It's not often you come face to face with a California bear and live to tell about it. Fortunately for us, the bear we came across was none other than the Bay Area's own, DHESTOE. Enjoy this close encounter with a species who proves that graffiti will never go extinct.
I started using the name, DHESTOE, around 2004-05, when I was a student at San Francisco City College (CCSF). I cut most ties around that time and one of those ties was the name, SATE, I previously used.
The name stands for Don’t Hate This –DH (Don’t Hate), Esto ("This" in Spanish).
From the start, me and my folks have been magnets for the haters and beef (I guess we did, and are doing, something right) and around 2002-03 we started H8K aka The Hated Krew or Hate Krew, the beef lead to the name and the krew.
How long you’ve been in the game?
I remember when I was ten or eleven, my cousin I looked up to got me into doing graffiti letters and I never really stopped. Shitty doodles turned into toyhood...I wrote five or six names, sometimes three at a time, looking for acceptance or a mentor to take me on and shape my style, seeing that my “style” was always the subject of ridicule from the sheepish haters in my hood. Time passed and now most of the people I grew up with dropped out and I get paid for my shit. In total I’ve been painting-painting for about twelve years.
What’s up with the Bear?
I do a bit of travel in my personal life and I’m pretty proud of my home. I am a patriotic American in the sense of the people and our history, though not so much in the way of our government or their seedy actions. The bear is the California state animal and people outside of California call me the Cali Bear, seeing that I’m always rocking the bear on something and a lot of my tattoos are bears.
The idea for the bear came when Graff was losing popularity around ’06; fines and penalties were on the rise and everyone I knew was getting caught up. I felt that we, the writers, were being targeted and killed off much like the California brown bear that became extinct in the early 1900s. So I accepted the attack and started bus hopping with RC crew in the Mission, rocking bears around San Francisco in an attempt to say, “Hey! We’re still here!” or “You can’t rub us out.” I was in a very rebellious higher learning fueled rage. I still chuckle at myself in my college years from time to time (everything was so damn serious…argh…REVOLT!)
The Bear idea went from trying to share my views of an attack on the writing community on the walls, to doing it for myself. I had a stage of disconnect from the community and became the semi-antisocial writer I am today. Around ’05 I started travelling a bit and noticing how good we have it in my home state of California. It takes a different angle to appreciate what you have. I wanted to rep where I’m from and spread the California culture, especially the San Francisco Bay Area culture, so I started with the bear and never really looked back from that point. Too many people think New York is the shit, so I’m determined to show them the West Coast is the best coast (YeeYee, Yessir, Yaddaima speaking on!? J/K).
Any influences: whether artistic, personal, professional, whatever…that have left their mark on you or your work?
Spending a lot of my younger years in the San Francisco Mission –way before the Google yuppies and hipsters ruined it—I was extremely influenced by the graffiti and the Chicano/Mexican artwork, the colors and the culture. I used to hop on the BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit) and spend my days watching Mike Giant, Cuba, the Buss Hoppers, Twick and the rest of ICP hitting shit and that of course influenced me. From the castle to the Ghost Yards I was a sponge for the activity, soaking it all in. Mike Giant especially influenced me. It’s his work that made thick black lines and mainy detail so important to me. I also hung out at the Mission cultural center screen printing and some of the youth centers with my boy Cuesa –CKT H8K—and absorbed the historic South American styles he taught at CCSF.
San Francisco had a heavy impact on me. I look back on those four or five years as some of the most impressionable years.
What is one of your proudest and/or saddest moments as a graffiti writer, and why?
The proudest moment for me was when I got contacted by a client that wanted to fly me all the way to Europe to paint a few businesses and hangouts for them. That’s the moment I felt I was doing something right. Before that it was just small jobs and petty vandalism. It was after that trip that I made up my mind to find a way to travel and paint for the rest of my life, no matter what it took. So far it’s overtime, Ramen, tattered clothes and penny pinching. But four months outta the year I get to bomb, paint, put up slaps and get paid doing what I love, and that’s alright. That’s really the proudest moment; the moment I figured out I’m doing it for my happiness, no one else matters, it’s no longer an ego ball and chain, I figured out a way to make it work even if I’m broke and I can live like this every year and travel with my beautiful Spanish wife to all corners with her total support and helping hands.
The saddest moments in my graff career have come from meeting a lot of the people I once looked up to and seeing all the drug addiction and ego driven mental sickness that comes with this game. When you’re a kid it’s all about fun and getting up with the cutties. When you get older it’s drugs, violence, betrayal, egos and negativity. You’ll never meet someone that’s happy to see you doing it, even if you give them an open invite to come along; or at least that’s my experience. I’ve seen my krew go through three generations now, growing and shrinking, all because of the things that come with the lifestyle. I’ve taught kids everything I know, only to watch them get some attention and turn their backs to us. Loyalty is worth its weight in gold, and loyal people are far and few between. Helpful and humble is the way of the walk.
