Space-Rainbow King: Ricky Watts Wreckin’ It Hard
By Aaris A. Schroeder
Ricky Watts comes from a creative family, being raised in Petaluma, CA after being born in San Francisco to his mother, a journalist and father who has always had his artistic side. “I don’t feel like I’m walking in their footsteps but I do feel like there’s something in my genes that’s been passed down.” Says Watts who remembers “doing art” as an adolescent. He was very much into reading comic books to the point that he began drawing his own comics.
“The classic Army vs. everything. Sometimes it was nuclear dinosaurs and other times the Russians or Commies [Communists]. The Army always won in my comics, naturally.” remembers Watts who reminiscences how much influence G.I. Joe had on him as a youth.
Young Watts loved X-Men. “I used to tape plastic knives to the tops of my hands and pretend I was shredding my little brothers to pieces. Wolverine was my dude back then.”
As a youngster, Watts was able to watch his dad “break out the easel and paintbrush” to work on a piece. This inspired him to become an artist but he never really knew how much it influenced him until he was a young adult and Watts came across drawings and paintings that his father had created in his late teens. Watts found that the style of art was similar to his own.
“I took one of them home with me, where it hangs today in my living room.” Watt says.
Watts seems to be able to reason the idea that choosing the path of an artist starts during puberty, with the idea that if the kid is not good at his hobby or skill or can not improve then they do not pursue it anymore. Watts knew he enjoyed art however it was not until after high school that he really knew he wanted to pursue a career in art. He spent his high school years playing sports, collecting baseball cards and riding BMX bikes. He was a boy’s boy who built forts and hung out with neighborhood kids in the ‘burbs.
Everybody remembers working on art projects while in elementary school and taking notice to that one kid who was better at art than all the other kids. That kid was Watts. He says that he did not set out to be “that kid” however it was what it was. Being the artist of his class was an advantage to him especially since he had a stuttering disability, it kind of made his weakness not so debilitating.
Watts has had a speech impediment ever since he began to speak. He attended speech therapy sessions around five-years-old. Watts didn’t realize that he even had a “problem” until he attended elementary school and other kids would belittle him.
“Kids would mock me, mimic me, cut me off mid-sentence, make fun of me behind my back. It was really frustrating because there wasn’t much I could do about it.” Watt explains that he was also pretty small in size and this made him non-confrontational. He chose to escape within by creating art.
“My imagination would run wild on paper and those stories going on inside my head never stuttered.”
Watts wants other youngsters with disabilities to know that right now it “feels like their worlds are in the present and their futures are unimaginable.” He has a comforting way of communicating how things can turn around for those with disabilities in a way that almost seems karma-like.
“Those bullies are going to grow up and either realize what a dick they were and be cool to you or become total losers, in and out of jail, strung out on drugs, wishing they were in your shoes because you are crushing it now. The best advice I can give is to tell you that things get better. Weather the storm and find your escape,” consoles Watts.
“I quickly figured out that me doing art was a way to get other kids to like me and more importantly, I didn’t have to talk while I was doing it.” Watt tells UBO. “I accepted my role as the ‘art kid’ in class and [stayed] busy drawing a pretty girl’s name on [their] Pee Chee folder or a monster on someone’s backpack.”
By high school, Watts discovered that artists had “graffiti names,” even though he was not a graffiti artist. He adopted the name “Junior” because he was smaller than the other kids and wrote his alias on everything. A school buddy (of whom is still friends with Watts to this day) showed a copy of Can Control (Seattle, WA publication) magazine for him to check out, Watts knew his future was in graffiti.
“I fell in love. It became an obsession. I started stealing spray paint [when] I was 14 and sneaking out of my room at night to paint my name under the cover of darkness.” says Watts whose early days in the streets taught him about composition and color theory. He also credits a lot of his artistic foundation to his early experience in graffiti. His early influences in the field of graf were BIAS, BYPED, JPEE, JELOE, STYLE ONE AND Mike Giant (Rebel8).
His parents never knew of his secret love affair with graffiti however he did divulge his mysterious alias and childhood past to them as an adult. By then, the coast was clear, of course, and they found it more amusing than terrifying.
“[My parents] have always been very supportive of my artistic endeavors.” Watts proclaims proudly.
“I loved spray painting because I could be artistic but the adrenaline rush from getting away with it was the ultimate high. I still get that same feeling I felt back then,” explains Watts over 20 years after his start in graffiti scene.
“My parents never pushed me to grow up and be this or be that. They let me figure it out on my own. Dad allowed me the opportunity to be an artist, something he was never able to do.” Says Watts who feels that he is living his Dad’s lost dream of becoming a successful artist, “He’s my biggest fan and that’s something I don’t take lightly.”
Watt’s first crew as “Junior” was with the Twisted Mindz Krew (TMK), they didn’t really have a rhyme or reason, it was just the beginning for him. When he first was “getting up” he used typography (lettering) and didn’t develop the styles he has today until later on.
