Click the audio player above to listen to the full conversation. CultureShift airs weekdays from 12 p.m. to 2 p.m. on 101.9 WDET-FM Detroit public radio.
Freddy Diaz first fell in love with street art when he was 12-years-old.
Today, 26-year-old Diaz has turned his passion for graffiti into a full-fledged career that has seen his work highlighted at the Murals in the Market festival including a high profile collaboration with the Detroit Pistons last year. A few months later, his work projected on the Michigan Central Station — one of the main gateways into southwest Detroit where Diaz grew up and lives today.
“For me to go dollar store to dollar store [as a minor] and try to convince a clerk to sell me spray paint, that mission alone itself was very interesting,” says Diaz. “I’m very grateful for that experience because now I’ve got a whole house full of paint. Because of the whole journey, it makes you more aware of how accessible things are now versus a culture of just painting with what we had.”
Diaz has pivoted to large-scale murals in recent years, using the platform to grow his skill set and expand his opportunities as a working artist in Detroit.
“Murals become an opportunity for a lot of artists to have a bigger platform to not only have the exposure but also the tools that they need to create at a higher level,” says Diaz.
Diaz describes graffiti as the “underground hip-hop” of the art world, creating a foundation for the mainstream success of street art today.
That doesn’t mean it’s without risk.
“If you think about graffiti, it’s almost like a sport,” says Diaz. ”It’s being done at night. You risk your freedom. You risk your life at times.”
And the placement of the tag — a piece of graffiti art that often artistically spells out the name of the artist behind it — might be a train, a billboard or a piece of property that someone else owns.
“Think about the time crunch that you have there and all the things that could happen,” says Diaz. “[That’s] compared to somebody giving you a platform where you have a scissor lift, where you have all the colors you need and you have a week or maybe two weeks to finish.”
Click the audio player to listen to the full conversation with artist Freddy Diaz about his journey through street art culture starting at 12-years-old in southwest Detroit.