The room is filled with sounds of rummaging through markers, shaking pens, squeaky ink on paper, soft and sharp lines being drawn, hard or thick. Time stands still as Atomik goes through the process of picking his poison. A minute and a half or more. The calm before an artist’s creative storm. He finds his weapon of choice and the ink, thoughts and words begin to flow.
We give you, Atomik.
Born and raised in Miami, for sure.
What’s it like out there?
A lot of our influences came from New York. My folks moved from New York to Miami. Or they went to Puerto Rico first, from New York, and then moved to Miami like late seventies, early eighties. I guess the style was influenced by the East Coast. A lot of people leaving New York and trying to find a better place.
And for us on the West Coast, or all over the world, who’ve yet to get there, is it always beach weather?
And hurricanes. It rains a lot. With the ocean right there you get all that stuff kicking up off the Atlantic.
Are hurricanes as bad as they look from the safety of your T.V?
In ninety three I was twelve years old and went through Hurricane Andrew. That devastated Miami, certain parts of it. Where we were at, we were in a townhouse and it was connected to two other houses so we just had some broken windows and the fence and the trees all were down. Luckily the roof didn’t fly off. That’s rough, dude.
It was bad. I haven’t experienced a hurricane since then.
Moving from the physical climate to the social climate, are there any turf wars out there in Miami?
I never was in to turf wars. In Miami it’s not blocks. There’s a lot of sets and hoods or whatever out here (referring to California). There was gangs in Miami in the eighties but I was never involved in them. I guess with writing graffiti it just, with my artistic talent and always being out in the street it complimented, ya know?
Has Atomik always been your tag?
No, I had a couple other tags before, but I just ended up with Atomik ‘cause my name is Adam. So at first instead of Adam I was doing Atom. But there was a bunch of Atoms already so I did Atomik.
Do you remember your first tag?
My first tag was Ape. And I guess ‘cause my initials are A.P.V. I just took the “ap” and then threw on the “e” and had some corny character of like a Kangol with a nose coming out the bottom of the Kangol.
When did you start doing graff?
I started painting in ninety six. I have been drawing my whole life pretty much since elementary school. Definitely elementary school, probably fourth or fifth grade.
Is that the time when you were rockin’ Ape?
Yeah, that was whack for sure. I had a bunch of different tags, not just Ape. Fresh or Token or Cosmic or a million different tags. It wasn’t necessarily like I…Ape, I probably never even wrote it more than three times on the streets.
Eventually I got the Atom tag and rode out with that for a few years and then started adding the “ik” or the “ic” or “ick” or whatever. I’d change it up all the time or the “o” at the end, Atomiko.
The orange started from the Orange Bowl. In Little Havana there was a football stadium that the Dolphins and the Hurricanes would play at and I guess they played there for, I don’t know how many years, probably fifty years or sixty years, and then they demolished the stadium and instead of football they put baseball. So I took the orange character and took the smile and turned it into a frown and put a tattoo tear on it because they killed the Orange Bowl. Whatever, ya know? That’s why I originally started painting the orange.
But now it’s gone past the Orange Bowl and I don’t always stick to orange and green. It could be whatever colors. Like outside, ya Know? (Referring to his piece at our studio) Stuck with the green color pallet.
What do you like doing more, letters or the characters?
It’s fun to do characters instead of letters. When you paint letters, there’s a lot of, um, not rules so to say, but you know, you’re just trying to, I don’t know, I guess I just got burnt out from painting letters from ninety six to two thousand eight. It’s kind of a long time to write the same name, so I figured I could do fifteen years of the character. And it’s already growing, you know? You start it one way and it just develops into a whole different type of identity of its own.
It’s a good character…it’s easier and it’s funner. it’s not so constricting.
Do you have a process that you go through in drawing the Orange?
When I do my orange I start with the leaf. Little one-liner, two leafs and the stem. And then I’ll drop the right line and the left line and then I go for the eyes. First the right one, then the left one. Then bust out the nose to the lip to the jaw, then bam.
How long did it take to get that smooth flow in drawing the character?