What would you say your artwork is doing as a whole? How do you see it represented in the world?
Honestly, at this point, my work is just there. I'm absorbing with every step I take overseas and finding new ways to express the message that I'm still trying to understand myself. I believe in art even if it’s just straight up bombing. It is an attempt to sort out issues and connect with something in the back of our minds. I feel that some of us are given this extreme drive to express ourselves that sometimes is so overpowering that we just need to explode in the streets. It's not about a name or the, "I was here," message all the time; its greater than that. It's that, "Fuck, fuck, fuck!...One more fill, ahhhh!... Fuck! One more handstyle" feeling that I'm trying to focus on. I'd like to harness that feeling and come back to my studio in the States and put it on to canvas and prints so I don't have to starve for 8 months of the year (lol).
Is it making a statement and if so, what? What message do you want your audience to take away from your work, if any?
The statement I think I'm pushing at the moment is: blank walls keep minds caged. When a piece of artwork shows up on someone’s daily commute I think it generates creative thought and, for that day at least, that might just free a little part of the person that takes notice. Even if I'm just taking out some bullshit ad that's beating you in the face every day to buy cheap crap, I have the power to free that person from seeing that. It’s about freedom. The freedom to do what I want even if it means that I can do time for it, it's my fucking choice. I have just as much power on the streets as that huge multi-million dollar multinational slaveship. To push my message, it's about sharing that truth. We all have that power and no amount of money can make one's message more powerful than another's if you stop giving a fuck about penalties.
Where do you see graffiti arts place in the grander scheme of things?
I think graffiti is one of the most honest forms of spreading information. It's one of the purest forms of expression known to man; it's so influential in our everyday lives, in the city, that if you pay attention enough you can see the local struggles and the message of the masses. I do a ton of walking when I travel, I log around 15-20 miles a day throwing up slaps, posters and handstyles, learning the routes and finding spots, and on my way I can tell you I figure out the political, economic and cultural tones to every city I visit. You can learn a lot on the foot.
Is it becoming more accepted? Is it becoming recognized as an art form by more?
Year after year I see the acceptance of graffiti growing. If we are not in a new renaissance today we are entering one in which painters can be free to grow and evolve. I've seen so much amazing "graffiti" artwork showing up on legal walls in the past few years, and so much more positive attention has been given to the art lately, that it blows me away. It's nothing like how things were when I first got into the game, it's truly amazing! It's so very easy now which, sadly, I feel kinda kills it. Graffiti is supposed to be an art of struggle. That's how it started... but, maybe, it's just evolving and it's supposed to get "easier?", Whatever it is, it's beautiful.
Are there stigmas that still surround the medium? How are these things viewed from behind the can?
I think there are still stigmas that surround it with the older generations, for example this week I've been looking for a legal to pay for some paint and it looks like with the younger generation they are all so excited to talk, but with the older folks they cut my translator off instantly and shoot daggers at me. With time, I think, it will be a totally accepted form of expression and now we have to wait.
Having traveled and worked your magic in other cities, states and international countries, what are some of the differences, positive or negative or both, that you see between graffiti here in the states and that overseas?
The differences are huge, here in Europe (Spain) it’s way easier to stay up, the buff is nearly nonexistent. The freeways, streets, and schools are crushed... I've even seen shit from 1995 running on the freeways. That could never happen in the States; the rich and culture-bleached would go mad. The cops here give it less priority, and even though I did get detained two weeks ago red-handed doing a twenty foot extinguisher outline on a corner store they still let me go with a warning- I thought I was toast. I've had four cases in the states for a 594(A) felony malicious vandalism for shit that was nothing compared to that (they didn't even take my name down!). One difference is because the police are a little chill off it, property owners are on the edge. In Portugal, a couple days ago, I was painting a door and some guy popped out and was trying to hammer me but I was able to get my cans and bounce before he could put it all together. There's way more chance to get beat the fuck down here, though, in reality, I'd much rather throw down than go to jail.
Montana paint is cheap ($3.50), I'm the only guy with glass etch pretty much, they don't know how to buff my destructible labels and nobody really beefs, so it’s pretty much all positive.
How are youth in your community using/viewing the medium do you think? Positive/negative? What can we do to promote or change what is going on?
The youths, in my opinion, are doing great things (some of them), but a lot of them have no respect for those who came before them in the states. It's too popular right now. I see tons of kids coming in for a summer, starting a ton of beef and then getting out, it’s a joke. All these kids think they can make a name overnight by fucking up shit that's been running for years. There're not enough OGs teaching them the rules and in most cases they don't even listen.
