ROACHI (TG8 3RDS FOURS TIS) is a graffiti writer/ designer/ mover and shaker/ one of the good ones, who I consider to be from Sydney, Australia. He was born in Japan, and he’s not Japanese. He lives in New York, and (goes without saying) he’s not American.
I don’t remember exactly when I first met this stellar gent, but I do have hazy memories of drunkenly stumbling around Surry Hills in Sydney – early 2000s – to the soundtrack of nonsensical laughter courtesy of ROACHI, and his brother, as we rolled posse-deep from one party to the next – littering the streets with our names and engaging in generally anti-social exploits that exist only in the fragmented recollections that remain. The rest washed away with another swig from the bottle of bourbon I kept stashed next to my nutsack. I’m sure I got a fat lip on at least one occasion, and we got surrounded by nightclub security in a back alley on another. No doubt we deserved it.
While I’m on the subject. Similar behaviour, on a trip to Melbourne, began with meeting at an art exhibition and ended with us all reconvening in a park on a crisp morning – cloaked by darkness, covered in sweat and excitement after a close call. Putting a full stop on the night right quick, ROACHI had caught the attention of federal law enforcement while (allegedly) climbing, and writing, on the front of a subway entrance – no doubt lit up by my camera flash. We hit the legs, and the only thing that stopped ROACHI from getting nabbed was the cop’s baton getting caught on a post as he ran towards the group of us, peeling off to focus on grabbing the culprit – only to be stopped in his tracks while we made an escape. Whomp, whoooommmp.
While I’m seeking to illustrate above that ROACHI is a chill guy, who knows how to have a good time, it’s more important to note that my dude also knows how to put in work – in consistently painting, and in making things happen. Before leaving Sydney, one of ROACHI’s many projects was a gallery space, where he put on regular art shows and events. Notable exhibitions I attended were solo shows by DOES (Netherlands), SOFLES (Brisbane), and ASKEW (New Zealand). Hell, even our Artillery Magazine Chapter Six was launched at his spot.
I feel like I should say something about all the dope graffiti that ROACHI has blessed the world with throughout his career, but you know what, look at the pictures, they’ll tell you all you need to know.
This interview started as an edition of our bi-weekly newsletter ‘The Drop’, in 2019, and my distracted-ass forgot that ROACHI had sent in his responses, discovering them later in an inbox cleanout. Since so much time had passed, we picked this back up as an interview late-2020, keeping his original answers, and adding new responses in 2021.
Introduction and interview by Luke Shirlaw
LS: Hey ROACHI, thanks for being on board with this interview.
I know we started this (as ‘The Drop’) pre-COVID and the rest of 20/20’s avalanche into this shit-storm, but let’s evolve this into a real chat. Let’s keep your original answers (R19), and I’ll add some additional questions (R21). We can make this on some Sliding Doors, alternate reality shit. Let’s go.
LS: Starting at the top. Give us the cliff notes, the lowdown of how you came to exist in this world?
R19: Born in Tokyo, I was imported to Australia and raised in Sydney. I started writing graffiti in 1996. My first piece was in 1998 writing under a prior name that I wrote for almost a decade. I have been writing ROACH(I) since 2006 and have painted under that name in 15 countries. I’m currently based in New York – living and painting in Brooklyn.
LS: Tell me something about your creative path that is NOT in your ‘bio’.
R19: I had two separate gallery spaces for over five years and hosted over 200 exhibitions in Australia.
I never took commission from one artist or charged them for using the spaces.
I rarely exhibit work in gallery shows as most of what I do belongs outside.
I did a solo show in a stairwell in Soho, Manhattan, in 2017 and invited 15 people for 15 minutes – ‘15 Seconds of Fame’,
Nothing for sale. Nothing was sold.
I have at least seven Instagram accounts. They cover graffiti, peas, vans, trash sculpture, saxophones, laser printing, and my personal life.
I have made zines consistently for 15 years and run a small group in NYC called @laserpress.nyc
“A never-ending pursuit for style and geographical coverage. Writing ROACHI on everything, or, if not, at least thinking about it. If I don’t do graffiti at all within two weeks, I become noticeably irritable.”
LS: Why do you do what you do?
R19: I think it is two parts for me:
I think of something I want to create and evaluate whether it is possible with time, money, risk, etc, and then I generally pursue it.
2. It’s a mental illness:
A never-ending pursuit for style and geographical coverage. Writing ROACHI on everything, or, if not, at least thinking about it. If I don’t do graffiti at all within two weeks, I become noticeably irritable.
LS: Tell us about the first time you painted outside?
