As a kid, if your hobbies are illegal, you grow this resilience to you. When you're told you're not allowed to do the things you love to do most in life, you do it just to prove that you can, to yourself and everyone else. You grow this ambition and love for something that no one really understands and you start to see the world differently. You have different values, most of the rules don't apply to you. You kind of get pushed into an odd corner of society that exists below the surface and doesn't really have anything to do with what the rest of the people are doing.
The mind of a graffiti writer goes much farther than the surface level of a wall being covered in paint. What pushes someone to risk their life and freedom just to write their name on something? What makes someone hang of the side of a building just to paint it.
Saber is one of graffiti's most known figures. He has accomplished some of the arts biggest accolades, but his journey has been anything but a smooth one. A road paved with hospital bracelets, tombstones, mental illness and broken hearts. It’s the least glamorous form of fame. Saber has had decades to think about his actions. The causes that push him to do what he does, the consequences of this life style and the sacrifice you have to make in order to excel. But at the end of the day, Saber needs to paint, it’s an addiction, it’s a vice, it’s meditation, its spiritual.
Saber, what’s up, how's it going?
Well, better than yesterday.
How have these past couple of months been for you?
My problem is that I suffer from pretty bad seizures. So yesterday I had a couple of bad episodes.
But I recently had a thing installed in so as I talk, my voice goes in and out. Cause it's getting electrocuted, like right now it's happening. I have like a pager in my chest and then it has these wires that go up to my brain and it shocks my brain. It’s kinda crazy.
Oh man, how recent was this.
Yeah, it's been about six, seven months. But I'm still suffering pretty bad seizures. I've been in the ER probably three times since all this and it's not good. Luckily the hospital that they took me to here in Pasadena is great but everybody is under tremendous stress.
And the sad part is, is we're not seeing it directly in our faces. So we're just like complacent about this whole thing. And you know, it's kind of sad to see .
Being a victim of the unfairness of the healthcare system, what would you say is the biggest thing that this country can improve on in that area?
Wow. it's pretty complex question, but I think I can't say I'm a hundred percent and advocate for universal healthcare in the sense that I don't trust the American government nor do I trust the private sector. So I would love to live in a society where we can get treated without being thrown on the street. I know that obviously we need to start allocating funds in the right directions.
I mean these fucking meds that I'm on, they're like $2,000 a bottle or some crazy shit and that's just the tip of the iceberg obviously. But I've been fortunate enough to actually finally get some care. It took me 20 years to actually get a neurologist.
One day I get a phone call. I was just having uncontrollable seizures for four weeks. I was like, fuck it. I'm done. this is it for me. I got two small children, everyone relies on me for income and this and that. And it's like we're fucked, It's over. Then I get a phone call from some guy named Nate from the Epilepsy Foundation. They took me in..
I was surprised I was still alive. So luckily it kind of gave me a second hope, even if it works or it doesn't. I'm not quite sure if it's working, but that was kind of like my last hope and at that point, But I've been through worse. I mean...
"I've been impaled. I held my dead friends in my arms. I've wiped myself clean with my friends blood, I’ve thrown people off bridges, it's like, whatever dude. Life Sucks."
Well I’m glad to hear you're still with us. With all of the horrible things that have been an outcome of graffiti, how does the end justify the means? Why would you say it was worth it?
Wow, that's an interesting question because you're dealing with a very strange phenomenon happening within society. You’ll have to look back further to ancient Roman graffiti, cave paintings to whatever it is. It's human nature to want to chase your creativity. But graffiti, it's a result of the ills and the toxicity of our wonderful society.
Yeah, if the world was clear and I had a clear path in life, then I wouldn't have felt the need to want to hang off bridges and spray, paint for the rest of my life. And with that same energy, people need to understand it gets translated into other places too. So why is it okay for me as a young man to join the military, kill somebody without even knowing them, and that's celebrated. But expressing my creative ventures on concrete is a fucking felony. So we live in a very strange place and everybody wants to fit in their little boxes. This is where society kind of falls flat on us.
it's a symptom of confused males that aren't using their full resources. They're not using their full talents, are not using their full bodies. And they're all suffering from PTSD.
"Everyone I know is suffering from PTSD, like straight up."
How’d you get into graffiti?
Skateboarding led me right into it. I got into the skateboard graphics and drawing. I’m skating into the city. And then all of a sudden I'm seeing graffiti everywhere and I'm starting to meet these people. The first real piece I ever saw was a RISKY piece in Venice pavilion. I think we were just a really scary, strange, fun, depressed ragtag group that just was really stuck on addiction.
