Though we live in a time where technology has allowed us to document and share the social injustices that occur in day to day life , many still choose to turn a blind eye. Royal , a queer, white, street artist stands apart as an individual who chose to educate herself and make a stand for equality. As an adoptive mother, she's come to learn the unique task of raising a black son in America. Royal has utilized the power street art has to communicate with the masses and spread images of her son as an agent of love and change.
Along with incorporating kids in her work, she recreates images of pop culture figures with old comic book and newspaper underlay that seem to allude to the impact on history each subject has left behind. Statements like "Don't Worry Everything Is Ahmazing", "Fame Is A Disease", and "The Future is FEMA" grace her chosen surface to produce simple yet powerful messages.
Jennifer Agyapong: How did your name come about?
Royal:I think it's just a name that kind of stuck with me. I started doing a lot of work with my son as the imagery and one of the first paintings I did of him is called "We Are All Kings" and you know it was just one of those things that manifested out of an evolving nature of my work.
When did you begin pursuing art?
I pretty much came out the womb in the arts. My mom was a single mom. She was a dance teacher so she would teach dance at an art school and I'd be in the back with a woman named Yonie doing clay. So ever since I was little I've always worked with my hands in painting and clay and anything I can get my hands on.
So what were some of your early inspirations? Of course your mother but early artists or people that kind of guided where you are now?
Well I did have a high school mentor, Cindy. She saw me struggling in school a lot. I went to a private catholic school so there was a lot of suppression. And being who I am, you know queer, outspoken, feminist, I struggled a lot with Catholicism ideas and she told me to focus my energy into art, There wasn't a lot of mediums out in the boonies so I got into painting with her and I continued that throughout high school and she suggested to I go to art school out in Alberta, Canada where she went. I put together a portfolio and started my journey in art school.
How would you describe your art?
Well my art has definitely evolved over 40 odd years.
Can you compare your previous work to now?
Yeah I definitely have become more political. You know when you're younger you don't really pay attention to the world that you live in; socio- economics, political climate. You're just more off the cuff I'm gonna do what I'm gonna do. Like you know you pick your subjects sometimes they're a little more risqué. I was doing a lot of art that had to do with drag queens. I was doing a lot of print work. I think it's mostly as you evolve as artist it's your influences and who's around you. So my influences were really narrow when I was younger because I came from such a tiny town. But as I went through college I was able to expand my mind in the arts a lot more. And then life continued and I was kind of stuck for a minute not really knowing how I was going to make a life out of art. After you graduate they don't teach you the business side of art. I took a year off . I did my foundation and it took me couple years and I picked my major which they told me I had to. I was a little vague in what I really wanted to do and painting has always been kind of a common thread in my work. I think a lot of graduate and now we're left with now what? Who'd going to hire me as a painter who's going to hire me as a jeweler. I didn't want to be filing jewelry in this little shop in the back I wanted to be more expressive. I've had taste of galleries when I was in college and you know that's what really attracted me.
What mediums do you usually use? I know paint is a common thread.
Yeah so actually the painting behind us is a big huge piece that was on the floor. I teach graffiti too. I get hired privately so I go to schools for private auctions. And I'll do a class for like 15-20 four or five year olds and we'll get out the paint brushes and I'll have some short non toxic spray paint but I'll give them the mask and I show them how to spray. I would be approached by some parents at the school and they would ask me to do a project with the kids. and I come in and I I'll bring all the materials, the canvas and we just start dripping paint like Pollock. We just start spray painting letters with their names in it and we came up with a really great piece that was auctioned off. And this was kind of the left over from the ground. And it's really cool because you can see their little foot prints their shoe prints and I brought it back to the studio and added text on it and some dripping. This is one the pieces I think I'm going to keep. This actually hangs in my son's room.
You were talking about your son and in one of your pieces like you said your son is in it. There's a pretty popular piece with your son in it and when I think of Royal that's the one I think of. How does your family influence your work? I see that family is super important to you.
So we're a trans-racially-adopted family. We foster adopted all of our kids and you know they play a significant role in my work because I hold them so close to my heart and I married a feminist. She had really opened my eyes. Her mom was a union labor organizer so she was a rallies all the time and she's all about social justice. Like I said in how influences come at you at certain times, my wife has been an absolute influence in my work.
Yeah Jade. She has taught me so much about systemic racism and social issues around that I never really
would have thought of because I live with white privilege. I come from such a small hick town and there was no black culture around. And when I started using the kids in my work it was when all the shooting of the black kids and I know it happens all the time but when it was just boom, boom, boom, boom. I'm just going to say and speak for myself and say for me it really pushed me to just produce some images that would portray my kids in more of a positive light.
I think it's beautiful that she was able to explain systemic racism because it's very hard to understand when you're not in it. So to have some to break it down for you and marry you...
[Laughs] No I know. I think I'm such a great blank canvas for her to work with. And it's really great because we would be talking and then she would be like this would be a really great piece because x, y and z. And the reason why we do that is because I'm able to express out on the streets, you know when I'm feeling passionate about something like Black Lives Matter or global warming or the election. When I'm in a gallery I think it's contained, people are there, it's not out in the public forum where you can basically force your art on people. What I'm hoping to do is stir up conversations, feelings, about certain issues that matter to me that matter to the world I want to leave my kids to.
Do you work somewhere else also?
I'm in the motion picture industry. I'm gonna tell you that the evolution of my work, how I got into graffiti and street art, because painting is different than graffiti and street art. You talk to some OGs of graffiti and they'll be like "Street art? Come on." You got to be really humble around those guys. But I work in the motion picture industry, I'm a teamster I drive art trucks. I was in the art department for probably over a decade and when I first moved here from Canada there was no street art. There was tagging and what not but no street art. And when I moved here and I was driving around LA in our prop truck going to picking up props for sets. I started noticing all these little stickers. I'd see Shepard Fairey obey sticker. id see different throw ups here or there and I stated to become attracted to that art and that style. Even the mystery of how did they get that piece way the hell up there on that building? How did they print that out? SO it started to stir up a lot in me. And I was like you know what I'm going to try this. And that's when I started picking up spray paint.
What's your ultimate goal ideally?
- I think I'm going to keep on this trajectory of social justice. One of my goals as a street artist is to maybe delve more deeper into prison reform.
I watched the movie the 13th on Netflix. I mean there was definitely a lot of exploitation in our prison system. You know America has the number 1 incarceration rate in the world and the majority are African American men. The fact that they make these people work for 23 cents on the hour is like a modern slavery and I don't think a lot of people are aware of that. So there's some aspect of my work where kind of want to head down that path. I also want to get into global warming especially since Trump pulled out. I really think it's important that people talk about these things because there's not going to be any solution unless there's a discussion. And I feel like someone in my position, somebody who is white, I don't need to talk to black people about these things happening I need to be expressing myself to people who don't understand or who are completely ignorant.
I know you did some work with us , Paper and Fabric, to donate back to the arts. How important is it to you to give back to the community. Is that something you're always striving for?
You know giving back to the community has always been a priority for me no matter what. When I was up in Canada I painted windows for Christmas and stuff like that to make some extra money. And there were a lot of windows that I'd do for free just so that they would feel like they're a part of the community. And if someone couldn't afford it I'd kick down a window with Santa Clause or something like that. I'm really into trade, trade pieces of knowledge. So when I was able to art with paper and fabric and they told me that part of proceeds were going to go to kids that couldn't necessarily afford to be in the arts I was totally for that. I can't wait to work on a mural with those kids.
A lot of your art includes comics. Where does that stem from?
When I was 4 or 5 I stumbled onto my dad's comic collection and I would sneak under the stairs and take his box of comics and I would read them. I don't remember what they were but I've always had an affinity for escaping but I'm more visual so comics were always awesome for me to get lost in the stories. I also started getting a lot of my images in researching and developing from comics.
Any favorite artists?
Shepard Fairey has always been one of my favorite street artists. When I first moved out here I started recognizing his work and I saw there was a consistency and that made me reflect on if I had a consistency. So I've always respected him as an artist and his view on society and then even before Obama got elected and he did the hope poster and you started seeing it everywhere, I started seeing the impact of imagery and how important it was to spread that hope and how that was a really good mechanism and a tool that he did.
What's something, fans of your work wouldn't know about you?
I'm an introvert. I don't think I'm unique or special as an artist. I think we all kind of struggle with identity. We don't mean to be in the spotlight a lot of times. Art is really an expression of who we are and I think the people who look at my art interpret it differently. That's why I don't really explain a lot. I hope the image kind of explains itself and that the viewer can take their own message from it.
If you're interested in any prints by Royal, please visit us at paperandfabric.com