Started in two thousand eight, probably around two thousand ten? So five years working on this. And it’s changed big time. It hasn’t, it always wasn’t like this. It would take me longer to do what I’m doing. I painted this now probably more than two thousand or twenty five hundred times, so it’s very programmed for me to do this particular character.
Why do you think the Orange has gained such popularity?
A lot of people don’t understand graffiti or wanna understand it. They just think of it as a nothing. It looks like an eyesore pretty much. I would think that’s what most people think of graff. So if you’re painting something that’s pleasant to look at that’s easy to understand I guess you get a better result, a better response.
Two thousand ten I started to focus on making art. I did prints and I did canvases and stickers and things like that and just I think it’s important for an artist to show their work, exhibit their work, in a gallery or museum or even a lounge or studio or wherever you can. Show your work, do it once a year. It’s important for artists to, if not more than that to do group shows and try to participate as much as possible. Social media’s heavy. Keep uploading new stuff and people see that you’re active and you’re inspired I guess?
I don’t know, I really like to paint though. I think just doing it. Basically getting the work, getting the supplies and just having the motivation to paint canvases. It’s difficult. So a lot of people will probably try it and give up on it. It’s definitely not the same as spraying on a wall.
Speaking of walls, what are some of the biggest productions you’ve done?
The tallest is in Brickell (Miami). A twenty five foot ladder wouldn’t reach the top of the wall and it’s already on the second story. I don’t know? I haven’t really painted huge murals. I wanna do more of them. More large scale murals for sure.
The highest I’ve ever painted was, I think, three stories, on the “Welcome to Little Havana”. But that wasn’t a graffiti mural, that’s more like a sign, an entrance for a neighborhood, ya know?
The first time I left here was o-nine. I went to Spain, Italy and Holland. That was fun to go to Europe. And then the following year I did Argentina and Brazil. We did Copenhagen, Malmo, Amsterdam, Paris, Frankfurt, and then on the way back I laid over in Lisbon for a night.
Lisbon was fresh, Dude. I wanna go there again. I didn’t get to paint out there just put stickers up. And I was catching a tag in, I forget the name, Rio Alto or something? It was a neighborhood up on a hill or something and I was doing a tag up in this bar district and this cop comes up to me and kicks me in the ass, takes my marker and writes on my face with it. It was like, “Alright, I’m sorry. I’ll leave.” I had more markers and continued doing more tags and stuff, but I just had to wipe off Mean Streak offa my face. A solid marker, ya know? White solid marker.
It would be interesting to talk about all the different times getting arrested or getting caught, ya know?
The mic is yours my friend. Now’s the time. Go for it.
In Frankfurt, right before I got caught in Lisbon, I got caught in Frankfurt. We were in the center of the city and we got, someone called on us. ‘Cause the cities bombed. No one cares about graff in Europe; Germany is wrecked. So they have to respond when someone calls though, ‘cause they’re not just gonna not respond to the calls. So they got us.
They put me in a cell and came in a couple hours later and was like, “You’re a foreigner, you’re not gonna come back here, so we have to resolve this now. We have to charge you seven hundred euro.”
I’m like, “I got that. Take me to the ATM.”
Went to the ATM –they put you in a seatbelt; they put your seatbelt on. So its not like here in the states, when you get in the car they kick you in the, “Get the…” No. Over there, they put the seatbelt on you. It’s crazy. Whatever.
They took me to four different banks trying to get the seven hundred euro and my card was red flagging. It wouldn’t let me take out that much. I only paid them a hundred sixty euro and they took my GoPro and they took my memory card from my Cannon, the better camera.
Unfortunately I’ve been caught painting a lot of times. At least a dozen times. First time I ever got caught was when I was legit and I was walking home from, we were walking from the metro rail station to one of our friends’ houses and writing on the dumpsters in the back of a shopping mall and they rolled up on us. Took us to the station. Parents came and got us.
Remember when I was talking about we were going to paint freights? If you’re under eighteen going to paint trains, get pulled over, possession of spray paint: In the back of the car. Hadn’t even sprayed. They let me go because the jurisdiction or whatever it was so petty of an arrest that they didn’t take me in. But they took my friend in because he was withholding evidence with a, he had a cap in his pocket. Fifth pocket had a spray can cap so they took him in. I’ve had some gnarly chases.
