Mid-city Los Angeles is an intersection between the gritty and busy parts of LA. Located between downtown LA and Koreatown it is home to Javier Matias. This Los Angeles-born and raised native believes that giving back to his community is only the beginning of setting a new standard for those that proceed him.
What proceeds is a conversation between Carlos Avalos & Javier Matias.
Originally Published in Community Volume 2 - Photos by Jimmy Martinez - 2021
Carlos: So we’ll obviously start with the basics of who you are and where you’re from and shit like that. We’ll start there, that’s the easy one.
You and I have known each other for a long time, now that I think about it. Even the group of people we’ve been around, we’ve been around each other for fuck, almost 10 years now if you think about it.
Javier: Yeah, that shits crazy! Well, yeah! My name is Javier Matias born and raised in Mid-City Los Angeles. I was born at Cedar Sinai, right there next to the Beverly Center. [Laughs]. Pretty much born and raised in this neighborhood, been here my whole life. I attended high school and most of my school on the westside of LA.
C: Where’d you go?
J: I went to Paul Rever and Palisades. I took the school bus to both middle school and high school. My bus stop was Venice & Western, right next to the dental place. I would always kick it right here in the neighborhood at west adam, down the street from my house.
I was working retail straight out of high school, I didn’t really have a plan. I was into graffiti and partying and shit, thinking that was going to hold me down forever.
C: I mean, I feel like we all felt like that at some point in our late teens and early 20’s.
J: Yeah, definitely!
C: Your life is essentially built to hang out in those years after high school, the end of your teenage years. What made you transition into sign painting? What drew you to it?
J: Honestly, my first exposure to it was when I was working on Fairfax. During the wintertime, I would see Jamal (Skypager) and Sean Barton painting Undefeated and Supreme. So I kind of knew what it was, I understood that it was lettering and it took some kind of skill to paint that clean and especially that small.
I was attending Trade-Tech College because you know I need to go to school for something. Back then, before EDD, there was financial aid (laughs) from LACCD which was a cool little thing to hold you down. It was cool because the more classes you’d take the more financial aid you’d get. So I was just there at Trade-Tech one day and I see Jamal at the taco truck and I’m like “What the fuck is this fool doing here?” so I kinda followed him. He ended up at the sign graphics building. That’s when I saw the sign graphics class for the first time. I see all the letters, all the charts and it was crazy. In my mind, I was like this is gonna make my graffiti look sick! [laughs] I wasn’t even thinking of money then.
It wasn’t until I enrolled and Doc [Guthrie] was the instructor and he kind of shows you that you can make money off this. He showed me that I didn’t have to work for anyone if I did this. Slowly but surely, by the second semester, I was committed and thought it was dope. He really showed us how to hustle.
C: When you started at Trade-Tech you didn’t start with the sign painting program right? What did you initially start going to school for?
J: I was taking general ed. [education] and doing the fashion shit. Like learning cut & sew stuff because you know working at The Hundreds I was like “oh yeah, I wanna learn to make some sick jeans!” [laughs]. I was learning about selvage denim and all that shit. I kinda forget that that’s what I started going to school for.
C: It feels like you kinda stumbled into it but you always had an underlying interest in it. What year was that?
J: That was 2015.
J: I was getting more and more interested in the class and I was in my third semester and we were learning how to paint windows in reverse. After that lesson, I started to notice businesses, kind of how you’d look for spots for graffiti. Like “oh I could paint, vinyl, or whatever the fuck.” The difference was I could say it was me and get paid for it instead of doing it at night and getting caught up for it. I said to myself “let me try and practice” and I did all those businesses next door to my house. I did all of those because those were the spots I would frequent when I was super young. Especially, the video store, I was in there all the time! The guy knew my whole family.
C: I drive by that neighborhood all the time and I still see those businesses with those signs you did so many years ago. It’s always cool to see that because you’ve been doing this for 5 years now and it shows your progression as an artist but it’s something you did for your community right off the bat.
Why was is it important for you to be part of your community or give back to it?
J: To me, it’s kinda funny, my girlfriend always tells me “actions speak louder than words,” and for the last year or two I’ve been living to that. I’m tired of people saying, or even myself saying, I’m going to do this or do that. It’s time to go just go and do that shit, like what are you really about.
The whole thing for me is that it’s important for the working class of immigrants and, especially, their kids to see someone younger doing it and hustling. It’s kinda like paying homage to them, you know. They came here with nothing and started a family and I’m like just the product of that. Just hustling and hustling. Kind of showing that same hustle our parents showed us. Just work hard.
C: I always feel that’s always the mindset of someone who comes from first-generation immigrant parents. It’s always “don’t be a dumbass, don’t do anything stupid and when you turn 18 either you go to school or you get a job.” That’s it!
J: [Laughs] Definitely!
C: You’ve had a lot of experience at this point, what have you learned from working with all these people and clients?
J: Working with people, it’s crazy! One thing I’ve learned is you have to be a good honest person and keep it real you know, there’s no point in faking the funk. That usually bites you in the end. The most important thing is to be genuine, down-to-earth and, show respect.
C: What projects do you have coming up that you want to talk about?
J: My friend Jimmy and I are working on a zine project to highlight local spots in Mid-City. I also want to work on re-do some of the first signs I did businesses in my neighborhood. I’m also working on a beautification project in the community.
C: Can’t wait to see those. You’ve accomplished a lot, what are you thankful for and what have you learned in your journey?
J: Every time I get a chance to talk to my teachers and mentors (Doc & Sinner) I always thanks them. They changed my life and have allowed me to help others.
I’m just thankful to give back. I’m realizing more how much more power I have to actually go out and do things. Fixing the neighborhood is a power I have and it’s a priceless feeling. I’m working more on being the neighborhood guy where everyone recognizes me and knows I’m here to help. I want to carry that out further than Mid-City and into other neighborhoods.
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