If you read Part One of our interview with legendary Chicago graffiti writer and multimedia artist Nino “tselone” Rodriguez, your conclusion awaits. As the funky beat continues…
“As a multimedia artist, I had to figure myself out.” –tselone
Do you think being a multimedia artist allows you to expand on certain ideas and not get yourself pigeonholed and limited to a certain genre?
Yea, exactly. Everybody labels themselves something. But I think that’s just in general. People don’t just say that they’re an artist. Like what do you call Jamie Foxx? You know what I mean, he’s multimedia, multicultural, multi-generational multi-other words that they use, but it’s always that same ‘multi.’ And media can go with anything…
What types of media are you looking to explore and conquer?
Of course the Aztec Graffti shop is #1 in my mind (Ed. Note: Nino is faaaaar too humble to promote himself, so I’ll keep track of his forms of media he’ll be conquering in parentheses: retail). I’ve got a few shows coming up (He has two massively important shows this month: Art on Armitage and Hearts a Bluhm) so at least I’ll be getting my positive message out there with my stuff and have more people see it, and actually more buyers and people who feel that they want this in their home and pay for it. That’s a good idea. That would make me happy because I wouldn’t mind moving my family out into bigger places. But on top of that, getting shows out there, you know? Be on that. Within the next five years doing all types of apparel on a different scale, my own niche of homeware products. I always see my plates with my Aztec images on them (Ed. Note: he mimes a plate in front of him on the table and I want everyone to remember Nino’s B-Boy Hotel goal from Part One of our conversation).
Art on Armitage:
My reception is on Feb 4th and the exhibit runs until the 28th. It is a window display art show which I entitled, “Complex Aztecs.” The idea behind the title suggests that the Aztecs had a complex civilization, religion, art and architecture and I understand it and will show it in some of my art.
Solo Show in Mexico City:
March 20th. Graffiti’s big down there, actually.
Nino talks Aztec Inspiration with the best of them:
To me, it’s more important that they know I’m doing what they wanted me to do. Not just copying something because it looks cute or it looks like a skull. If they were to come back and see what I’m doing now they’d say, “OK, it’s more than just art now, it’s a language, a tool for communication, a BIGGER tool. It’s the difference between life and death. (When working on Aztec art) I always make sure that it is proper and it’s right. Something holy for me, spiritual, epic, timeless. The image that’s in Mexico City, The Virgen de Guadalupe made of fiber and agave. It’s not supposed to last for more than 10-15 years. It’s lasted over 500 years. It’s amazing. It’s holy, supernatural. I love art.
**He shows me two absolutely amazing portfolios that he brought along for the interview. I’m just in awe. One features graffiti on an airplane, graffiti on USA Today, Toy Story and The New York Times, the God of War with the arrow, Sylvester Stallone (he is particularly proud of this one) and owls among other things. An Aztec Sun shows up, and Nino goes on at great length with vast knowledge of Aztec symbolism i.e: current movement, the representation of Aztec time and space, earthquakes, four movement. He uses these symbols frequently and I can’t believe I’m looking through the portfolio(s) of such a legend…Wow. **
Any long term goals?
I have a lot on my plate. A lot more than I imagined. But in five years, I’ve done a lot of research. That’s what started it out, making sure I did the steps right, talking to lawyers, instead of jumping in and getting screwed at the end by someone in…Nigeria (laughs)…through an email, “Hey send me your bank account, I’m an artist. Can you help? Send me a check.” Attending seminars, speaking to attorneys, talking to people in the business. At the end of the day, I want all that knowledge and I want to learn everything to be successful in my own way. I’ve written a book. It’s a memoir/autobiography of my 27 years doing graffiti here in Chicago. It’s 30,000 words, 28 chapters, but that’s on the backburner right now.
Nino talks about his family:
My family is important. I have a daughter in college and one who’s not even a year old yet. So that’s a transition. My daughters inspire me. I have a son, Mario, who’s 17, and I taught him how to draw. He’s been in TimeOut for kids and he had his own solo show when he was 15. I didn’t have my first solo show until I was 33! So I’m pushing him to do his art. His style is animal based, non-violent, really cool (Nino goes into how much he loves Mario’s work and how they’re inspirational, describing a few pieces along the way). I would like to get involved with RX Art at Children’s Hospitals with some of his work on the walls. Just giving positive messages…I usually keep my family and my art separate. They bug me for other things (Laughs). I got a family and kids now, so why would I want to be known as “Slut” anymore? I gave that name to one of my friends, Suckers Love Uncle Tsel…
On the evolution of the graffiti scene:
A lot of graffiti artists are doing three dimensional and sculptural art. Mare 139 is doing steel arrows. They look real nice, they’re huge and heavy. They’re shiny graffiti arrows made of steel. Really cool. So one day I wouldn’t mind moving into something like that and installations. The same aesthetic to use graffiti and get the message out there. My favorite Chicago artists are Slang & Trixter. The list goes down from there. I like artists that stand out like Basquiat from New York. Rammellzee wrote a treatise on his website that defined graffiti in some weird way with a mathematical problem. If you read it, he goes into some weird stuff, but it goes back to my understanding of graffiti, my understanding of what that world is.
What’s your favorite color and why?
Green. I love green. It’s Earthy, it reminds me of money, the grass, Irish people love green, I love Irish people. It’s one of the colors on The Mexican Flag. Green is my favorite color.
Nino’s love for YouTube:
I love YouTube. I could live off YouTube all day. It’s funny because of everything that’s on there. I could type in old Sesame Street Newsflash with Kermit the Frog, and it’s on there. I haven’t seen that since I was five years old, but it’s on YouTube. This Japanese girl on there showed me a simple way to silk screen with the ring and the blue and, Voila! She taught me how to do it in six minutes, and now I have over 100 graffiti and Aztec images to choose from (for his clothing line).
Is it even possible to get all your art out there into the world?
Just trying to get all this crap that’s on my back (laughs), get it out of here (he motions to his heart) and into the world. Because, we have a lot of Latinos all over, I’m trying to reach out to them. Do it through what they know with the images that I produce. Maybe they’ll buy it, maybe they won’t, but at least it’s something. And now graffiti art is being embraced in many ways. I want to do it in a positive way, instead of just, “It’s shitty, crappy, dumb.” And what I don’t want to do now is overblow where it’s saturated and everybody and they ma got graffiti shirts.
Do you think that’s a positive or negative thing?
For me, it’s negative (half laughs) because I’m coming out all late in it. I wish I had been beating Mark Ecko. He’s a billion dollar industry now, and he’s never done graffiti. He said the furthest he’d done graffiti was at the end of his backyard in his garage. But he loved graffiti art, and he loved what it was about, the imagery, what you could do with it, and he made a business out of it. You can’t hate him for having a billion dollars at the end of the day. But I wish I would have learned what that Japanese girl taught me in six minutes twenty years ago…
Check out Nino’s work this month at Art on Armitage and Hearts A Bluhm:
Art on Armitage
The “Hearts a Bluhm” for Heart Health Awareness will be on display through February. For more info visit: