Seen: A Few WRDS, Please

Installation by Johnny OttoWRDSMTH above Sunset Blvd.

the poetry of WRDSMTH // words and photos x Johnny Otto

A few years ago, I started to see these poetic phrases popping up all over the Hollywood area – on public utility boxes, on the sides of buildings – and I thought to myself, “How dare someone be poetic in Los Angeles. This is supposed to be a city without culture, art, and least of all, a heart for the poetic.” But there it was. And there it was again. It seemed like every day I’d encounter another one of those short inspirational messages plastered on a wall, along with a vintage typewriter. Whoever was doing this was more of a writer than a street artist in the traditional sense, the only image being that typewriter and the alias: WRDSMTH. No time for vowels, apparently.

After years of seeing these tags all over Los Angeles, I finally got the chance to ask this mysterious wizard of wrds a few qstns. Vowels intact for the sake of your sanity.

So you started off in advertising, and, in 2013, developed your signature tag, the vintage typewriter. Can you tell me about the first few times you created street art with that new tag and what it was like, assuming it wasn’t exactly legal in the beginning?

I am a writer. I have always been a writer. Yes, while living in Chicago, I worked in advertising, but I quit my job after a few years and decided to relocate to Los Angeles to chase my dream of writing creatively and exploring the freedom of writing what I wanted. I’ve written screenplays, short films, articles, short stories, and novels. I am a published author. That’s what I was doing before getting the crazy notion to start doing street art. And it wasn’t and isn’t legal. In the beginning, all my work was renegade, and the adrenaline rush, along with the enjoyment felt painting and pasting my words all over Los Angeles – and eventually all over the world – was and is beyond amazing. That feeling never goes away. Over time, my work and words have resonated with more and more people, which led to some great opportunities to paint and paste on sanctioned walls. However, more than 50% of my work is (and always will be) renegade. That’s what a street artist does; they give art to the people.

How did you make the move to creating larger scale pieces and working in a more ‘legal’ way?

Everything that’s happened with WRDSMTH has happened organically. People started offering walls and incredible opportunities to paint/paste my work far and wide. And I jumped at that chance. Street art is an impermanent art form, which is rather romantic. However, because I know my WRDs are resonating, I enjoy the opportunity to do work I know will endure, and to create at sizes that might be difficult/impossible without permission.

Muse -- photo by @IanFisherOfficialMuse // Photo by @IanFisherOfficial

You seek to inspire people, but what inspires you to get up every day and get out there and do this?

I started doing this for me. I am a positive and romantic person and I love to express myself through writing in many different mediums. Street art is just another medium, albeit a pretty kick-ass one. I’m having fun. I hope that shows in my work. That feeling and the fact that my WRDs are being embraced by so many all over the world fuels my creative fire on a daily basis.

Did you have any inkling, when you were a child, that this is what you’d be doing with your time?

I knew I wanted to write at a very early age. After dreaming of being a fireman, astronaut, and then a teacher, I “settled” on writing. While I was always fascinated by graffiti and street art as a kid, I never dreamed I’d be doing it one day. I thought superheroes did it. These pieces appear overnight on walls and on rooftops, and I never thought I had that in me. However, when I got the notion and then the idea for WRDSMTH, I knew I needed to make it a reality. And I did. My first pieces were tiny, but that rush was addictive and I just kept going and going. These days I like to say, “One fateful night I got bit by a radioactive can of spray paint, and the rest is history.”

Blue Elephants by Steffi VictoriosoBlue Elephants // photo by Steffi Victorioso

How many cities have you left your mark in? And which ones haven’t you, but you’d love to?

I’m losing count. Probably over 20 in the states and over 10 overseas. I have an incurable case of wanderlust and the art always comes with me. I want to venture to Italy, and Cuba is also high on my list.

Where did all the vowels go?

As a writer, I am all about ‘less is more.’ And I think wordsmith without the vowels is indelible.

All the public art is cool, but I am guessing that it doesn’t pay the bill. How do you make the big bucks?

You’d be surprised. There are many artists who make a living doing what they love and I am very lucky to be one of them.

What’s in your future? How long can you bounce around the world, going up in cranes and tagging buildings?

Truth told, I’m just getting started. Been doing this 5 years, so I’m still a baby in this world. I aim to evolve, continue to entertain my audience, and hopefully surprise a lot of people along the way.

15ft Aspire To Inspire15ft Aspire To Inspire

You’ve collaborated with Colette Miller, Antigirl, Thrashbird, and others. Any more collaborations in the works, or people you’d love to work with but haven’t yet?

I love to collaborate. I am choosy as to who I work with because I want the pieces we do to compliment each other in a cohesive and compelling manner, but when that is achieved, it’s fun and fulfilling for all.

Any shows coming up or events we should know about?

I am aiming for another solo show sometime in 2019. Stay tuned. And my novel, The Holden Age of Hollywood, is about to be released in paperback in light of this past year’s successful WRDSMTH Limited Hardback Edition.

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