Ruben Aguirre has found something unique and something only few have had the good fortune to discover: a blended balance of sky’s-the-limit-talent with a humbly mellow vibe for the ages. We sat down on a biting cold day for warm drinks and good laughs at Pilsen’s Cafe Mestizo where the vibe there matched the tone of the interview to the T. I hope you all get a sense of what is being accomplished through this transcendental human being’s work.

How old were you when you realized, “I’m an artist”?
I don’t know. I remember realizing that I liked to draw stuff. I still don’t really even like to call myself an artist. It’s a title, and it’s not that I dislike it, I don’t want to label myself like that. I always think about this time in kindergarten. We were asked to draw houses, and nobody knew how to draw a house because we’d never tried it before. But I just tried to do it and I did it, and everybody in the class asked me to draw a house on their paper.

(Laughing) So you did everybody’s project for them?
Yea, it was just a square with a triangle on top. Everybody was like, “Whooooooaa.” It was the first time I think I ever drew anything.

How would you describe your artwork now?
Well, it’s a long description, man. Where I’m at now is basically a process that came after painting graffiti for a long time. For a long time, I was focused on graffiti and letter-based pieces. What I’m doing now is very similar just not text-based. It’s more abstract, design-based. It’s still alot of the same technique and composition. It’s kind of a hybrid. It’s been a process.

Who/What do you draw on for inspiration?
I look at other people’s artwork all the time just to see what people are doing, but I think as far as what really drives me, it can be a bunch of things: what’s going on, what’s around me and all that. But I think it’s drawing with a pencil, it’s making lines, whatever. They’re my lines. Whatever I make, whatever day it is, wherever I feel like scribbling lines, then I’m gonna do something. I mean, that’s kind of what it is. It’s more like a journal entry. I don’t really think of it like, “I need to get inspired.” No motive behind it. Just this is what I made today. Just a recording of what’s going on.

How did you hook up with Kevin Coval?
Kevin walked into The Beer Run Gallery for a show and liked the stuff we were doing. He just came in to look at some art, and we stayed in touch a little bit. He likes what I do, and I like what he does…

Tell our readers about the 4th Annual Hip Hop Arts Festival at The Metro this Saturday.
Yea, The Block Party is an annual thing. It’s Kevin’s event with WBEZ. It’s the Hip Hop Winter Block Party. The spirit of it is one: to have something to do in the wintertime and two: it’s for hip hop. I think of it as a hip hop party that they used to have before that they don’t really have anymore.

What are your thoughts on the current state of hip hop?
I don’t think about it the way that I used to when I was younger and it was more nostalgic. The older I’ve grown, I’ve focused more on what I do. I still see hip hop as a culture, but it’s not a part of my life, I guess as much as when I was young. Music is always a part of me. It’s like anything. It’s evolved into such a big thing. There’s so many little pockets that it’s too big for me to answer. I still listen to ‘90s hip hop, the golden stuff. I still listen to De La Soul alot, Digable Planets. The Roots are one of the few current bands that I keep up with.

How about the current state of Chicago art?
Chicago’s got alot of good art and alot of good people, but I still feel like it’s kind of in a bubble on a global scale. I think it’s awesome, alot of good people doing stuff. I think it applies to everything bout Chicago. It kind of stays here, it doesn’t trickle out. (Chicago) it’s just big enough to sustain our city with tiers and an ecosystem of arts. It’s great that we have it, but it’s not necessarily ideal. There needs to be that influx and outflux. We’re still lacking that.

You’ve done graffiti, installations, murals, collages, now some really awesome limited edition prints. What’s your favorite medium?
Spray paint outside. It’s the easiest for me, I can do it the fastest. Plus, I just love to be outside. Whether it’s illegal or not, I’d rather be outside any day.

Let’s talk about your limited edition prints and the one I like best with the phrase, “Right Where You’re Supposed To Be.” Care to elaborate on that a bit?
Alot of my titles are reflective of that, “Where you are, what you’re doing.” It’s pretty simple. You’re always where you’re supposed to be. There’s alot of people, myself included, you know you panic trying to do whatever you’re doing to get somewhere else. People get distracted, get off course. You gotta accept where you are. You’re there for a reason. It’s not luck. You build yourself like a pyramid.

I love the name of your site. Where did you come up with the name The Shift Change?
At the time I was making my website, it was a time where my life was changing. It changed alot… really fast, really good. It was obvious to me that I was going through a life change, and I stepped back and embraced it. When things start happening fast, it can be overwhelming, but you gotta embrace it. It’s like surfing, you gotta ride it. People are negligent of opportunity. It knocks, and either they don’t know or for whatever reason, they’re not aware. The Shift Change is about knowing that things are turning. I don’t think your life should be like a circle and repeat. It should keep moving.

Do you hope to inspire people to do that sort of thing: think outside their box, get outside their comfort zone, try new things, or is it more of a personal tip?
It’s both. When people see that name or when I meet people who’ve read it (The Shift Change) and know what that is, that’s awesome for me, because then I know that they understand the lens that I’m looking through. That makes me feel good, you know? We see the world through similar eyes. I hope people think about it, or at least it’s a flag that says, “Please Think About Stuff” (Aaaaaand the title for this piece is born. Thank you. We have a good laugh, and I have to refocus on the task at hand: asking the next question)

How can folks keep up with your stuff? Because I think that everyone should… Facebook is good. I’m easy to find on the internet, I think. I have a flickr page that I don’t remember the name of right now. My website is probably the best hub. I just did a collaborative mural with Justus Roe at Doolittle Elementary. We use similar shapes. He paints different than me, but it’s good. We just had paint sessions all day long. We went up as high as we could. The last day the fire alarm went off, and the firemen showed up, said that the spray paint caused the fire alarm to go off. It was hilarious because they did their rounds to make sure there was no fire, saw what we were doing and the one dude was like, “Did you paint Simone’s?” I was like, “Yea!” (We laugh) He was like, “I live by there!”

What’s your favorite place in Chicago?
Anything? I don’t know, I get around. I don’t just stay in my neighborhood like some people. I get out alot. I like to explore. I like to paint places that people don’t go, off of railroad tracks and shit like that. There’s some cool places.

Other than collaborating more, any goals for 2012?
I’m not calling them resolutions, but I’ll refer to them as mini-goals:
Definitely the collaborating, because there are people that I love and want to do something with.  More murals, bigger murals. I really want to focus on the mural stuff; do as many murals as I can. I just want to do stuff that’s outside. I want people to see it…

Ruben will be painting this Saturday at The 4th Annual Winter Block Party for Chicago’s Hip Hop Arts at The Metro:
Saturday, January 21, 2012 | Noon until 11 PM | 3730 N. Clark Street

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