360° Mike

360° does a lot of things: "graffiti" (or what he calls "style-writing"), he's a breakdancer, a poet, an educator, and an artist—to name a few. We ran into him at a Hip Hop store in Albuquerque, NM when we were distributing the first issue of Smelterchurch. We were telling the owner of the store about the magazine and some guy in the corner comes out with, "Well, you should interview me." "Oh yeah?" I say, "Why should I interview YOU?" So he told me what he did and he wrote down his name and number for me and I told him that I would give him a call when I was back in the area. That's the story. Now all I can say about the interview is that he's incredibly articulate and it was a great pleasure talking with him and hearing some of his story.

360 Breakdancing in front of mural

SC: Where did you get your name?
360°: Mike 360...the 360 comes from what goes around comes around. My homeboy, Ralph, just started using it. When you change your name sometimes it's like a sign that you're changing who you are. When I changed my name to 360, it meant I was trying to straighten up my shit. I've been slipping lately, man, it's a trip. A lot of my old homies have been calling me by my old names and shit. There's also a lot of other stuff attached to it, too, like there's 360 degrees in a circle, right? I heard this elder say one time, you know, "everybody's trying to be number one, but nobody's trying to be one." It's like we've all got our own circle, but we also need to realize that we're part of this bigger circle.

So how long have you been doing graffiti art?
I've been doing this so-called graffiti shit since I was about nine. I got in a crew when I was about eight or nine and I got into the whole high school jock thing for about two years and after that I said "fuck this, man." I realized that it was a bunch of bullshit. I got back into graffiti and I was selling weed and involved in some other crazy activities for a while. After that I realized that I needed to focus on my art.

You were turning it more into an art versus just...
Yeah...People misunderstand graffiti I kind of have trouble with the word. It's kind of like allowing people to define you. When you allow people to call you a graffiti artist, it's just very limiting. They have no idea that I do steel sculptures, stained glass windows, or that I've been in the Smithsonian Institute. They just look at it and say, "oh, he writes some shit." At the same time when I look at that tag right there next to you, (points to a name scratched in the booth wall) I can see some beauty in it, you know what I'm sayin'? I can understand the whole form behind it, well, maybe not THAT tag, it's kind of wack. I mean a good tag; one with style and skill. Where you can tell that the writer who did that had some skill. It's kind of like Chinese Mao-Tse (sp?) writing.

What is your definition of "graffiti" versus "graffiti art"?
Graffiti is a media term, first of all. It's kind of like allowing yourself to be defined like... or rather than saying I'm an artist, they need to put some kind of other kind of art, like "he's a graffiti artist,"or an aerosol artist. They need to define it in some way to kind of like,digest it. It's limiting; it's very limiting. So, graffiti already has a negative connotation attached to it and when they say graffiti it's kind of like they want to devalue their art right away.

Unfinished mural in Albuquerque

Right, so by tacking the word "art" on there it brings it to a level where society can deal with it?
(apprehensively) Yeah...well WRITING is the original term. We'll accept the term graffiti It's kinda like in the neighborhood where you grow up it's like, "Yo wassup my nigga," but if some one from out of there comes in and says, "Yo, my nigg-er." It's like a whole different thing.

So y'all just call it "writing"?
Yeah, style writing or writing. We'll call it graffiti amongst ourselves, but most dudes ain't really hip to defining shit.

How many murals have you done?
A shitload. I got like ten pages of slides right here. My work's been in the Smithsonian, the Ukraine, Tokyo, all over the place. And still here...it seems like I get more respect from other writers in other cities than I do here. Every one in general has a tendency to be afraid of what they don't understand. They'll call you a sellout, but they're still living with their mom.

Yeah, well you gotta make a living.
Yeah, right. I don't compromise my shit. I don't go out and paint a liquor billboard because, fuck liquor, that's poison. But I will paint something that isn't inside of that box that's called graffiti, you know, a stained glass window design or just something that I'm feeling.

You said that you do other forms of artwork, too.
Yeah, yeah. But I'll incorporate them. I'll make a stained glass window that's a "wild style".

Other than graffiti, have you worked on any other projects?
Yeah, I develop educational materials for the Department of Health. I'm an educator. I go speak in prisons and all kinds of stuff like that, you know, schools... Basically just straight talk; talkin' to kids about not fucking up.

In all of the work that you do, what's the message that you're trying to get across?
I'm kinda trying to get the message across to myself, too, and it's kinda just like, don't get swallowed by the world. Don't let things hold you down or limit your potential, you know, stifle you.