R19: I was 14 years old; it was Valentine’s Day. We were on our way to a party on a Saturday night. Dateless and thinking about graffiti way more than girls I peeled off from the group and headed towards a trackside spot in an alleyway. Gordon, was the suburb, of the North Shore line, a fairly chill middle-class neighbourhood. I wrote DUEL for a short time. It was a white and yellow fill with a dark blue outline. The cans were Australian Export and Dulux. Most Aussies know yellow and white Exports on Besser brick was terrible cover. It didn’t matter though; I went to the party with bragging rights. When Monday morning came, I caught the train to see it. Oh man, what a feeling.
I haven’t got a pic of that piece from 97, but this is my third piece in 1998.
“Most Aussies know yellow and white Exports on Besser brick was terrible cover. It didn’t matter though; I went to the party with bragging rights. When Monday morning came, I caught the train to see it. Oh man, what a feeling.”
LS: What music are you enjoying?
R19: I like a mix of things. A few names on rotation right now. Nathaniel Shalom, Nadia Rose, Bad Bunny, Hardy Caprio, and 5EB. The music world is large and intimidating.
LS: And what are you listening to now in 2021?
R21: A few currents: Benny the Butcher, Griselda, JAE5, and Burna Boy.
LS: Where are you right now?
R19: I am on the 6th floor of a building in downtown Manhattan. It is Monday morning at work. No one is doing much yet, so I am writing this until someone needs me.
LS: And NOW (in 2021)?
R21: Oh yeah, left that job and went freelance. So, it’s Monday morning again and I am sitting at home on the couch in Brooklyn, working on a t-shirt graphic.
LS: What food do you enjoy the most?
R19: I like making pot pies and Italian sandwiches.
LS: Okay, so the world has changed a LOT over this past year. Even in Brisbane – where I feel very lucky to live, as there are so few COVID cases – it’s changed. What’s it been like for you, as an Australian living in NYC? (*Welp, this hits different now as we go live. –Ed)
R21: Glad to hear they are so low there. As you know we still have a very high rate over here.
The threat of contracting Covid here is a self-managed risk every time I go do something. I guess the extremities of change in NYC amongst the pandemic can be overwhelming at times, so to answer your question – it feels more intense a place and time to live for me, compared to my life in Australia and what it was then.
LS: You mentioned above that you get irritated if you don’t paint within two weeks? How long did you have to lock down without painting? How is it now? Any coping strategies?
R21: We never stopped painting during the pandemic. I kept my balanced routine – if not, I actually painted more than usual. There were some bandos near my house I was spending time in. The streets were fairly empty in the earlier stages. Very chill for bombing and street pieces. We never got told to go inside when we were out painting day walls either.
LS: Historically, a lot of writers adapted ‘Sydney style’ which is routed in classic New York letter structure. You’ve obviously got your own thing going on, but how much did this play into your development as a writer coming up in Sydney, and how has living in New York since impacted you as a person and your approach to graffiti?
R21: As much as I love that look, I’m not sure if I would say I ever really had a ‘Sydney style’ while I lived there. I looked at a lot of European writers who were doing more technical burners.
I have for sure adopted particular traits from New York stylewriting and been influenced painting with the people around me. New York made me want to be better. Made me more competitive, hungrier.
LS: Show me the best piece you’ve created this year. Tell me about this piece and why you like it the most.
R21: I was happy with this piece. QUES went back to trick his piece out, so I also went back to add the Doom character, the mountains, and explosions. I never go back to a piece for a second session, but his was burning mine so hard, I had to go back to put in that extra work. Gotta keep the standard up on these walls.
LS: Now show me one of your favourite pieces of artwork that another human created? Tell me why it means what it means to you.
R21: My younger bro Elliott @funskull painted this for my home in NY.
To me, it means blood, friendship, brotherhood, connectivity, and togetherness.
LS: When you’re lurking around places you shouldn’t be, it’s inevitable to run into interesting characters or some kind of trouble. What’s something ridiculous that’s happened to you while painting, over the years.
R21: We came across a crackhead called X in the bando who guided us into more premium areas of the huge factory. Sometimes when a crackhead points into a dark doorway and says go through there, it pays off.
“I would punch a bewg with them.”
LS: Would you punch an alien?
R21: I would punch a bewg with them.
LS: What podcasts/ books/ movies/ docos have been getting you through?
R21: I like natural disaster movies, giant waves, sinkholes, unleashing prehistoric animals, UFOs, aliens. Stuff like that.
LS: Favourite quote?
R21: “Time is gold.” –Alex Scan
LS: What’s next?
R21: Hustle, Make Money, Paint.
Follow ROACHI on Instagram: @roachi
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