chains. Like The Fox Hotel in Denmark where a different artist designed each room. That’s a goal for my future.

Who are some of your favorite painters?
Of course Diego Rivera. Van Gogh. My favorite graffiti artists are Chicago writers. Modern Art, I like Jackson Pollack. Artists that stick out. Someone who I’ve really been admiring lately, a New York graffiti writer who just passed away, Rammellzee. It’s weird, because now that he died, I’ve been learning more about him and I wish I had learned earlier.

Favorite Musicians?
Old school punk- Dead Kennedys, Corrosion of Conformity, bands that explored the dark side of art. Of course, house music too. Drawing and music go hand in hand.

Any advice for aspiring artists?
If you have a goal and plan, stick with it. You’re gonna have gray days, you know dark days, uninspirational days. But if you feel like you’ve got something you gotta get out there, it’s gonna get out there, it’s gonna happen. You make it happen!  When I was younger, I could care less about having last words for somebody else or being inspirational, I was like, “Whatever, if you wanna go die tomorrow, go die, I don’t care.” But now, if you want to get your art out there, why not? What’s going to stop you? Either do that, play music or play basketball. Pick one. (Laughs).

The conclusion of this interview will run the first week of February, so be there or be square…

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