Know Your Street Art: Untitled

2248 Mandela Parkway, at West Grand Avenue (Oakland)

Vogue TDK’s work on Nelson Mandela Parkway (Photo by Jonathan Curiel)

Because of its intricate reflections, contours, and shadows, the skull that Vogue TDK painted on a gray wall in West Oakland looks like it was done with a paintbrush, using painstaking brush strokes. Nope. As he always does, Vogue TDK just used spray cans, which he has mastered after years and years of putting up street art.

“I like to challenge the viewer to wonder, ‘How was that done with a spray can?’ ” he tells SF Weekly. “People don’t think that an item you can buy at a hardware store could create something like that. They think it’s airbrushed or digitally done — anything but a spray can. My thing is to show that it’s no different than someone picking up a pen or a pencil, or traditional oils or acrylics.”

In fact, a big, global spray-paint company is so in awe of Vogue TDK’s artistic facility that it recently marketed a special line of spray paint named after him. The can, which comes in a wooden box, features the exact same skull image that’s on display in West Oakland. This is Vogue TDK’s trademark, its gold crown a sign of his status in the street-art world.

Vogue TDK is royalty.

“They put out limited-edition cans in a fancy wooden box with a plexiglass front, and they stamp your name on the side,” says Vogue TDK, who attended Academy of Art University and has scores of Instagram followers around the world, including large fan bases in Mexico and Spain. “It’s a collectors thing, and I had to figure out what fits on something vertical. I choose that imagery, and they applied it to the can.

“The crown thing is more relevant to the whole graffiti world, because as a young person, there’s no establishment, and everyone wants to be recognized,” he adds. “The only youth-driven art form is graffiti. As you come up, you boast to see who’s better. A lot of times, your peers nominate you — like, ‘That person has hit every bus in San Francisco.’ That was big in the 1980s. And that person becomes ‘king of bus-hopping.’ The crown is a proclaimed thing. People have thrown the term ‘king’ at me for a long time.”

Vogue TDK, 48, has been doing street art for 32 years. The artist, who’s from Oakland but now spends much of his time in San Leandro, has work around the Bay Area. Most of it is in Oakland, like the memorial mural he did for the Ghost Ship warehouse fire victims, close to the Fruitvale BART station in East Oakland.

Vogue TDK says he has to be conscientious of the areas he paints in. “You can’t paint skulls just anywhere, because the neighborhood and the community will be like, ‘What the hell is this?!’ ” he says. “For mural painting, I [ask myself], ‘Am I in a Black neighborhood. Am I in a Latino neighborhood? Who’s going to see this? Is it by a school?’ That’s what I take into consideration before I paint something, besides just the overall look of the wall — the size, what it’s made out of, all matters in the composition.”

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