Generation Redbull: I hope you all can stop blowing up spots and figure out that every time you do hotboy shit to piss off owners and police, your sending pigs into the yards looking for you and getting super OGs caught up.
I think there's a lot of talent out there these day, there's a lot of amazing young artists that get caught up in what the graffiti videos and suburban gangster bombers are shaping them to be, the art is about escaping the box, not just escaping the box to fit in another one with your name brand markers and your stock writer uniform (you know of what I speak, if not go to a graff show lol). Piggyback, piggyback, coattails, big egos, celebrityism, and knobslobbin'....that's not what it’s supposed to be about.
What types of outlets or events, if any, have you been a part of, or looking to get established, that will promote or support graffiti in the community?
I do it for myself so that's why I don't get much exposure. My Instagram (IG) @thebearable is to keep records so I can look back on what I did and show my kids. If I go to events I just walk around without really saying much to people. At those things most people likely wouldn't have heard of me since they only know graff through certain sites and not the streets. "They will know who I am when I'm dead if I leave enough behind".
What advice would you give to young writers/artists as they begin to realize they have a love for art and graffiti art in particular, and possibly want to pick up a can?
Be respectful for the grace of all that's mighty. It's way more magical if you don't meet the people you look up to. Anyone that's done this long enough will agree with me that graffiti writers are difficult people to get along with, and if you do find a couple you see eye-to-eye with you're lucky. I always say "The more people you meet the less people you wish you knew" and, for God's sake, practice in books and hidden walls, not on the streets, cuz all you do is turn the population against us. Let the force be with you, foreal, it’s a rocky road.
Looking at your social media sites, I see you have a love for food and people who know you seem to love your food as well.
Can you tell us about your passion for food? Take any classes in culinary or are you just a natural? Is your food influenced by your graffiti background, or vice-versa?
Well, I'm a chef by trade, it’s how I make most of my money. I have two degrees in cooking and hospitality management so food is an enormous part of my life. It’s really funny but, I have to say, if anything influences my art it's the letters and logos on the vegetable boxes that always catch my attention, and, sometimes, they give me a bit of inspiration. So yeah, to a certain extent my art is influenced by my kitchen work. In my fine art work a lot of the tools I use (like drying shelves, storage containers, broken or discarded kitchen tools) come from my kitchen.
Do you find similarities in the canvases…plate vs. a wall?
I use a lot of what I learned from graffiti art in my plate ups, sometimes I even paint the specials boards depending on what kinda place I'm working at the moment. My plate ups tend to be completely different from my art though. My art tends to be flooded with hard lines and packed with detail, while my plate ups tend to be both simplistic and expressive.
Are there similar emotions or nerves that go into the making of your food that you get when smashing a wall? Do you even approach it with the same passion and drive?
I'm systematic and focused in the kitchen, whereas I'm pretty care free when I paint. The thing is, is that painting is more like therapy for me which is much needed after the high tensions, ticket times, and guests stipulations. I'd say I'm equally passionate in both worlds, I'm over invested and my prep is a job of its own in both worlds. I put everything into my cooking as I do with my art. I'm always going home soaked and weak. The kitchen is my control and art is my chaos. Without one my orbit is thrown out of whack.
Where can we find your culinary magic at? Do you have plans to have your own place or already have a place?
I never really stay in one place too long. I did that once and I thought it was an amazing job that paid well and I had a real family in my team; I knew it wasn't for me. I've worked for high-end catering, private clubs, yacht clubs, golf clubs, and top notch restaurants for about ten years. Most being places I would never hang out, ever, so it’s a lot like most people's jobs.
I do have a few projects in the works and I'm kinda in a period of deciding which one of them I want to pursue. I like the freedom that food carts allow so I'm talking it over with a partner and some financial backers in Seattle. The idea is good old American BBQ, the overhead is super love and the startup is cheap, so I'm putting some serious thought into it, hopefully developing it into a chain.
Another is bringing American food (BBQ, Burgers, and southern favorites) to Europe. There're a few over here but none of them have it right and people are paying forty five dollars for a poorly done half rack of ribs soaked in ketchup. That's a fifty percent profit which makes me wanna beat down investors doors now and get it while the gettin's good.
I thought I saw a place that sounded food-like that you are a part of but is a gallery maybe? Is this true? Maybe I’m making this up during my DHESTOE research?