Do you just do commissions now or do you do any independent work?
I still bomb. I do a lot of commissions. Me and my homie, Dash, the other night we hit the trains. It's kinda like the rebellious aspects of so-called "graffiti" are real important. It's like exercising our right to put something up that means something to us. And people say, "Oh, but you're just writing your name." But look, I'm alive, motherfucker. Like what I was saying earlier about the whole thing swallowing you, right? You know I've been real fortunate to be able to speak with people like Phase II. People in this city they say like, "360's old school. He's been around since '80somethin'." But that ain't old school, man, in New York City this motherfucker's been painting since '70. Phase II's been rockin' since '75 and shit. That's the real old school shit. Then the dudes were innovative. They're the guys who inspired people like me. A lot of the kids don't realize that they were inspired by older writers here, you know, Dash I or MCRock or these brothers who went out and went all city like 5 or 6 times. These kids, they can go out and just paint legal spots and never pay their dues. I came up and paid my dues and painted on the freeways, not necessarily as much as Dash and a lot of writers did, but I did do my dirt, especially in my neighborhood and that shit's important. I'm not out to make shit ugly. Anyway, Phase II did this piece that said, "The City Could Have Swallowed Me Whole," and that's kind of the way I feel. The whole thing is to try to keep the city FROM swallowing me whole. It's like that all the time. There's temptation on every front. You could fall off any second.

Tell me about bombing.
The last time I remember going about bombing was real recently. My man Dash and I were at my studio and we were working on some canvases or practicing breaking or something and it was hot and boring. It was cool but after a while it was kind of like being locked up somewhere, like sitting in one place too long. We saw these cops raid this crack house and we were just like commentating and we realized that all of the cops were at the crack house, so we were like "fuck it," and we went down to the train yard which was just a couple of blocks away. We just bombed, you know. We just did some throw ups and a can exploded on me, my shit was all messy...It was the ugliest throw up I did in my life, but it was so fun, it just brought me back. You know, I can't really afford to do shit like that...My name, my whole name is printed in newspapers. I mean, you could go look my shit up in the library. So, I can't really go out too much without a cover up.

Sow long does it usually take to do a good mural?
Oh a piece? An illegal?

I don't know, it just depends on what you get into. It could go anywhere from half and hour to ten hours. It just really depends. You know a throw up, just to get your name UP, takes a really short time.

Are you able to make a living just off of art?
Yeah. I do all kinds of stuff, like I said. You know, education, I do my poetry...

So you don't have to work anywhere 9 to 5.
Nah, but sometimes I'll work at a community center on certain days of the week.

It's all kind of interrelated...
But it ain't easy not working 9 to 5. I swear I work like 15 hours a day. Just constant. And half of that's in the sun. You know, you'll be out there on 25 foot scaffolding trying to paint some shit.

Do you think that "graffiti art" will ever gain mainstream acceptance?
Well, they'll continue to try to prostitute it. You'll see hip-hop aesthetic in a lot of things. You'll see dudes from the US gymnastics team biting fucking breakdance moves. You'll see non-legitimate, respected writers, you know, bullshit fuckers that never really paid their dues, selling so called "graffiti" to advertise for St. Ides or something like that. Hip-hop will get prostituted, but as far as mainstream acceptance, it just depends what the mainstream is like. Look, the real shit will always be the real shit. The people will either come to it, or stay the fuck away from it.

1 side of mural outside of Cultural Center in Alb., NM

Is there a lot of rivalry between different writers?
Yeah. It's all based on ego. I'm sure that when this article comes out they're going to be like, "he's a media whore," or "whatever, whatever," kind of shit. But the truth of the matter is, I'm just trying to elevate the form and there's a lot of brothers who aren't trying to elevate the form. They're just trying to worry about their own ego and shit. And that's cool, don't get me wrong. I mean, part of the whole thing IS about fame and getting recognized, but the ego will get you in a lot of trouble, man. The more you worry about yourself and preserving your own shit...that's a lot of shit to be carrying around, you know?
I mean, I have to drive a big ol' work van all day just to carry my ego around. It's a lot of work.

Has it ever gotten dangerous? There seems to be a big connection with writers and gangs.
Not really; there's not really a big connection. Some writers will try to be like gangster type shit. Like when I was growing up I was doing some other kind of shit, but that was aside from being a writer.

So there's not really a tight connection between the two?
Not necessarily. Writing, for the most part, is kind of like an alternative to that shit. It's kind of like to get away from that shit.

