Tysen Knight

The Art of Hustle

interview Jorge Perezchica

There’s no real concrete way to be successful. There’s no A to Z. There’s no mathematical or alphabetical way of getting there. I want to tell people, just be inspired. 

— Tysen Knight

Where did you grow up and begin your artistic journey?
I grew up in Willingboro, New Jersey. I was born in Florida but I was raised in New Jersey and I got my start in art as a young kid. I used to collect baseball cards as a small kid and I would draw the front of the baseball card of my favorite players. And that’s when I discovered, “Wait a minute, I’m pretty good at this. I’m pretty good at drawing.” So that’s when I found out that I had the ability to be an artist.

Growing up, was your family supportive about your art?
My family was very supportive of my art. When my mother discovered what I was doing, she encouraged me to take art classes. I went to this teacher’s house, she was about 80 years old and she was showing me how to paint fine art. It just bored me. Doing regular portraits of flower pots and animals out of magazines really wasn’t my thing. I didn’t like using paintbrushes. When I was in junior high school, there was a team of kids that were rappers and graffiti artists and I got involved into that crowd — that movement. At the time, what was fresh was airbrushing on jeans. I would take orders at school instead of doing schoolwork. I would actually do graffiti on jeans and it was real popular back in the early ‘90s. That’s what got me introduced into doing edgy street art. We had no money, so we would go to hardware stores and steal spray paint cans, and spray buildings, and spray trains. I was maybe around 15. I never got any serious trouble, thank God.

Was this the moment you felt you could make art as a career?
I used to make money painting on jeans for other teenagers, my mom’s friends they needed business cards, I would make logos for them, I would also draw on t-shirts. So as a young teenager, I saw that I could make money from creating art. I was able to see that there was monetary gain for something that I did creatively. That was one thing that at an early age I was able to see, that I could possibly make a living from being an artist. I was actually blessed and fortunate enough to be able to see that at such an early age.

Are you self taught or formally trained as an artist?
I’m self-taught. I’m best creatively when I can create off inspiration. Art is so wide open in so many different ways. Art is all around us. Everything around us is art. I think as long as you’re creative and more importantly not afraid to put yourself out there, not afraid to express yourself and not fitting into the mold of what people think artists should be. I think if you have that goal in mind, I don’t think there’s any limits that can be put on you. That’s not a knock to people that go to art school because I think that’s important to go to art school for different reasons. But I just think for me, the best way I did it was, I was self-taught and always work from a creative space from things that inspired me. I don’t work any other way. If it doesn’t inspire me I won’t pick anything up. I will not do it. It has to speak to me, it has to come to me and then I’ll execute it from there.

How did the inspiration for “The Art of Hustle: Street Art Documentary” come about?
At one point for about a year, I just locked myself in my home and just watched Netflix. I was like a Netflix junkie and I was just watching any art documentary I could find on Netflix. I watched on Picasso, Banksy, Andy Warhol, and Jean-Michel Basquiat, I even got into some comic books. Then all of a sudden one day a thought clicked in my head, “I should make a documentary about street art” because I have the film background. I thought if I can get a cameraman, I can direct it. I can write a treatment. I think I could film a street art documentary. That’s what came to me: “How do I take me, Tysen Knight, as a street artist and let more people get to know who I am?” If you just go to a gallery and buy a piece of art you don’t really get a feel of who that artist is. So this is a way that I can put myself out there, people can get a feel for who I am as a person and why I create the way I create. Now when you go buy a Tysen Knight piece of artwork you can match the personality and who I am to that piece of artwork and it makes it more personal to the collector.

When did production for “The Art of Hustle: Street Art Documentary” begin. What was the process like?
I started production October 2016. I worked a full schedule at the barbershop for 60 hours a week. Then on my days off, Sundays and Mondays, I was filming the documentary for nine months straight with no breaks. The process took about a year to actually get it done with a physical copy of “The Art of Hustle: Street Art Documentary” in my hand.

