Skid Robot’s roots were already in graffiti culture when he decided to commence a guerrilla art campaign to fight extreme poverty. In 2013, the artist was at a turning point in his career. “I did not want to do graffiti anymore. I wanted to do something different,” he said. As he drove with his girlfriend, their car stopped at a red light. He looked around and noticed a person sleeping on the ground. Then, the inspiration struck. He grabbed a can of spray paint and painted. “I apologized for waking her, I wanted to know what her name was, but she was mentally ill,” he explained. He handed the woman money, took a picture of the scene and fled.
Continuing on his journey, Skid Robot turned onto the next corner. There, he noticed a person sleeping in a tent against a grill. “In my mind, in my imagination as an artist, I saw the trees behind the tent. Tents belong to the forest, not the city, so let’s put it in the forest. This is just me acting upon my imagination and ideas,” he said. This car ride gave him a new calling; he was shifting into an artist with strong activist goals. That same night he made two or three other pieces. The campaign was born.
Accustomed to painting colorful graffiti, legal and illegal pieces, Skid Robot remains anonymous primarily for legal reasons. “I can’t say what my name is or where I’m from” because, according to his sources, the police has a file on him. “I am a person of interest to whoever documents graffiti in L.A.” The LAPD produces a file on artists and the graffiti control adds information about an artist’s work if they recognize the artist’s signature or style. If a street artist is caught red-handed, he is arrested immediately. “It’s not wise for me to come out and be like ‘Yo, I’m an artist, what’s up?”’ because then they will throw me in jail and that’s not cool. I’m not trying to do that.”
Skid Robot’s anonymity is essential to his safety and that of the campaign. He walks on a tightrope between being unknown and growing as a critically acclaimed artist. Social media is the ideal platform for him to be protected by a pseudonym while being able to connect with people and share his message of compassion. Through his use of social media, he turns the temporal quality of street art into something everlasting. “When I saw what I was doing and the sentiments I felt and the ambitions I had for my own life, the message had to be shared one way or another. Our society [attaches] itself to Instagram probably more than anything else. People are posting for attention longing...to have someone develop a sense of compassion to me is a victory.” The words that go with his pictures on social media are “words from my heart.”
The power of art has been successfully used for social justice in the past. “Ever since the counter-culture boom of the ’60's, activism and socially conscious art have gone hand in hand. Artists like Skid Robot make a difference; they direct the public's attention to issues nobody's talking about,” said Martin Blondet (’16)
From photographs to social media, Skid Robot is also set to release a movie on the campaign to bring to life moments that are challenging to capture. “They are [sic] some genuine wisdom in some people that you would be so surprised [by]. If I can bring that for people to see, it’s another artistic venture. It has the purpose to deliver the overall message and the objective of finding a solution to extreme poverty.” The film will have artistic value, “however, I’m not going to ignore the monetary value to making a film,” said Skid Robot. The artist hopes for the film to lead into the development of a TV series. If things are monetized, the money will go towards the project. Robot aims to aid the homeless on a human level. “I give back what I can. I go to the 99 cent store and buy some random snacks and toiletries. I usually spend around $20, put them all in different bags and drop them off,” he said.
In order to make a change, people need to have a stronger sense of empathy. “The lack of compassion is what allows us to have children and people live on the streets,” he said. The campaign is beginning in L.A as a “blueprint for the people to be inspired by throughout the country.” You can join the cause by donating money, giving food, clothing, books, toiletries or even a simple smile. The first step to fulfill Skid Robot’s mission to “ignite a revelation of compassion.”
by Julia Schur '15