Have you ever had any problems with the law in regards to writing?
Naw. I never got caught. I bombed, but I never got caught. We did it smart, you know...brothers out there with walkie-talkies...You gotta be tactical about your shit. Kids now, they just go out and do stupid shit.

Other than Phase II and those guys, who else do you look up to as a "writer"?
Let's see...Phase II, (inaudible) 139...As an artist, in general I look up to Michaelangelo. That dude achieved a lot, man. Norman Rockwell, he had skills. All the New York city writers that were dope, I respect them. You know, Pink Lady, (inaudible), Lee 163rd. Then on the West Coast there's Hexon Slick (sp?), just on the really large scale, FX Crew, Tat's Crew. Then locally MC Rock, Dash, and Strike. I respect them a lot because they all work, do this so called "graffiti" AND take care of their kids. That's the shit I respect. On the poetry tip, on the rhyming tip, like Rockan (sp?), KRS-1, Joe Scott Heron, Menta Baruka (sp?).

Is there any one who has inspired you to be who you are as a person?
As a person? I think there's a lot of inspirations. One of the major inspirations as a writer was this dude, Agree, from New York. He moved out here and he inspired a lot of writers. He had this original, hard-core, New York City style and he painted on trains and shit like that. And my shit ain't nothing like that; it has never BEEN like that and it ain't never going to BE like that. But he still told me, man, he says, stick to your shit and do it the way you feel. And he said he respected my work, and that's what inspired me. He just said to keep it up and that moved me and I just kept working because of that. But as a person, there's multiple inspirations. You know everything is because of the grace of God.

2nd side of mural outside of Cultural Center in Alb., NM

You said you had some stuff over seas?
Yeah. I got this big formal letter that says I'm the artistic coordinator, but basically I just stumbled upon this lady, and I showed her my sketch book, and she said "that's pretty cool, I'd like to have somebody paint my studio". So I said, "Word, can I take my homeboys?", and she said "yeah". So, we went and we painted her studio across the street here at the university. She took some photographs of it, and she sent them to the Smithsonian and stuff. They traveled all around. Then she would invite us to go to certain shows and do stuff to give an example of what was going on inside the studio. And it's cool because you meet up with other writers, you know. There's always other writers in other cities. I got to paint with Spy, and Dream, and Frisco (?), and they're well known. And good people, too, man. A lot of younger writers are the ones that have the attitude, like they're the shit. Phase II is always really willing to help give a lesson. They want to progress and understand what's it's really about.

How do you think the Hip Hop culture relates to the rest of the world?
As dance, music, poetry, and art. There's other elements, you know, like architecture or food. It could be argued that Hip Hop is only a subculture because there is no architecture or no food that it can call its own. Although you could say what about commodity cheese? Or what about ramen noodles or cereal and water? But we didn't invent none of that shit. Hip Hop is a young culture. It has its own language, but I think the element of Hip Hop that's missing is originality. Or maybe that's an element that society in general is missing because a lot of people don't try to progress. The fifth element of hip-hop should be fucking originality.

What do you think makes you original versus everyone else?
I don't know. I'm not as original as I need to be, but I try and do shit. I try to work stained glass, or sculpture out of steel or out of wood, and not say I like Hip Hop and only Hip Hop.

That piece out in front of the cultural center, did you do all the metal work, too?
Not all of it. We hired a welder. That's all freestyle. We didn't have a drawing. That was a big drama to make that piece. Man, you guys are going to flip on my mural when you see it. That's like what sculpture is supposed to be. People think painting murals is easy and shit. There is so much animosity you face. Like getting kicked out of neighborhoods because people have no understanding of what we're trying to do. And we try to teach them; we'll go and give an elaborate presentation about the history of muralism, from hieroglyphs, petroglyphs, to Diego Rivera, Michaelangelo, to modern muralism, everything. Motherfuckers still don't understand. We got this big ass wall up in the heights and we were going to paint it. It was a ditch basically in the
middle of this park. We got commissioned, me and Lloyd Hernandez (?), my partner and this guy comes. We were like 18 at the most, and he was 50 and we got hired as his equal. We got kicked out of the neighborhood so we decided we were going to build this steel sculpture. We were going to build it at Fransisco's studio, but we got kicked out of Fransisco's studio because some of our students were black. We got kicked out of this neighborhood because we were too brown. They said "we don't like your cultural image". Muralism is not an easy thing to do. You're outside, you're constantly battling. People say, "if I could just paint my shit in the daytime it would be easy and I'd paint more beautiful shit". Man, fuck that. I'd go home at night dehydrated. I had
heat stroke a couple of times from this mural I'm working on right now. It's a lot of physical labor.