What about the craziest chase story that pops in your head?
Craziest one would be Madrid. We were doing clean trains in Madrid and we went to, in Fonta Sofia, it’s a train station and I think it’s the last station. We took the, we got in for the last train and didn’t get on the train. We just walked into the tracks further down and there was a train right there so we painted it, rocked it, whatever. And on our way up there was like five of us. Instead of there being one security guard up there, or they call them segurados, there was five of ‘m. And we’re coming outta there way late, ya know, there’s no trains showing up to the station at that time. And we’re going to the turnstile and we’re trying to use our cards. Our cards are flipping out. They’re not working. And then someone’s bag lets out a little rattle of a can and pewsh, we take off; just dippin’. And we got away, man, we got away.
One of the homies got caught but was able to say, “Oh, I’m a tourist. I don’t know these people. They told me to come here with a camera. They didn’t tell me what I was getting in to”, whatever. Bam. He ran game, got out, no problem. They didn’t arrest him but that was a close call in Madrid.
What about back home in Miami?
One time we were painting a freeway spot in Miami and we got chased gnarly with the chopper and all. Out here (in Cali) there’s a lot of helicopter police, but not in Miami. But they came and I hid on a rooftop under a tree, and had a huge two-x, three-x, black tee that I did the turtle in and got away. That was a crazy situation.
Unfortunately I’ve had a lot of run-ins with the authorities, but it’s all good. I think that’s what makes or breaks a writer. If you get bagged, a lot of people just flat out don’t wanna go through that ever again and stop writing. It’s not worth it to them. But if you’re continually going and getting yours then there’s a serious problem, Right (He says laughing)? That’s what it is. There’s a problem here.
I guess that’s what people wanna hear in interviews though? They don’t wanna hear, “Oh, I write this. I’m inspired by this. People wanna hear gnarly stuff.”
Of course there’s areas where you shouldn’t paint whether it’s because there’s more police presence or there’s alotta times bad neighborhoods where you have to worry about dope dealers in your spot. Whatever. I mean, it’s bad anywhere you go really. You just gotta know where to paint and when to paint. I think the time of painting is crucial because if you go out at night and everyone’s faded, rowdy in the streets, then you’re gonna come across more people than if you go on a Monday at four o’clock; Tuesday, four o’clock in the morning. Everyone’s gonna be sleeping in their crib like whatever.
Any good stories from out here in Cali?
Out here I wanna say, first time I came here I think I was doin’ the four-o-five and I was takin’ my sweet ass time like I was in Miami and they rolled up. They didn’t roll up like right off, the highway patrol didn’t. They were in the neighborhood, just one rolled by and then I got swooped and left. Thank God I never been caught out here.
Almost once on the freeway they seen us. Highway patrol got off. We were walking to the car and highway patrol drives up right next to us real slow, but I guess we looked older, not like your typical tag bangers or whatever they were looking for. East Side style, ya know? So we walked away from that one.
I’ve had a gnarly chase over in Hazard. You know Hazard? There’s a Hazard Yard and we were painting the Hazard Yard. On the way out, sheriffs, pff—pff—pff, three of them pop by. We hide on the tracks. We were like here and they pulled up to at least like here. We couldn’t see them but we could see their lights lighting up the tracks and stuff and we went a different way. Our homie had went out first, without any paint, so he got to the car and then they just got us in a different location. But that was a close one. I never wanna see the county out here, man. I hear that jails f****d to the max, dude. I don’t wanna see the twin towers. Hell no.
Definitely got my fair share of spots doin’, I think they’re called run-ups out here? You just run up and do your thing and you get bagged you get bagged. Whatever.
I try to come out here every year. I got alotta good L.A stories. I like painting out here. I really owe it all to Acme. He’s an O.G in this city. Been writing since the eighties. Real solid dude. Got connections, and I was fortunate enough to meet all his crew and his people and it’s just, it’s good. I guess who you link up with, it determines your, I don’t know, your welcome. How you’re received out here.