How would you describe your artistic style?
My style of art is a mixture of pop art, urban street art with a little splash of fine art. I was successfully able to blend all those genres of art and come up with my own style, which is unique to me. In Palm Springs, I was able to be a street artist one night and then another night have an art show in a fine art gallery. Because I was the first street artist to be selected into the Desert Art Center, Palm Springs. They’ve never had an artist that was a street artist be a part of their art program there. I was fortunate enough to be able to bridge that gap between street art and fine art. I spoke to the president at Desert Art Center at the time, he said they selected me because it was so unique and different but it was still within the confines of what they thought fine art could be. Kind of like how Picasso’s work has these weird distorted figures but it’s still considered fine art. I kind of stayed in that realm,  a lot of fine art collectors in his gallery, they took to me and actually wanted to learn about graffiti. They wanted to learn about street art and i was fascinated because I thought everybody just thought oh no graffiti, that’s bad. At the Desert Art Center, they wanted me to start a street art program for children and show them how to do different wall murals and things. They were all so fascinated that I never use paintbrushes.

You also featured other artists in the documentary as well. Can you tell us a bit about them?
I know it’s very hard for artists to get recognized, also I want to give other artists opportunities to have a voice as well. I spotlighted a homeless artist out of Palm Springs named Scratch, also a tattoo artist and a street artist out of a Cathedral City named Blanco and Victoria Blak (a cubism artist out of Long Beach) and Dimitri Halkidis owner of Galley 446, one of the first street art galleries in Palm Springs. I wanted to showcase different artists doing different genres of art but we all had one thing in common: We all had a love for creating and we all had a love for art. That’s kind of where I was going with the project, to showcase me as an artist, for people to know me better and also show people that I want to help other artists. I think it’s really important to share your wealth, share your experiences. If it’s something I can give someone, I would like to spread the wealth around.

What do you want viewers to come away with after watching “The Art of Hustle: Street Art Documentary”
Well the first thing I want the public to learn is a little bit more about street art. I want them be educated about the reality of street art. When I was a kid and discovered I was an artist, I was always told I would never make any money from art. You only make money off art when the artist dies and that’s something I always stuck in the back of my mind. But I see that’s not the truth anymore, so I want to educate people on art and let them know that art is not something that rich, snobby people drink wine and look at on a wall and purchase. Art can be purchased by anyone. I want them to look at art as an investment, yeah it’s easy to go to a local store and buy a screen printed piece of art to throw on the wall. But I want people to say, I can own a piece of art, it’s not just for millionaires and billionaires. I can actually own a piece of art that’s personal to me, that I can pass down from generation to generation. That’s something I want people to have a better understanding of the art world. I want people to better understand me, Tysen Knight, as an artist. I think people getting to know me better will allow them to understand my work more clearly. I want them to take away that, let’s not be so judgmental when we’re dealing with people. Just because someone’s homeless or someone’s a punk rocker or African American, that doesn’t matter, because at the end of it all, we all still have one thing in common: We all love art and we all are creative, regardless of lifestyle, race, religion or sexual preference. Once we learn that we all have things in common, I think a lot of our problems in society can be solved.

How would you describe the street art scene in the Coachella Valley?
I think the street art scene in Coachella Valley is definitely growing. I see that it’s starting to pop up a little bit more. But we got to realize we live in a more of a resort type of city, more retirement type of town, so it’s going take time. I think it’s going happen because I’m living proof that is happening. I’m getting older retirees interested in street art because  of me coming in and shedding a different light on it. I think over time in the next 10 to 20 years we will be known in Coachella Valley as a mecca of street art like Miami, Los Angeles and New York.

You had your premier screening at the IPAC-Indio Performing Arts Center. Can you tell us about that experience?
I was amazed at the turnout. We had all ages, they were from 10 years old to maybe 60. I’ve been getting positive feedback ever since we screened the film. I have people that want to buy art now, they want to sit down with me and purchase a piece of art. I have people that have known me for years gain another level of respect for me. I had someone come up to me and tell me that since I’ve seen your film I really got to know who you are as a person and these are people that have known me for years. I was honest and I opened myself up to being vulnerable. I took off that hard shell and let people into who I am as a person and I let people go on  that emotional ride with me.

Anything else you would like to add?
I would like to just add something inspirational to any artist that’s going be reading this article about me, Tysen Knight. I remember when I did the screening, a young kid asked me a question, “How did you know that you were going be able to shoot a film and get it completed?” I try to let him know there’s no road map to success. I had to put fear to the side. I told him there’s no real concrete way to be successful. There’s no like, okay I’m going A to Z, there’s no mathematical or alphabetical way of getting there. I want to tell people, just be inspired. Control your fear, believe wholeheartedly and what you’re doing and just continue to push forward.

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