Zinester Spotlight: Ricky Watts

I recently caught up with ZeroFriends artist, Ricky Watts, after his completion of the amazing mural he painted on “The Phoenix” Theater wall in Petaluma, CA. The piece took 450 MTN Colors aerosol paint cans to produce.

Ricky is a versatile artist who illustrates, paints fine art, as well as spray paints large-scale murals. He became connected with Alex Pardee and Quake of the ZeroFriends Collective 15 years ago and has had art openings at the ZeroFriends location showcasing his illustrations and paintings. He has appeared in numerous international print and web publications, including Juxtapoz, Herman Miller, X-Funs (Taiwan), Refused Magazine, Bay Area Graffiti (book), Flo Multi-Zine and the 2012 Outside Lands Music Festival Sutro stage banners. 

Hey Ricky, looks like you’ve been up to quite a bit lately. What are some of the new things you’ve been working on?

Hey! Thanks for this opportunity. I’ve been staying busy painting walls, doing shows and taking on some commissions and graphic design projects. I’m currently preparing to do some live painting at the Outside Lands Music Festival in August.

How did you hookup with the ZeroFriends Collective?

I’ve known Alex Pardee and Quake for about 15 years now. We originally met through graffiti and have become good friends over the years. I was around in the beginning when ZeroFriends was just starting out and watched it develop into the awesome company it’s become. Everyone who works there is great and it’s been a very exciting to be included in their shows/events.

ZeroFriends showcases work from a variety of artists. What would you say sums up the style/type of art and artists involved in the collective?

The great thing about ZeroFriends is that you don’t need to do a certain style of art to be involved. It’s more of a loose knitted group of friends who happen to all be artists on their own. If there had to be a certain style, many of the artists involved are into monsters and darker styles of art. Most are illustrators or have an illustrative background but the majority of us are comfortable in multiple mediums at any given time. It’s a very versatile collective. One day we’ll be collaborating on an illustration, the next day we’ll be spray painting a wall and the following day we’ll be working on a graphic for the website.

I’ve been to the Zero Friends store in Oakland, CA and seen the books and zines published, have you ever thought of publishing a book or zine consisting of your artwork? If so, what would it consist of?

I think about doing a zine/book all the time! When I was in high school I started self publishing a graffiti zine called HelmetHeds. It was total D.I.Y., I’d cut up actual photos, glue them on to paper, write stupid stuff around them and run off copies at Kinko’s. Making zines was what attracted me to graphic design, my major at the Art Institute of California in San Diego. I’ve always loved and collected them. In 2007, I self published a zine of my black and white drawings called Excessive Nonsense. The ultimate goal was to do a handful of issues to then compile them all into a book but funds ran short and time was re-directed towards other projects. I still fantasize about doing a book and know someday it will happen. It will include artwork, progress shots, behind the scenes stuff, commentary, etc.  

You’ve been experimenting with graffiti art from a young age, painting at night under bridges, etc., what was it that attracted you to spray paint art?

When I was in junior high, I got into graffiti because it was the cool trend at the time. Many kids at school had a graffiti alias and I thought that was interesting so I came up with “Junior” because I was small. One day a classmate showed me a copy of Can Control, a 1990‘s graffiti magazine and it blew my mind. I wanted to paint big, elaborate pieces like what I saw in that magazine. I became obsessed with it. Most kids stopped writing after a few months but I couldn’t stop. It became all I thought about, all I did, all I looked at. It was a combination of my creative desires and rebellious teenage years that attracted me to spray paint as a medium.

I understand you recently painted a large mural on the wall of the Phoenix Theater in the city of Petaluma, CA. Can you explain how this project came together?

The wall I painted recently was something I began daydreaming about when I began hanging out at “The Phoenix” in 1995. It was so big and majestical that I only wanted to paint a portion of the wall, I didn’t think it would be possible to do the whole thing.  In August of 2012 I got a call from Scott Hess of the Petaluma Arts Council asking me to be a part of a show he was curating for the Petaluma Arts Center featuring Mars-1, Oliver Vernon and Damon Soule. All three of these men are phenomenal artists so it was an honor to even be considered. Space for all the art became an issue and Scott proposed the idea of doing a mural on the Phoenix as my contribution to the show. I agreed to it, although I was a little skeptical of its possibility. One thing led to another and Scott, with the help of KickStarter, paved the way to making the wall a reality.

This is the largest piece I’ve done to date. It’s approx. 60’ wide by five stories tall.  The wall was painted entirely with MTN Colors aerosol paint and took approx. 450 cans to produce.

How long did it take to paint the wall?

It was a little intimidating at first as I’m terrified of heights, but once I began painting, things went smoothly and it was complete in a little over two weeks.

As a kid, did you always dream of becoming an artist? What turned you onto art growing up?

It’s funny to me, when you’re young, art is just something you do. Every kid draws, colors, whatever. It’s not really a career possibility when you’re a kid. I wanted to be a paleontologist, then I wanted to play professional soccer. I would doodle in class a lot, draw girls names as a way to get their attention. I loved comics so I would draw my own comics, usually involving epic battles of nuclear dinosaurs vs. the US Army. I got serious about art in high school although it still wasn’t a career possibility for me. I just knew that I liked painting more than I liked being on the soccer team. I spent two years in the AP art program in high school and my teacher convinced me that yes, a professional artist was a possibility.

What is it about the Bay Area community that helps artists thrive?

The bay area art scene is incredible. Most artists I meet are genuine people, thoroughly interested in art and networking with others. Artists here seem more relaxed and willing to share.  The galleries are supportive of local talent and there are a lot of murals being painted. I really love the bay area, I’m happy to call northern California home.


Where have you shown your art lately?

I just recently dismantled a show I did with Sean Griffin at LeQuiVive gallery in Oakland. I’m a huge fan of Sean’s work so having the opportunity to show with him was a real treat. 

Where can people find your art and buy your prints?

Everything can be found at RickyWatts.com - I recently opened a Studio/Gallery space in Petaluma, CA, a few blocks from the Phoenix Theater wall. The address is 402 Petaluma Blvd. North, Petaluma, CA 94952. I’m there most often Tuesday-Saturday, 11am-6pm. I encourage anyone interested in stopping by to make an appointment through my website so I can be sure to be there in person.

Cindy Maram