What do you think it was that drew you towards that,
Self-fulfillment, I mean, we're a assholes dude.. The one thing that I have to bring with me that is even if I never write Saber again., it's the fact that there's a chain of influence and inspiration that comes with graffiti and it gives you the motive to act. It gives you a mission statement, even if it seems self-indulgent from the outside, it's the act, that's what's most important.
I could paint pretty murals and be a street artist, but that one tag is worth a lot more money. That one illegal tag worth a lot more than that pretty mural.
At the end of the day, it's like illegal the act speaks more than being supplemented and given an opportunity. We took the opportunity, and those who win, take. Opposed to sitting back and waiting for someone else to do it for you.
I'm not, I'm not so hypocritical enough to think that like vandalizing other people's property, doesn't come with consequences because it does. That's the point, to test those boundaries.
When I started painting, the world was crazy, people were getting killed. I mean they just shot each other. You saw someone put a gun in your face that's the way it was. Even though I lived in thousand Oaks, even I had a fucking drive by at my house. The climate at the time was insane. So anything that was less radical than killing somebody, was pretty normal.
So to run around and spray paint people's shit was pretty soft in comparison to like actually killing people. We were being radicalized by our own environment, the war on drugs was the first premise that really took hold, especially here in Southern California. The war on drugs fueled the situation.
Some of the side effects of the lifestyle might not be so pleasant all the time.
I didn't have seizures when I was a child. When I was in high school, someone set me up and they basically tried to kill me. I had a really bad head injury at that time. And then that just led to other things. You know, with all the drugs I've done as the amount of fucking spray paint I've inhaled, you know, there's no doubt I didn't treat myself well.
Do you look back at an alternate life of yourself and think what it would be like to live a life of semi normality?
No, because I'm so emotionally distraught and completely fucked and complex that I know that I can't function in an office environment. It's absolutely impossible for me and I'm surprised I even made it through high school, considering all that shit I did. At the end of the day I didn't care what happened. Cause I knew what I was doing then was important.
At the end of the day I don’t care what happened. What people need to realize is it's the mission. You can look at graffiti and and say “What a bunch of shit” but have no problem being inundated by toxic materials, toxic advertisements, toxic images, just to funnel money away from our lives. Like that's totally fine? I understand graffiti shouldn’t be legal, but at the end of the day, it's not worth a fucking felony.
In society. There's all these double standards that just work in favor of other people.
Right. I think that's what the paradox of graffiti is. It kind of shows the double standards. It shows these paradoxes and these opposing forces, Cause there's the other side of me, that's an artist that really wants to be a successful artist that really wants to get better at painting and get really good at making art. That's honestly my biggest passion. Graffiti is like the race horse to that. Not to the end game of success.
Do you feel like it was just like your whole life has just been a constant cycle of trying to like one up yourself?
I follow the trails that hit my stomach that feel like little breezes, little wind breezes in my belly (laughs) Those are the ones that I know I'm going in the right course, regardless of size or intensity.
"I tend to follow those courses. They feel they feel like a really cool glass of water when you need it. That seems to be where I operate best."
Striving to become the great and successful artist you talk about, you and your peers are some of the first to try to operate in the art world as graffiti writers. How has that journey been?
Being in proximity to those people, I've always wanted to find good people within it., Those spaces, you come across some decent people. I try to see through, cause the fake motherfuckers are the ones that have bad intentions. They can't see, but we can see through each other. My radars are so high that I can tell right away when someone's a slimebag, it's like they have to be really good at being deceitful. And then all of a sudden you'll start meeting some people that I may get out are nice and that actually have good intentions.
But when it comes to washing money, the art world does it best. I'm definitely not at that level. I just want a sustainable career, I just want to be able to take care of my kids and live another 10 year, if I'm lucky. 20, if I'm really lucky. take it from there.
That's a really good power to have, knowing when someone's lying to.
I think that's one of my traits. Some people, it drives them insane because I'm so fucking sensitive when it comes to like personal space. I'm very open and very friendly, I try to share. But I got these radars and I've always had them. If my skin starts crawling and I know right away. I have that uncontrollable element of myself. I'm a graffiti writer, which means if you piss me off, I might react. And the last thing you want to do is get into those tribal confrontations with rich people. They tend to have lawyers, But usually it's some late night cocaine hotel session where you ended up choking him the fuck out, so usually it's okay.
