Artist, Activist, Artivist: The Man One Story

Graffiti street artist Man One has been on the street art scene since its origination. You can arguably say he is an O.G. in his own regard and could perhaps make the claim that if there was a Mt. Rushmore of renowned graffiti artists, his face would be pictured since his style of art was launched during the time graffiti art was just getting it’s start. The Man One brand of graffiti art was established in 87 and made official as a full time business in 94 after he graduated from Loyola Marymount University the prior year. During Man One’s street days, it was all word of mouth as it related to one’s reputation as a street artist, so finding unique ways and places to get their art seen was at the core.

Once Man One picked up the marker at age 16, there was no going back as he found his passion and calling in the world. A hip-hop head himself, he was right there during that time the hip-hop scene was being pioneered. And with that style of art gaining popularity and being seen by wider audiences, Man One’s graffiti art became more visible and his reputation grew as a street artist. With graffiti art being introduced, it began to bring a new culture of art.

 “When I got into tagging and graffiti, for me it was like wow! Instead of only just showing my friends, I could show it {graffiti} to millions of people so it became an avenue for me to express myself to the greater community and to all of LA, which honestly is the goal of graffiti right? As graffiti artists, you want to be up. You want to have everyone see your name. Back then we were really doing branding as artists before branding as artists ever existed. The thought back then was kind of like well if Coca-Cola can brand, then we could brand ourselves to as artists. Nowadays it’s a thing with your brand of course, but back then it was just your identity. You were just trying to get up,” Man One said.

Man One “War is A Monster”

Since establishing himself as a first generation premiere graffiti artist, the Man One brand took off with him over the years travelling and doing murals on the east coast, Europe, Panama and Mexico. Man One’s roots are LA. He grew up during the time of the Chicano movement of the late 70’s, so for him seeing all the murals in Boyle Heights, he was really inspired artistic wise. Graffiti art was the only thing he was good at so and he jumped on the wave graffiti art brought to the art scene. Perhaps you reading this article have seen Man One’s art through the streets of Los Angeles, or even in another major city since his style of art has been seen in cities worldwide.

For him being born and raised in LA, he wanted to keep his gallery and studio close to the vicinity of LA. After dealing with the rents of downtown that became inflated over the years, he now has his studio and gallery in Lincoln Heights and is still relatively close to downtown where he can stay maintain a threshold and stay connected with all things LA. I asked Man One the origins of his name and what made him name himself Man One?

He replied, “How I first started doing graffiti, this kid on the bus handed me a marker. I saw that he was tagging his name on the bus, so I asked him what he was doing and he just gave me the marker and told me to tag the window with whatever that comes to mind, but just don’t let it be my real name. So I was listening to this group called Mantronix and as he handed me the marker and that was the first thing that came to mind so I tagged up the name Mantronix, just being a kid you know?” he said.

He continued, “Eventually after hitting it up so many times on the bus, I wanted to take it to the street and do it with spray cans. So when I started tagging on the streets I realized Mantronix was way too long of a name and I would probably get arrested by the time I got to the “X” so I decided to cut it down and I cut it down to the first three letters, so I became known as “Man”. My street name is “Man”. The “One” in graffiti lingo is kind of like a copyright symbol, it’s like you’re the originator of that name in that city so “Man One” or “Man” is the same as it is synonymous to street culture, but as I moved on with my professional art career, I didn’t want to use my real name and suffer the fate of being pigeon holed being a Latino artist, so I kept my street name since that’s what everyone knew me as and it’s been that way since with me being “Man One.”

Man One

On Inspiration

For Man One, his inspiration is everywhere as he’s working everyday as a professional artist. Whether the inspiration comes from music, the landscape, photography, or even other artists’ work that he sees and even meets, his inspiration for art is all around him living life every single day. I asked Man One what he thought his top three, or top five paintings to which he can lay his hat on the mantel on? What are the best works he could recommend for who has never heard of him and his brand of art?

