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Drive along a Southern California freeway, say the 110 out of LAX or the 5 south from Hollywood. Take an offramp late at night, spiral down a cloverleaf, and come to an intersection where a concrete wall confronts you with a savagely beautiful face made of angles and colors. You couldn’t be any more startled than if you’d been beating brush by machete through the Amazon jungle only to be confronted by a lost tribe of savages, their eyes regarding you from fierce warpaint masks. You know you’re in L.A. now.

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From the soul of the Los Angeles barrio comes Man One, an artist as singular as his name would suggest. His graffiti visions grace walls from Pasadena to Santa Ana, and from there all over the world to the US Embassy in Panama, the Smithsonian Institute in Washington D.C., and so on to worldwide recognition and collection. He’s quick to shatter the stereotype of the graffiti artist:

“I never saw painting murals or doing graffiti as a ‘ghetto’ influence.  I’ve always seen it as a progression of contemporary art.  With my style I’m trying to show that it’s beautiful, smart, and forward thinking all at the same time.  I think the art that I’m doing is important and needs to be appreciated not just discarded as some type of street kid thing, besides I’m not a kid anymore either.”

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Make no mistake, he has a range as broad as any contemporary artist in any medium. One series has a variety of wispy ghosts tromping around in mammoth sneakers. It’s fun and urban all at once; no one can look at them without smiling at their playfulness.

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“I was commissioned by Shiekh Shoes to create a fun mural for their Hollywood store earlier this year.  I had already been painting these black and white creatures in my work which I call Graffiti Spirits but this time I added a twist and put them walking around in giant yet realistic oversized sneakers.  So ‘Sneaker Creatures’ were born and now I continue to paint these on different walls in different cities.  People really respond to sneakers, they’re a cultural pop icon of sorts.”

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At his blog, Man One World, he details his latest projects. He gets quite enthusiastic about working alongside fellow artists at a Street Art Festival in Bell, California.

“I have been inspired by so many that it’s hard to just pick one or two. I have been inspired by such a broad range, from the Mexican muralists (Orozco, Rivera, and Siqueiros), to the modern masters Dali, Duchamp, Picasso, etc., the L.A. Chicano muralists like George Yepes, Wayne Healy, Ernesto de la Loza, etc. and of course my contemporaries in the graffiti art world like Futura, Dondi, Chaz Bojorquez, Hex and Slick. I can probably write a book about all that inspire me. Sometimes I feel that I’m a fan of art first, an artist second.”

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Nevertheless, the life of a street artist is different from that of a studio artist. You can’t quite control your environment, which is an aspect Man One appreciates. He eschews wearing headphones while he’s working because he loves talking to the public when they come up and admire his work. There’s even the occasional brisk moment, such as one time when he and some other artists got apprehended and frisked by the police in mid-mural, before the art director came around the corner and assured the officers that they were supposed to be there.

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“I like to sketch before I paint. I always carry a sketch book and pencil to jot down ideas. They usually are very rough and don’t have any color but just gestural line work.  This helps me figure out shape, movement and scale.  Then I’ll get the paint in the colors I see in my mind.  I usually have an idea of using a certain color first or knowing what the darkest or lightest color will be.  Then I start painting and it becomes very intuitive at that point.  I just let the paint flow and I make color and stroke choices as I go.  To me painting a mural is the best expression of my art.  I feel no stress or doubt when I paint, just a subconscious flowing of feelings and ideas that could not be released through any other expression.  Then at some point I know it’s finished, so I sign it.”

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In spite of the occasional misadventure – or perhaps even because of it – Man One will continue doing what he loves.

“Currently I am creating a series of portraiture murals throughout Los Angeles that I call #FacesLA and will showcase the images of normal Angelenos, not the stereotypical Hollywood celebrity that most people think of when they visit L.A. I am working with the Dept. of Cultural Affairs to get permits for these murals so they will be permanent murals around the city, not temporary like most other street work.  Other than that, I’m contractually not allowed to discuss many of the projects I have coming up but I hope your readers follow me (@ManOneArt) so I can reveal these projects to them as they happen. ”

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