As well as producing some of the greatest hip hop, LA is famous for its thriving street art scene. In a crowded market, nobody is more exciting than the game’s youngest talent, Skyler Grey.
With all the mediocrity the 21st century offers, the arts seem to regularly look to the youth for new ideas. Where ten years ago, you could’ve gotten away with giving a great answer to the question, “What do you do…?,” today the more interesting answer comes from the follow-up question “… and how old are you?” We once admired Kriss Kross because they were talented ‘for children’. Fast forward two or three Bow Wow bangers later and we have the five year old son of Swizz Beats and Alicia Keys credited as a producer on Kendrick Lamar’s latest project. Though this phenomenon is not limited to hip hop, it’s no surprise we found one of contemporary art’s own prodigies emerging from one of rap’s most celebrated residencies, the city of Compton. Viper Magazine sat down with Skyler Grey, who answers those two aforementioned questions with, “painter” and “15.”
While waiting for Skyler to finish school, we spoke with his father and manager Holman Arthurs, a determined young man in his own right. Sticking with the theme, he’s only 35. We speak about the tragic circumstances behind Grey’s artistic prowess; art therapy classes. In 2002, when Skyler was just two, his mother passed away in tragic circumstances. At that point, Holman was gaining local notoriety as a rapper while attending a prestigious college, but he decided then and there to relinquish his own dreams to bring the best out of their child. He enrolled Skyler in art therapy class, trusting an idea bigger than himself to transform trauma to triumph. Skyler’s therapy sessions were strictly confidential, but the work he was bringing home was too technically intuitive to ignore. Skyler would constantly ask for sketchpads and crayons, even in the cinema, where he would sketch characters on the spot.
In 2011, when Skyler was 11 years old, father and son took road trips out of Compton and into Melrose, Santa Monica, where street art was breathing fire into a community ready for new ideas. Perhaps best exemplified by Banksy’s ‘Exit From The Gift Shop’, this was truly a golden era. Skyler began to see what his future could be because it was painted on walls and pavements. He would take that inspiration home and create work, while his father eventually found galleries like Lab Art where he would take his son. Skyler sold his first work at 12 years old for $350, though he will tell you it “felt like a million dollars.” We speak to this art prodigy about his inspirations and aspirations and try to find out what it feels like to be feted in the art community while still in high school.
Hey Skyler, could you introduce yourself?
My name is Skyler Grey, I’m 15 years old, and grew up in Baldwin Hills.
Your dad mentioned that you would go with him to Lab Art Gallery when you were only 11 years old. Do you feel comfortable in the art world?
When I joined the art world I wasn’t comfortable, because I [hadn’t been] exposed to it and didn’t know much about the world. But now I feel very comfortable and I feel blessed. I’ve accomplished a lot at a young age and I’m inspiring people in the process. That’s big!
Do you see graffiti and pop art as styles you’ll stay dedicated to, or do you see yourself eventually adapting to different styles?
I’m young and I’m evolving, which means the work will only get better and more mature. I want to learn how to use oil paints so I can incorporate that. I want to mix everything I know and will learn together to create a new medium.
This is an extract of an article from the SS16 issue of Viper. Buy the SS16 issue of Viper Magazine with Novelist on the cover via BigCartel.
Words by Shola Timothy