CultureMap Launch Party Spotlight
Ever since Nathan Nordstrom was a kid, growing up in a rapidly evolving Austin, he loved to draw. When Nordstrom was about 12 years old, the movie Beat Street—an 80s flick featuring a graffiti artists determined to tag every subway car in New York City—literally changed his life, introducing him to an art form he didn’t know existed.
“I had never seen anything like that: the shapes, the colors, the bold outlines and the movement of the letters," he says.
Nordstrom didn’t have a problem finding the graffiti scene in Austin. He was an avid skateboarder, and instantly identified the overlap between the two communities.
“Through skateboarding I got into tagging, which is basically spray painting your signature on a wall.”
“It’s really about self expression. You don’t just go up to a wall and start throwing stuff up. Every graffiti piece comes from a thought or an idea"
Nordstrom, aka SLOKE, tagged Austin throughout the 90s under the watch of his mentor Al Martinez, aka SKAM. He admits that part of the rush of tagging was the threat of being caught, but that wasn’t his sole motivation; Nordstrom actually appreciates the art.
“It’s really about self expression. You don’t just go up to a wall and start throwing stuff up. Every graffiti piece comes from a thought or an idea, and from there the piece is created,” he explains.
His artistic perspective didn’t win over the police. Nordstrom has been arrested three times, paid hefty fees and done his fair share of community service over the course of his 12-year graffiti career.
Running from the cops started to get old (and, admittedly, so did he), so in 2002, Nordstrom decided to move his artwork above ground and start asking businesses for permission to paint their walls.
“Do I miss it? Yes," he says. "But I’m not willing to deal with the consequences. Sure, it takes the rush out of it, but I’m not trying to be a criminal.”
Today, Nordstrom is the farthest thing from a criminal. In fact, his artwork, which was once considered a nuisance, is now a welcome sight for many. You can see a lot of his work on walls at various businesses around North, East and South Austin (West Austin hasn't quite caught on yet). Nordstrom is currently working on a large mural off Burleson Road in addition to doing some work for the Cartoon Network. You'll also see him in action at CultureMap Austin's Official Launch Party Thursday night at Pine Street Station.
“Now I can paint legally without being hassled by the law," he says, perhaps with a bit of relief. "I’m a professional artist making a living now and I’m grateful for that.”
While Nordstrom has a graffiti background, he doesn’t consider himself a graffiti artist today. He tries to steer clear of the word because of its negative connotation. Plus, he knows some resist the idea of “legal graffiti.”
“It’s a lot more accepted because many graffiti artists are making a living doing their art," he says (likely alluding to the monstrously popular Banksy, among others). "But there are still some people who say graffiti stays on the streets always.”
Nordstrom knows some people will never appreciate his talents, but he's convinced spray can or graffiti art is as critical to Austin’s culture as any other form of art. It's certainly been critical to his career and life.
“I believe art heals and can be a tool for change and a tool for healing. Graffiti art helped me get to where I'm at today—I would go so far as to say that it saved me. "