“I don’t know it’s weird because everyone has different tastes and they like different things that I do, but for me my best painting I think is in the future. I don’t think I’ve done it yet,” Man One said.
            “I know I have a lot of murals around town and canvas and wherever else, but for me it’s hard to just tell someone to just go look at this one painting. I don’t feel like there’s one painting that is just my mark, that I can push people toward, but to answer your question if I had to absolutely narrow it down, I would say my portrait work style with the colorful style of faces, that’s what I can say is a signature style of mine that pretty much anyone can recognize.”

Man One Painting behind GE Chanos Restaurant in Lincoln Heights

What’s the one to three-year plan look like for Man One? It involves continuing to spread his brand of art to cities across the world that he’s never hit up before. One country that comes to mind for him would be Japan as he’s never done professional work there. It’s one of his favorite countries visited so doing a large-scale mural there would be really cool for him. He’s also hoping to do a launch a one-man show in Europe within that time frame as well.

“There are a lot of places that I would love to go and paint large scale murals at. A lot of the murals that I have painted in the cities I’ve visited were only temporary. I did it for a festival, or for an event, so it didn’t last for a long time. So for me, I want to take my work to a larger more global scale both for my professional work and my personal work. For me going global is my goal and I’m looking to do some pretty epic stuff in the near future.”

On Visibility and Mentorship

            It’s not just about the art with Man One as he mentors the next generation of youth and artists. Man One considers himself a very visible member of the Latino community and with that he hopes to inspire the next generation of artists and activists. In particular, he likes working with teenagers since he feels they’re at a crucial point in their lives in making those key decisions about their life, or even their art. While he may not teach art full time, he has hosted workshops and sessions for the youth. He also has no problem sharing his advice and guidance as he has done many speaking engagements. Not long after doing his first illustrated award winning children’s book entitled “Chef Roy Choi and the Street Food Remix”, he was asked to speak at libraries, conferences, schools, and colleges; Man One makes himself available for those speaking engagements that revolve around the community.

            “To me it’s like art is the universal language and when you speak with kids about art and really let them know that it’s ok to express yourself and that its ok to draw, and to dream big like that. So when they see someone like me up there, they can say ‘there’s someone up there that looks like me and he’s doing it, so I can do it to’. So representation is a really important thing for me,”Man One said.

On the Wave of Social Media and Marketing

            The business of Man One’s art is broken down into three components: Public art, whether its by the city, building owners or organizations that reach out to him to paint a mural.  He also has does commissioned work for collectors and corporate companies, and even live art at events or for clients. His commercial work has featured on TV and in movies as well. His illustration side comes from being featured in books and his personal work is all the canvas work he does that gets featured in galleries and museums.

            “Man social media has really made it that much easier and changed how people promote and get their brand out there, and I come from way before that time even before the dial up days of AOL. I remember when I finished tagging I would put my pager number on there, and my friend was like, ‘you’re going to have the cops find you’, and I was like but a client could call me to, he said as we laughed.

            “But it’s good with social media engagement how you can snap, share, and send. You can go live at an event painting, you can instantly gain people liking you and interested in your art. However it’s not about just having followers, it’s about what you’re doing with your art, and how you’re marketing yourself out there. I know people who have 40k followers and don’t know how to market their art, so with getting too caught up with how many followers you have, you can get distracted from promoting yourself and your brand of art. Knowing how to market yourself is different than just having followers and for me to make a full time living the way I have all these years on my art comes from really knowing how to market myself so the right people see my art.”

On the challenges he’s faced and the road ahead

A gift received to Man One from artist Too Fly

            “One of the challenges always as an artist in the art world, is how do I get myself to the next level? How do I get myself into bigger collections, in museum shows and galleries? Honestly as an artist of color it’s an issue and compounded that I am a graffiti artist it’s been tough that I myself am still chipping away at. But obviously that’s changed over the years with graffiti art being more visible and accepted as a form of street art. However, we still have inclusion issues in the overall art market and barriers still that need to be broken for not only artists of color, but for women as well.  So as we move forward and more of our peers and younger people who are coming up and starting to get into the right positions, the hope is that we can be more inclusive by bringing in a more diverse group people. I think that’s the future and I am hoping that’s where we are going and am eager to be apart of it.”

You can check out Man One’s work on his website manone.com and can find out where all his murals are located across the world. Look for him all across social media @manoneart.

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