The Daily Heller: DYES’ Graffiti Transforms Language on the Street

Posted inThe Daily Heller

Introducing “DYES,” the nom de crayon of a 25-year-old Mexican primary school teacher and street artist who is transforming the paradigms of graffiti.

He lives in a poor Mexico City neighborhood, has been robbed by cops and beaten up by other graffiti writers. He has no formal art training or artists in his family. But behold his ideas and style. You’ll be awed by his virtuosity.

DYES’ work is an energetic mashup of contemporary alphabetic forms. He is not attempting to ape anyone else, and as his brief answers to my questions (translated from Spanish) indicate, he simply enjoys the talent he has and is driven to express it in a grand manner. 

(Photos: DYES)

You work as a teacher in Mexico—how much of your life is devoted to art?
I work teaching children from 3–6 years old. When I leave work I try to give as much time as possible to art and graffiti.

You do not have design training, so where do these decidedly designed typographic references come from?
I think the inspiration comes from the desire to do a better and better job.

Despite the chaos of the above photo, your work is very disciplined: tightly planned, highly precise. How did your approach evolve?
At first it arose from a rebellious ideology. I only did it illegally, and over time tried to do more complex jobs. I think I found a challenge in it.

Your work appears to me as going contrary to the conventions of graffiti, at least what I am used to seeing in the United States. Would you agree?
On the contrary, I follow the idea that inspiration is everywhere and that the game consists of creating a scenario in which many elements coexist with each other. It’s fun to play with letters and elements to decorate a space.

Your tag is DYES. Is that your actual name, or an invention?
DYES is an invention that evolved over time. At first I used a different name, and after several puns ended up as DYES.

Do you sketch out your compositions prior to the final act of tagging?
When I paint illegally it is usually a piece that I master to do it as quickly as possible, but when it is a legal job I try to plan, even if on-the-fly arrangements are always made. I always draw things [on paper] before doing it on the wall; it’s like practicing it on a smaller scale. Although even the “final” work still seems like a sketch to me—there is always that feeling of wanting to do it again.

How is your work received by fellow artists? By the public? By the cultural authorities?
The artists’ media, my colleagues and public conceive my graffiti as illegal since it is what I have done most. Of the authorities, I prefer not to give my opinion, but I don’t think they love me. I like to think that I am a kind of graphic or image composer; I do several things like graffiti, illustration, tattooing, but what I like most is painting on walls either with spray or any type of paint.

Do you have a plan for the future?
I like to think that something on the street can be considered art. In the future I would like to make large-format murals and show pieces in galleries too.