Born Richard Wyrgatsch II, OG Slick has been one of the biggest names in graffiti since the mid-eighties, with his work gracing walls, gallery spaces, video games, and album covers. Despite being one of the first street artists to go mainstream, OG Slick’s work has always had a renegade edge and is never afraid to bite the hand that feeds.
Indeed, hands are a huge part of OG Slick’s iconography, with many of his designs based on a pair of begloved mime hands, commonly referred to as the “Mickey Hands”. These have been painted, printed, and sculpted throughout Slick’s career, becoming his trademark. Learn more about the artist’s life and work below, and buy original OG Slick art from ArtLife here.
Born in Honolulu, Hawaii in the late sixties, Slick took to art from a young age, thanks to his creatively-minded mother, who would paint for fun during his youth. Raised in a religious household, he attended Catholic school, where he got his nickname after one of his teachers — a nun, no less — chastised him for thinking he was “slick”.
His adolescence was defined by attempting to balance his Christian upbringing with his nascent love of hip hop culture, which he was exposed to on Hawaiian military bases. Beyond the music, Slick was drawn to the DIY approach of graffiti art, even more so after watching the influential Style Wars documentary about hip hop culture, and quickly picked up his own aerosol can.
As he developed his own style, OG Slick moved to Los Angeles at 18, in part to escape the wrath of the Honolulu police force, who were cracking down on street art in the city. However, he also took the opportunity to study art more formally, at both the Otis College Of Art and the Art Center College Of Design. At the former institution, he joined his first graffiti crew, Kill 2 Succeed (K2S), and incorporated what he learned from them into his studies.
OG Slick’s star was truly on the rise by the late eighties, designing graffitied backdrops for music videos by the likes of Ice-T, Ice Cube, and Red Hot Chili Peppers, the iconic album cover for The Pharcyde’s 1993 album Bizarre Ride II The Pharcyde, and worked on the 1991 film Bill And Ted’s Bogus Journey. Around this time, Slick also began collaborating with clothing companies, specifically skatewear brands like Third Rail and Friends U Can’t Trust (Fuct).
Slick began exhibiting his artwork at the turn of the millennium, showing at galleries like MOCA, Los Angeles, and The Thinkspace Projects, as well as auctioning some of his pieces for over $12,000. In 2010, OG Slick also founded a new clothing brand, Dissizit!, which has given him a new canvas on which to express his ideas.
Initially, OG Slick’s graffiti approach was an extremely purist one. “Everything had to be from a spray can,” he told Los Angeles public television network KCET. “You couldn’t even use roller paint. To me, that was like cheating.” Slick instead drew on his fine art training, applying it to his unadulterated graffiti methods, such as an obsession with chiaroscuro techniques, which are readily visible throughout his entire catalog.
Slick’s so-called “Mickey Hands” — which the artist insists were not, in fact, modeled after Disney’s iconic mouse — became a recurring motif over the course of his career, and brought him worldwide acclaim. The inspiration for the hands has been variously cited as the art of mime, and MC Escher’s painting Drawing Hands. Regardless of the source, OG Slick’s hands are now almost synonymous with Los Angeles street art, often depicted forming L and A shapes. He has created entire alphabets using the hands, and also designed a unique mural for the city of Edmonton, Canada in the same style. However, OG Slick has also worked on canvas, with his Graffiti Does It series mixing his trademark spray styles with screen printed imagery.