Alex “Defer” Kizu is synonymous with the West Coast street art scene, and is known for his typographic work, expressed through his distinctive handstyle. Defer’s art pays homage to the original Los Angeles graffiti crews, while also acting as a bridge between the underground graffiti movement and the realm of fine art. Explore ArtLife’s Defer art collection today, and learn more about the artist below.
Born and raised in Boyle Heights, Los Angeles, Alex Kizu became involved with the city’s thriving street art scene in the 1980s. His street name was soon Defer, owing to the fact he always wore a Def Jam hat. It was customary in the early days of the LA graffiti scene for artists to add the suffix ‘er’ onto tag names, hence the moniker Defer.
Defer’s association with LA’s grassroots graffiti culture began with the LA Bomb Squad, before he went on to found K2S (Kill 2 Succeed) in 1985 with fellow street artists Crime/Rick, Geo, Risco, and Prime. The confrontational nature of how these crews chose their names came in response to the draconian policies imposed on street artists by the city’s authorities, who would often physically attack them and spray paint their faces, something Defer himself experienced.
A significant moment in his career came in 1986, when Defer’s K2S crew became involved in a graffiti battle with the WCA (West Coast Artists) crew in the Belmont Tunnel. Throughout the 1980s, the Belmont Yard became a hub for LA’s graffiti culture, and this rivalry taught him crucial social lessons in teamwork, respect, and solidarity.
Defer has remained an integral part of LA street art ever since, while also branching out to gallery work. His art has been featured in various high-profile compendiums, including “The History Of Los Angeles Graffiti Vol. 1” by Robert Alva and Robert Reiling, and displayed at museums and galleries, such as the Pasadena Museum of California Art. Defer graduated from Cal State Northridge with an arts degree in 2011, and has an active Instagram page with a huge number of followers.
Defer creates incredibly complex letter-form street art that weaves into labyrinthe patterns. Heavily influenced by early New York graffiti, he melds together the LA “placaso” style and Japanese imagery to create artwork that blurs the lines of graffiti, fine art and poetry. Defer is also proficient in different mediums, from acrylic and spray paint, to ink and gouache, and has collaborated with numerous other artists and photographers, including Estevan Oriol and Fabien Debora.
Speaking about his work, Defer has claimed that it “represents many layers of human existence brought forth by the many layers of underpainting.” He has also explained that his decision to paint any text in gestural strokes is his way of expressing art as a “spiritual language”.