360 Mike

That's what you mean about not letting them swallow you up. You've got to keep doing it, regardless.
Yeah. And other things, too. I try to live right. There is certain shit I don't agree with. I don't eat meat. And sometimes it's real easy to go to a restaurant and be like everything they have that's good is meat, but you could eat some fucking french fries or something. That's what I mean, too. All of these females run up on me when I'm performing, and I'm just like, I can't do this, man. My homeboys are having such a hard time supporting their families and shit. How am I going to bring a kid onto this earth, or even just go and try to put my seeds out there if I'm not willing to fertilize them? I try to take care of my shit.

Do you think you want to try do this for the rest of your life, or do you have other goals?
I just want to be a good person, man. People ask me what I want to be when I grow up and I say a better man. That's what I want to be when I grow up. Art has helped me to do that. Like when I got locked up and shit, I just sat in there and I painted, rather than trying to manifest any more bullshit.

What would be your best advice to a kid that wants to do what you're doing?
Just to be sincere, man. Humble. We have a tendency to think that everything is instant. It ain't. I'm still learning. I still need help.

I'm curious about your show tomorrow night. Is that all about you?
I've got a band called Organic Ghetto. It's a bunch of older dudes. They're all jazz players and shit. Well, except for me, the turntable-ist. It's jazz and Hip Hop. I'm a poet. Poetry is one of my main things. So, I've got this band. We just sit in and we never rehearse and we get a real intense response. People really dig it. So we got a bunch of gigs up in Santa Fe and now they invited us to do a gig down here so, we're going to do it. See how it goes.

They're jazz players, they can play anything. They play something and I think up a poem to go with it and I say it. Sometimes I'll freestyle. It's pretty cool. I dig it a lot.

This is more of a personal question on my part. You've gotten a lot of resistance because of your ethnicity. What kind of reaction do y'all have to all these white people running around?
Actually, me and my homeboy, Josh were discussing that yesterday. Our own racism and shit. It's something you deal with everyday. You try not to be racist and shit. I try to take people one at a time. But sometimes I do find myself saying, "she's pretty cool for a white girl". Something stupid like that instead of she's pretty cool. Or, "she acts pretty stupid, like she's a white girl", or something. I have trouble with the whole white bread thing. I'd rather just look at people and say "that's a man" or, "that's a woman".

Do you think that's because we're born a certain way?
Well, it's real easy to say...I'm really really off right now. I didn't wake up until 11 today, usually I wake up at five. I've been trippin. I've been falling off big time on a lot of shit. It's too much at once. A lot of younger kids don't learn the history. They think because they have some technical skills...it's too easy today. Kids can just get a graffiti magazine and learn technical skills. Learn and watch other writers and bite. I wish they wouldn't bite. But they do, man. A lot of kids have no originality. They think just because they know somebody that writes graffitti...like when Giant was here. He had a bunch of little white skater kids watching him and following him and knowing nothing about the culture. Basically, a lot of this shit is ghetto. I mean, we did it because we couldn't go take an after school art class at the university or some shit. We just got some spray paint and did it. And how did Giant learn? From motherfuckers like that who weren't taking architecture class. Giant is an architecture student. He's good at what he does. But these kids develop a lot of their skills in universities and then applied them to something that's ghetto, even though they're not.

Is that almost like an insult?
Nah. If it's done properly then it's not, but if it's taken out of context too much and the root is not acknowledged....like whatever I do now: my poetry, my art, and shit like that, I owe it to Hip Hop. Hip Hop is what gave me these skills, the confidence to say I'm fucking 22 years old and I'm one of the most well respected muralists in this state as far as getting commissions, and working with other muralists as their equal, not as their assistant or a student. I didn't go to art school. I didn't kiss no one's ass. I just fucking worked hard.

And you're out there and people see you. I think that gains more respect than a piece of paperwork, saying, "I did this".
Yeah, but you know, I got my books and photographs. When people ask me, "what did you do?", bam, this is my diploma. Ghetto University. That's what I've done. That's how I feel. But a lot of kids think it's instant, like I said. Everything is instant in society.  It's not that hard. But...

But it's more than just going out there one day and doing it.
Yeah. You've got to have the fever; you've got to have the passion for it. You've got to stay consistent with it. The strongest substance in the whole world is water. And water is not harder than fucking metal, but it'll wear down metal, because it's flowing and flowing and flowing. That's what I'm trying to get at. That's the way it needs to be. With everything. Consistency.


Interview by Heather Bowden and Orien MacDonald. Photographs by Heather Bowden. 1998