Richard L. Figueroa
Chicago Southside native graffiti artist who goes by the name of Gnarly, 21-years-old, drives around the city of Chicago during his day time job, driving for Lyft. When he spots the chance, he parks his car and then illegally tags his alias alongside his dark themed art in public places. He loves the thrill and prefers to tag in broad daylight rather than at night.
“I was really nervous the first time as I got really bad anxiety. After a while, I developed this mentality where I knew that I was going to be okay and you know just didn’t have any negative thoughts,” Gnarly said.
His art can be viewed as dark as he often draws gruesome faces. “For some reason, I always do darker stuff but I’m a happy and loving person. If you see my art it says love life. With an eye in a heart, I even have it tattooed on me,” said Gnarly.
Gnarly’s tagger alias came to be during his high school days. “I would write a lot of s***on my arm. I would stack it. (GNA RLY) So I kept going with it,” he said. Instead of signing his artwork with his name, he would sign it as “Gnarly.”
Gnarly has been drawing since the age of five and has always been into art. He recalls drawing comics at a young age. What really pushed him to draw and take art seriously was his cousin Abraham Díaz. “If it wasn’t for him I wouldn’t be drawing anything you see here. Once I saw his art it just changed the way I viewed art. I just keep on doing crazier stuff and I kept on adding to it till I got better,” said Gnarly, while showing off his sketches and cousins comics. His cousin, who resides in Mexico City, is a comic book illustrator. Looking at his work against Gnarly’s work, one can see the influence that his cousins’ art had on him.
Gnarly has been tagging for the past two years, and he doesn’t plan on stopping anytime soon either. Last November, as Gnarly tagged an underpass, the police stopped and detained him. He ended up serving only 24 hours of community service. As he completed it, the vandalizing charges didn’t end up going on his record. “I got caught up because I was taking my time that day,” said Gnarly.
“It’s both right and wrong. Right because there is people who enjoy my street art, I believe I spread love through my work. Wrong because I know there is people who don’t get my art and to them I make this area look dirty… it being illegal don’t mean much to me, at the end it’s art and it deserves to be seen,” said Gnarly.
In the summer of 2018, he joined a group of musicians, Outset Entertainment. The collective is made out of musicians, street artists and photographers. As Gnarly picked up musical production as a hobby, he decided to join the group. “I wanted to join because I wanted to create music. Little did I know it became bigger than just that. Outset means the world to me,” said Gnarly.
While in Outset, Gnarly got the chance to be part of Outset Entertainment’s “Children of The Sky” mixtape released on SoundCloud. He produced a couple of tracks on the mixtape. He also appears in one track during the outro.
“As an artist, he blends weirdness, variety, reality, and beauty all into one. As a producer, he brings some of the best and underrated drum work I’ve seen… he’s simply an underdog,” said Theodore “The 3rd” Ruiz, producer and recording artist for Outset.
“When you go around Chicago you see a lot of gang tagging it overpowers murals done by others. With Gnarly’s art, you can tell he does it with passion and not just to mark a territory. He does it to spread positivity, said Ramiro “Ramskiii” Alvarez III, photographer for Outset.
Gnarly envisions creating a positive, local place in the Southside of Chicago. A place where people can gather up and are able to display their talents whether it is music or a work of art.
Gnarly doesn’t plan on putting down spray cans anytime soon. He said he anticipates displaying his work in pop up art galleries to spread the message behind his art. Until then, it is most likely he will remain anonymous.