I believe the restaurant gallery that you're referring to is Jersey (145 2nd St San Francisco, at Second and Minna in the Soma). If so, it's a full out up and coming restaurant downtown. I literally painted up to the last possible moment before I hopped the plane here. I got the job within a day of leaving my kitchen and 6 days before my trip; it was a major time crunch. The wall was like forty feet long and twenty feet tall and, seeing that there was a four foot banister on the wall, I had to be on a ladder the whole time. It was a great test and we feel like it came out great. It’s one of my favorite things I've ever done and I'm sure it will lead to bigger and better things. The place is a very popular destination for politicians and artists alike, and it’s one of those places that ends up on TV and on the interweb constantly. I'm pretty amazed I was given the chance to show case my work permanently there.
Do you spend time on your travels tasting the world? Are you a “foodie”?
I do spend tons of time eating and trying foods when I travel, I love getting out of my comfort zone occasionally, I feel it's super important to try new things that might influence you, plus I just love finding fucking good food. You can learn EVERYTHING about a culture or place by walking, eating and admiring its traditional artwork.
I'm not comfortable with calling myself a foodie because those I know who call themselves foodies pay crazy prices for the shit ends and food scraps from the kitchen, lol. I'm more of a culinary enthusiast or even a fat stacking hole in the wall hunter. I like the dirty, small, family owned restaurant with grandma in back. Some of my best meals came from a dark dirty hole in the wall. Knowing food safety, I know that everything just needs to hit the right temp and it's just as safe as that stainless steel bleach kitchen that puts out soulless food (lots of opinions, I know.) Food is everything and the only thing that gets me out of bed. Every adventure ends with food or treats in my casa. We celebrate our freedom, expression, and life with good food and cold drinks.
Have you brought back flavors with you from these other places and incorporated them into your dishes? Have these flavors influenced any of your graffiti?
So, I'm kinda an unofficial hot sauce/food collector and I'm always bringing these things back with me. Those that I work with always get the full experience when I get home from a tour. Shit! I've even become really good at smuggling seeds, meats and anything that really impresses me these days. At this point, I have a perfect assortment of chilies and peppers growing in the back yard. For the public that has the balls to ask for spice, yes, I give them a bit of what I've learned throughout my travels.
What are some of your favorite dishes around the world? Where is the best place you’ve eaten? Best place for service or hospitality or just realness and friendliness?
Man, best places I've eaten…Shit! Well, if I had to sum it up I'd have to say firstly, the top one:
The France(SIN)ha with a bottle of Portuguese green wine at The Tropical in Porto, Portugal. A lot of people claim they make it better but that's all b.s.
Secondly, The Chicken and Sweet Potato Waffle with cane syrup upgrade and the hot butter apple cider rum drink at The Screen Door in Portland, Oregon…and try the hush puppies.
Thirdly, The Schnitzel with extra house sauce and a Hefeweizen at the Schnitzel House across from Cactus Tattoo in Stuttgart, Germany. And I could go all day so...
I like places that are always busy and you can taste passion in the food, hospitality is very important to me because I'm always good to the servers. If I am ignored for long periods or get lip I share my mind and I bounce. The places above have always given me top notch service.
Lets talk AGNTS and DHESTOE:
How did the Dhestoe/AGNTS collab come about? How has the experience been? What are your thoughts on the product?
I'm not exactly sure how it all came about. IG likes lead to chats and it all kinda came together. I believe we are all like-minded people and we all can appreciate each other’s art. Working with you guys has been truly smooth and I can tell you it has been a real pleasure. I think the product came out very good looking and I can't wait to see kids rocking it around. I hope for both of us and our working relationship that it's one of your most successful images.
What about future works from you outside of AGNTS? Anybody else slappin’ your name on gear or havin’ you draw something up? Where else should we be looking for DHESTOE?
I'm starting talks with Forestry Clothing out of the great northwest at the moment because the owner has been a real supporter and patron over the years. I'd really like to push shirts in the Portland/Seattle areas. I'm also going to do a bit of printing myself, seeing that I've been putting in work around Madrid and there have been a few inquiries as to where one might acquire a shirt or two. I'm looking to have the new skully bomb and posters for sale on my own site soon, so hopefully the fine folks in the art world might show me a bit of support so I can carry on with a bit less struggle.
If there was one question you wished I asked, what would it have been and can you answer it?
That would be, "Will you ever quit? Will someone bring you down? Will you ever get too old for this?"
Never. I got too many haters to piss off.
No matter how weak, with daggers in back and spit in my eye, I will still be rocking shit till the day I fly. I'll raise up my glass, there’s no need to speak, give you a glance then present my other cheek. Your rips and tears and dirty tricks, nameless slashes and back handed whips could never stand up a writer like this. Real is what I deal in, full face when we meet, true heart doesn't tremble or hate in the streets. So, if you do find me extend a hand, if good are your intentions, let me buy you a beer, lets talk to expand.
Thank you and Stay up,
Bareface DHESTOE H8K