Graffiti Artist ‘RISK’, Artistic Entrepreneurship

Entrepreneurship means RISK-taking; it entails beyond the minimal amount of risk, and potentially involving values besides simply economic ones. This is who the American artist Kelly Graval, known by his artistic name RISK, is all about.

I met RISK at a fundraising event to which he donated one of his art pieces to be auctioned. Though he is very well known, I must admit that I never heard of RISK prior to this event and meeting him raised my curiosity.

RISK. Photo: Nurit Greenger
RISK. Photo: Nurit Greenger

I asked to meet and interview this artist who many compare as the 21st century Andy Warhol*.

*Andy Warhol was an American visual artist, film director, a producer and a leading figure in the pop art movement, considered to be one of the most important American artists of the second half of the 20th century.

Based in Southern California, RISK is a graffiti writer and contemporary artist, often credited as a founder of the West Coast graffiti scene.

Kelly Graval, known by his artistic name RISK. Photo: Nurit Greenger
Kelly Graval, known by his artistic name RISK. Photo: Nurit Greenger

Early life

Kelly is Jewish. His maternal grandparents were Holocaust survivors. Though his family were not observant Jews, Kelly has always been a proud Jew. Growing up in New Orleans, Louisiana, he often faced antisemitism and was called “Jew Fish.” He quickly learned to never back down and to always stand up to people who showed bias toward him being a Jew.

In 1983, at the age of 15, the family moved to Los Angeles where he attended high school. There he started to paint mainly on walls. As a surfer also on surfing boards as well as tagging his name throughout the school. With a few of his friends he started the Prime Crime Artists graffiti crew.

Though Kelly thought he started his artistic career at high school his talent appeared earlier in his life but he did not remember. His grandmother, who kept his sketches from a young age, reminded him that his artistic talent simply evolved.

In his education kit Kelly includes attending the Pasadena Art Institute and the University Of Southern California School Of Fine Arts, both on full scholarships.

RISK logo


Kelly Graval chose RISK as his autograph, first because he liked its impactful meaning, but also because it references his and the graffiti he creates rather rebellious, competitive edge characteristic code*.

* Graffiti is a form of visual communication. It involves the unauthorized marking of public space, usually with paint, text, images, or stylized symbols. Graffiti is often associated with street gangs marking their territory but it is also a form of expression or thrill-seeking.

Art Genre

Severn years ago Monster Energy became RISK’s sponsor. The mega company allowed him to remain the artist he is, rather than become commercial, which helped him to achieve his artistic dreams.

RISK's art. Photo: Nurit Greenger
Street art. Photo: Nurit Greenger

RISK has his very own art style and is recognized as a pioneering force in the US West Coast graffiti movement. He was always attracted to pop and modern art. However his genre repertoire is in constant creative change and interchange mode. While the start was with graffiti he has since moved to other genres and today he is into pointillist graffiti, a new modern unique artistic genre.

In the 1980s, RISK was one of the first graffiti writers in Southern California to paint freight trains, as well as he initiated writing on freeway overpasses.

Since he started life in New Orleans, RISK calls his art ‘Gumbo of Art’, that popular gumbo stew, the official state of Louisiana’s cuisine dish. RISK’s ‘gumbo’ includes painting, print, neon, sculpture and street mural works.

A butterfly appears in much of RISK’s work. Perhaps unbeknown to him, the number eighteen, its numerical sum, stands for CHAI, meaning LIFE in the Hebrew language, also stands for a butterfly, the Christian symbol of resurrection and renewal. Both in memory of the 15,000 Jewish children who perished in of Terezin-Theresienstadt concentration camp.

RISK's art - Star of David and butterflies. Photo: Nurit Greenger
Star of David and butterflies. Photo: Nurit Greenger

For the artist RISK butterfly represents life and death. It also represents a new beginning.

His artistic graffiti is now an establishment. It appears in galleries, art shows, and even a line of graffiti-inspired clothing.

The versatile RISK also delves into writing books and his second book is coming out soon.

In 2017, he received an exceptional salutation, when he was knighted by the Medici Family*.

* The House of Medici originated in the Mugello region of Tuscany, was an Italian banking and political dynasty that during the first half of the 15th century consolidated power in the Republic of Florence under Cosimo de’ Medici.

RISK's latest art displayed at the gallery. Photo: Nurit Greenger
Latest art displayed at the gallery. Photo: Nurit Greenger

RISK Self-Sufficient Compound

Over the last fifteen years RISK has built a self-sufficient, all facilities creative production compound, now employing eleven people. One walks around this artistic empire accompanied by free range chickens and ducks and cats and dogs greet you.

The residential house and the self-sufficient compound around it consist of adjacent properties. It has a print shop, digital media room, workshop, gallery, and a studio. There is a parade of who is who visiting and creating at the complex.

At the compound, the studio. Photo: Nurit Greenger
At the compound, the studio. Photo: Nurit Greenger

Everything in RISK’s gallery, which includes other artists’ work is on display and for sale. The gallery is a constant art show, attracting the who’s-who from the Hollywood scene, famed singers and artists and of course the public at large and it holds an open house once a month.

Approach to Life

Rabbi Michael Barclay, an author and lecturer and the founding rabbi of Temple Ner Simcha in Westlake Village, California introduced me to RISK whom he has known since 2010.

RISK, a father to four daughters, applies his life experience to his personal ethos. Because he was bullied as a child Kelly will always step to help others and be influential to kids.

For more than three decades the Los Angeles-based artist RISK has made his colorful art known by creating it on everything imaginable.

Graffiti is often wiped out and replaced. Yet, RISK’s graffiti art has gained a permanent place in the world of art. He paved the way to have a renowned place in contemporary art history, driven to transform graffiti into an esteemed and rather valuable art form, showcasing his expressive medium diversity.

RISK, referred to as the 21st century Andy Warhol. Photo: Nurit Greenger
RISK, referred to as the 21st century Andy Warhol. Photo: Nurit Greenger

RISK spent years on the illustrious Venice Beach, California promenade and from an anarchist he turned to become an artistic monarch.

I sensed some sort of shyness in RISK’s character. He admitted that in his childhood he was indeed shy. I guess this characteristic did not go away, it only hides behind his entrepreneurial drive.

I often ask my interviewee to sum up the interview with a message to the reader.

RISK is: “Keep on, keep on; steadfast applies to so much.” That is RISK’s approach to life, which is well worth adopting.

Artistic surfboards-attributed to early years of surfing. Photo: Nurit Greenger
Artistic surfboards-attributed to early years of surfing. Photo: Nurit Greenger
At the gallery, the dolphin. Photo: Nurit Greenger
At the gallery, the dolphin. Photo: Nurit Greenger
Nurit Greenger
During the 2006 second Lebanon War, Nurit Greenger, referenced then as the "Accidental Reporter" felt compelled to become an activist. Being an 'out-of-the-box thinker, Nurit is a passionately committed advocate for Jews, Israel, the United States, and the Free World in general. From Southern California, Nurit serves as a "one-woman Hasbarah army" for Israel who believes that if you stand for nothing, you will fall for anything.

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