If you’re heading south on Fairfax Avenue in Los Angeles, make sure you slow your roll and check the wall just north of the Seventh Letter flagship store for an ill Escape-themed mural that’s sure to blow your mind. The handiwork of graff artist Chris May, aka 2SHAE, the wall-size ode to the Psycho Circus mayhem that’s about to go down at the NOS Events Center at the end of the month is just the latest salvo is an ongoing series of projects that continue to bring 2SHAE international attention.
Born and raised in Los Angeles near the iconic Randy’s Donuts shop in Inglewood, Chris was the kid that even elementary school teachers knew was gifted as an artist. Whenever the holidays came around, they would tap the young blood to decorate the classrooms.
Though this sounds like an idyllic life, 2SHAE is the first to tell you his childhood was anything but. “Both my parents were heroin addicts,” he says. “They had me when they were super young, and they really just didn’t have a clue. For them, my art talent was just something they thought was cool and groovy.”
Flash-forward a few years to junior high, when one of his classmates pulls a can of spray paint out of his backpack and hits up on a wall in an alley behind Vons. Something about that script catches Chris’ eye, and he knows his world is about to change. “From there, all my interest in art went straight into graffiti.” Following in the path of “dudes that bombed and fucked shit up,” he found himself on the wrong side of the law more than once, even getting kicked out of high school and having to go live with his grandmother in Redondo Beach.
] was a total culture shock,” says 2SHAE. “At my old high school, there was only seven white kids in the entire school. Suddenly, I went from being the minority to the majority.” Seen as a “weird hip-hop, white dude” in a school full of surfers, he found himself getting a lot of attention, especially from the girls. “All the girls wanted me to do their name, because I wasn’t a fake tagger, I was a real one.”
It didn’t take long until 2SHAE linked up with PLEK and started the infamous graff crew WAI. It began to take off in a serious way, until 2SHAE got arrested for “doing some stupid shit” and got sent up—first to youth authority, and then prison for five years.
“When I came out, I was like mister straight-edge,” he tells us. After a brief stint at the Laguna College of Art and Design for animation and illustration, 2SHAE met the owner of West Coast Customs. He designed a few logos for them and then found his way onto MTV’s Pimp My Ride for three seasons. Since then, 2SHAE has refined his style in a variety of mediums, from tattoos to acrylic. When asked about how he transitioned from small-scale work to the large-scale challenges a wall presents, he doesn’t hesitate to admit how nerve-wracking making that move really is.
“The first couple times I did it, it was like, ‘Fake it till you make it,’” he says, as he traces the outline of the Mad Hatter character on the mural wall with nothing more than an oversize paint roller. “That skill comes from freeway shit,” he says with a smile. “I’d be on the side and have to outline letters with that roller and only a limited amount of time. That’s why I can ride that shit a little bit easier than someone who’s never had to do that under pressure.”
Working off nothing more than a little copy of the Escape flyer in his pocket, 2SHAE amazingly brings the image to life without even an outline. “It’s important for me to not follow the exact printout, because I don’t want to get caught up in the details,” he explains. “A lot of the smaller things people driving by won’t even see, so it’s more important to catch the energy of it and vibe of it—so that when people drive by, it blows them away. If they want to pull over and take pictures and break it down, that’s cool, too. But it’s just like with those freeway murals: You drive by and they look beautiful, but if you were to pull over and stare at them, you’d see the blending isn’t perfect, or whatever. It’s designed to catch your eye in a different way.”
When asked about the intersection between dance music and graff culture, 2SHAE is quick to show admiration for all that Pasquale and the rest of the Insomniac faithful have accomplished. “I remember raving in the early ‘90s—going to the Coconut Teaszer, Club What? and all that. In L.A., the whole [graffiti] scene was embedded in and a part of underground dance music culture. It wasn’t until the mid ‘90s, when gangs started punking taggers and making them join gangs, that we had to pull away from it. That was the situation we were in, though; it wasn’t something a lot of us chose to do. We knew we were probably going to jail at some point, so it was more about survival.”
For 2SHAE, being commissioned to craft the Escape mural means coming full-circle in a number of ways: “Everyone who grew up in that era are now adults, and to be able to give that same vibe back to the next generation is what it’s all about. I don’t even think you guys [at Insomniac] realize how much of a grip you got on things. There’s a lot of people that are into this whole underground movement—the whole thing, not just part of it.”
He turns back to the wall with a can of Montana Hardcore in his hand. “It’s like dance music and graff have grown up and proven that they’re more than just a fad. This shit is as real as it gets.”