He never really put being a professional artist and graffiti artist together as one idea or profession until his senior art teacher, Mr. Harry Frank brought the thought to his mind. He spent the next couple of years out of high school working odd jobs and going out at night to paint the streets.
Around ’01, Watts joined the infamous LORDS crew, a loose-knit group of young people who spent their time creating art and, of course, going out and painting the city. The LORDS crew has a long-time reputation for being an elite group of artists. At this point, his canvasses were getting bigger.
“I am very proud to be a part of this crew.” says Watts.
He attended The Advertising Arts College in San Diego for Graphic Design soon after and began showing at local galleries in San Diego and even sold wild style lettering pieces on canvas or wood panels. He also participated in a few group exhibitions until he landed his first solo gig in Petaluma at a place called Boomerang Gallery in ’04.
“After I left the 9-5, things became clear. I was focused, driven to be the best artist I could be. I was free to do what I wanted, as long as it was generating income. So I went for it, fully consuming myself in exhibits, commissions…” remembers Watts.
Ten years later, quit his print shop job to go full-time into creating art. He was tired of his wild-style type of graffiti art and started to experiment with different styles. He chose to utilize different shapes, color schemes and “movements.” His pieces were getting even bigger, as 15×40 and his largest mural-to-date is 4000 square feet.
If you look at Watts artistic resume, he has progressively shown at more and more galleries and have had more and more write ups over the years. From ’03-’09, Watts built this resume up and after ’09 his shows became more frequent and even began to have more than one solo exhibition per year. This was a huge accomplishment for Watts and his art career.
Watts moved back to The Bay Area in ’03, bouncing around with jobs and art gigs, eventually landing in Sebastopol where he has lived for eight years.
“I love it here, it’s quiet and laid back. I often refer to it as my hide out. I feel like I can fly under the radar. I enjoy being able to work at any hour of the day or night.” says Watts whose art studio is the workshop behind where he lives with his wife. He also appreciates how close he is to the Bay Area.
Watts has performed over 65 group exhibitions since ’03 and working on over 13 solo art shows. These shows vary in types of galleries, outside events, graffiti events, colleges, community centers and murals and city walls.
Watts had more and more write ups over the years. From ’03-’09, Watts built this resume up and after ’09 his shows became more frequent and even began to have more than one solo exhibition per year. This was a huge accomplishment for Watts and his art career.
In ’12, Watts worked with Endless Canvas, an East Bay Area Art Collective that posts graffiti from all over the world, hosts events and writes articles about artists on their website. The event was called “Special Delivery” and Watts painted a wall with LORDS Crew in a huge abandoned factory that was set to be redeveloped.
“It felt like every square inch of the building was painted on by some world-class painters.” says Watts, whose enthusiasm was cut short when a fire marshal shut down the festivities after hundreds of people were waiting to get in outside.
Also in ’12, Watts had the opportunity to do work for the large music festival, Outside Lands, thanks to one of his long-time LORDS Crew mates. The art directors loved Watts style and submitted some of his work for stage designs. Since then, he has done three years of live paintings for Outside Lands. Luckily, this has spiraled into more work and helped him to network out for more art-jobs.
A lot of his current gigs involve painting office walls or murals for businesses. Sometimes he makes posters, print design with his catchy patterns. The best thing is that each client has allowed him to scratch that creative itch that he has, so he does not feel purposed into a pre-arranged art-idea.
These catchy patterns are famously called, “Space Rainbows” dubbed by Saber1, an infamous graffiti artist and writer for Juxtapoz a few years ago when Watts artwork was featured for a Twitter contest. The name, “Space Rainbows” stuck. He creates these paintings by “starting in the upper right corner” Watts always says.
“Each shape build[s] off the previous. It’s almost like meditation. I can sit back and allow the movement of the painting dictate where it’s going.” Watt tells.
Summer ’15, Watts had the chance to travel to Upper Playground in Portland, OR where he took part in UP-PDX. Because of his work last summer he is promised a show August 4. ’16 for their Thursday Art Walk. More information will be released soon on Upper Playground, Portland’s website and Ricky Watt’s website.
Even though Watts realized that he wanted to be an artist while he was getting involved in graffiti, he considers himself a muralist and illustrator. Illustrating comes from when he was younger, back when he used to make comics, it comes natural to Watts whereas creating his murals is derived from his days as a graffiti artist; using spray paint.
“I don’t feel like I should continue calling myself a graffiti artist. The term bugs me for some reason. It just sounds dirty to me now. Art is an evolution and I feel like I’ve evolved into something greater,” reasons Watts who now creates large murals and gets paid for it, legally.
Nowadays, Watts is able to work with and looks to artists such as Alex Pardee, Greg “Craola” Simkins, Dave Correia, Quake, Wayshack, Robert Bowen and Rat 136.