We started a crew called TSC, Top Skills Crew. The first meaning for it was The Space Cadets. I wasn’t down with the crew at that point. But when I got into TSC it was Taking South Cities and there was a number for the crew too. Twenty Eight is the number and twenty eight is the code for vandalism, like, “We got a twenty eight in progress”. I think over here in Cali, Southern Cali, it’s called the five-nine-four. So twenty eight is the equivalent of vandalism in progress. TSC and Twenty Eight were the same thing and eventually Twenty Eight became its own crew, like the bombing side of the crew. TSC was like the piecing side of the crew. Twenty Eight is still going and TSC is pretty much dead. It’s crazy how that stuff works.
I also got into MSG, Miami Style Graffiti, which is a good Miami crew that’s been around for at least twenty years.
Also a crew called Buck Fifty and it’s my friends from Ft. Lauderdale. They were very heavy handed bombers. They’re not so active any more but I still represent the crew all the time.
And how does somebody get into a crew?
Well you know them growing up and you’ve seen them and you’ve hung out with them. It’s natural. ‘Cause if you’re chilling with those people you’re gonna write what they write.
It’s funny actually how I ended up getting into MSG. I ran into my good friend Doper in the county jail in Miami. I was painting a rooftop and I won’t say with who, but that idiot got us arrested. ‘Cause I felt the heat that day. We were painting in downtown Miami and he was all doped up and says, “Nah. Nah. Don’t worry about it”. And I could feel it, ya know? I knew I shoulda jammed, but I didn’t. I got roped and saw Doper in the county jail and that’s what actually merged TSC and MSG and the Twenty Eights to get down. It was me and Quake got into MSG and Chrome and Doper got into TSC. And then from there more TSC’s went and got down with MSG.
Free chrome and Doper’s doing good. Quaker’s good as well.
Here from L.A I was asked to be a part of Seeking Heaven, which is a crew from the eighties in L.A here from the North East. And that was cool ‘cause their roster’s dope. A lot of talented individuals.
Recently I got into K2S (Kill 2 Succeed), which is another staple in L.A, so I’m super honored to be down with that crew. It’s just a lot of years of very talented artists that, I mean, I been painting with Cab since two thousand eight and it was cool to actually –now fast forward to two thousand fifteen, seven years later—to being down with the same crew as him is an honor. We’ve been to Europe, we’ve been to Asia, we’ve been to South America, Australia. So it’s only right I get love from K2S’s, for sure.
With all this love, do you have any beef with anyone? Any hate your way?
You know, it’s funny, I still got beef. A bunch of heads hate me. Maybe like thirty six people out there hate me; hate my guts and don’t wanna see me write anymore. But that made me a better writer. It made me a better writer because now, instead of doing all these wild style pieces that would take me a day or two to complete and paint, now I just do this in fifteen seconds and I’m gone. I went from very detailed work to chill work. Not chill but not as fast.
I went from painting walls to painting trains because everything that I would paint in my city would get crossed out. So why waste the time and effort to go and paint in your city when you’re gonna get crossed out. Paint the trains and they leave your city and the rest of the country sees it. So that was cool. I simplified my work. Did more bubble letters and straight letters and ended up picking up the character and just going bananas with it.
There’s always haters. Like all the rappers say, “If you don’t got no haters then you not poppin’”. It’s good to have a whole group of people hating because at least they’re saying your name. Just spell it right and keep talking.
I don’t really care about beef, dude. It’s something that’s not fun. It’s lame because what you have is a bunch of grown ass men bickering and being violent over the stupidest stuff. Why doesn’t everyone just drop the egos and just chill out? Everyone doesn’t have to get along with everyone, but you don’t have to take it to certain levels. It’s just unnecessary. At first I was pissed that my stuff was getting ragged and I would go and toy these people back and line their stuff. And I’d piss them off real bad. That’s why they hate me to this day because I did some stuff that got under their skin. That was then and this is now and I don’t really cross anyone out. If someone crosses my stuff out I’m just gonna go and fix it immediately. Not immediately, ‘cause there’s some tags I’m just too lazy to go out there and get, but whatever. I’m not trying to move backwards and go back to that same stuff. It’s not worth it to me. I’d rather just live a peaceful life and have fun and that’s it. I’m not really trying to beef with dumb ass idiots. It’s lame.
I’m stoked for the AGNTS drop. The Handstyle tee shirt, for sure.