So, so you have this competitive nature. Number two, there's this self civilian nature of like accomplishing something. So even when I scratch my name with a knife on a dirty Del taco toilet seat, like there's a satisfaction there knowing that the next time they go back there it's I can see it. And there's also a satisfaction knowing that, um, of whoever sees it while also acknowledge it so they can take the shit on me.
Yeah. A lot of it has to do with addictive personality traits. Yeah. Some people don't have opportunities and other people have too many, like too many opportunities. It's like, um, but somehow they find their way into coffee and it's like, it really has to do with, uh, I think emotional deficits and just searching for something greater than ourselves. So then what do we do? We come up with a superhero comic book, name and paint space letters on fucking tops of buildings, you know, weirdest shit. Like what the fuck are we doing? Like how stupid are we? You know, for real,
I went to Norway for some Neue Art Festival. Here you have all this graffiti and all these people painting and everyone's enjoying it and doing this big thing, but the fucking city is beautiful. And I walk walking around like I fucking posttraumatic stress disorder. We're looking at everybody going like, why the fuck is everybody here blonde? I'm about to go nuts. Why is the air so fucking clean? Like, should I assault somebody? Is that normal? Then all of a sudden I'm realized how fucked I am when I was choking his fucking poor kid out for like five blocks.
"I’m on like the richest dudes yacht and everyone's mad at me cause I choked this fucking kid out. (Laughs) I'm like, dude, I'm from fucking LA, I've seen my friends brains get blown out. You want me to be nice to you? "
Some things make so much better sense in our heads right?
I didn’t really realize how severe my PTSD really was. Like, I had no clue, I've held people dying in my arms. All the medical shit, all the personal shit, all the family shit. And then you're like, Oh fuck. Realizing that like, graffiti is the perfect outlet for anybody who has PTSD.
Do you feel like you're living on borrowed time?
Yes. I know I am. I mean...
"I actually died three months ago. I went into cardiac arrest after a seizure. I had to be resuscitated five times. That's this kind of shit happens to me so much at this point. It's like, I've had so many IVs in my arms. I don’t have any veins left. Looks like I shoot heroin...I wish I was shooting heroin, at least I'd be high. (Laughs)"
God damn, dude.
And you would never know it too. I look completely healthy. You would never know that I'm like going through all this shit.
So you were technically dead?
Oh yeah, for sure. I woke up, my chest was dislocated, my arms were dislocated. They really worked me. They brought in some big motherfucker in I guess. But they saved me.
I was like, Oh shit.
I woke up a day later. I'm like, what the fuck happened? And they were said I got a bunch of seizures.
I think it all comes down to my kids now. I've left this self-indulgent selfish lifestyle, my whole fucking life. I was an only child whatever I needed. I had, I've been selfish my whole life and you have children, it just puts everything in its true perspective/ Its like...are my children more important than my art? Is that a question you shouldn't even ask? Let alone consider?
What'd you never do art again to keep your parents, your children alive? Well, would you give your life up for your children? Well, yeah, it's the right thing to do, Its such fucking self-indulgent self-fulfilling fucking pile of shit life dude (Laughs)
Did you have any experience with the afterlife?
A majority of the nurses at this particular hospital are Catholic. And I was a big star. The hospital was really happy they saved somebody.
So all ladies kept coming in there to visit me,, they pop in and go “Mijo... did you see the lights? Did you see any angels? (Laughs )
"There's no hell dude, there’s no heaven, it’s just black there. You're wasting all your time"
(Laughs) Damn, that's so heavy.
There’s nothing bro. You know, you know what it is? It's other people's memories and feelings and impressions you left. Some people make huge impressions while they're still alive. Some people never even make a blip. I think that's about it.
Well, honestly it was like all of a sudden it's like a block of time was just black gone. Not there, like it like fast forward, you know? And afterwards I dealt with some things I can't quite explain. Nothing like ghostly or spiritual, I think my body was trying to process what the fuck just happened. It took a couple months but I was able to let go. I guess, fuck it, I already died like so many times at this point it's like, fuck it.
Yeah. Then when it rains the fucking storms.
Honestly though, the big picture, it gets funneled all the way down to what we're trying to do. And that is number one, is to find a path of creative expression, regardless how abrasive it is. A lot good comes out of it. And number two, the fact that we're trying a different route other than these really ugly vices and really ugly ways of living. Like it replaces all that shit that we find to fill ourselves with. If anybody just sits down and starts drawing, they're fulfilling something.
And I think that's why it's so special to us. Unfortunately it comes with a bumpy road. That's always been the issue.