In The In Between

In the in-between. In the alleys and the underpasses. That’s where you’ll find it. Somewhere running the line between a vision and vagrancy. On Commercial Street, maybe in the heat of the day, in San Diego, “America’s Finest City.” 

Behind those neon bars reminiscent of hieroglyphics to the untrained eye, you’ll find him with a can in hand. Between him and the wall, an instrument. An instrument that with only slight pressure from a forefinger, muscle memory and more than 30 years in his mind’s eye, he can compose a song sung from the streets.

The name came from his cousin. “Nothing to it,” he said, “He just wasn’t using it anymore.”


Brisk Artwork. Photo credit to Tessa Balc. 

It’s the name those who know his work, know him by. His origin story starts on the night he says he signed up for a new world. “There’s a point that it’s not just something that you do, it’s who you are.”

Graffiti Artist.

He was drawn to the letters. The secret language between many who have never met. There’s a pause after Brisk states, “There’s a code of ethics that you have to follow. There’s rules that make this grow.” There’s a tension in these words. The dichotomy of the anarchical practice of graffiti, supposed lawlessness, functioning of a strict unspoken decree among those who dare to defy the law. There’s pressure at the very essence of it.

The greatest source of pressure in the graffiti community, like the cans they carry, builds internally. The world of graffiti, Brisk says, “eats its young.” The ones who make it, realize it’s not just the name, it’s how they say it. How they write it. How they paint it.

“You can look at somebody’s piece and say, ‘This guy is brave’. Or you can look at a piece and be like this guy has no discipline he’s going to stop writing next year, watch. You can tell … The way you do things in life is autographed by your work, it’s an expression of who you are.”

The name is nothing without style. In the pursuit of a foreseeably finite art form, Brisk says, finessing is permanent. “We have all known since day one that you have to do more. To live, you have to do more, like a plant you need to put out more leaves to get that sunshine, or else you’re not going to make it.”

He wanted his name to be known. At the forefront of his young mind was fame and fortune but he knew at its essence, art, is a voice that needs to be heard. So, he listened to the voices that came before. He learned to develop his craft, not to emulate what he was taught but to embody the legacy he was being handed. Brisk was coming of age with the art form, as the space on the walls grew smaller and he took a step back to see the vision.

The memory of that first step back lives behind his eyes as clearly as what lies ahead. It was at an event, as artists were safe to practice their craft, legally all at once in this space, Brisk saw it. “I realized everyone was doing the same thing. We all had the same formula, the same two — or three-color fade-in.” Brisk stops fidgeting with the pen in his hand, he’s been sketching as he speaks but for a moment it all stands still. In front of him, the small, once-white, square stares back holding the ballpoint bones of a piece that will never be painted. There’s still a familiar sting in the realization as he remembers the day, as he remembers the growing pains.

He entered the world of abstract art, where his work lives in the halls of galleries and museums. Seeking a world that satisfied his overwhelming sense of individuality, he traded in concrete for canvas. There, on a canvas marred with paint splatters and the fragmented remains of his roots, lives a language of his own. But he finds himself still drawn to the writing on the wall. 

The letters.

“There’s a certain purity in the illegal aspect,” he remarks as his usually pensive pace takes a backseat to the passion in his voice, “it’s not supposed to exist, but it does … It’s a temporary, forbidden art, they wash it away, I get it, it’s not supposed to live forever. But, it lives where it lives.”

Brisk lives in a world in between. In between being too old to hit storefronts in broad daylight but too young to quit altogether. In between hating the game but loving the soul of it. In between a lineage of style masters and the end of the line. So, you’ll find him at doodle nights in breweries across “America’s Finest City,” where he lives. Salt and pepper streaks through his tightly pulled-back hair. To the untrained eye, he is an unassuming middle-aged man, but to those who know the name, he is a style sage.

A young man stops at the sight of Brisk at those brewery tables. He’s tall and slender wearing an oversized hoodie emblazoned with the words “SK8MAFIA.” The man’s name is Wes Kremer, a former Thrasher Magazine Skater of the Year. Kremer introduces his companion to Brisk as a friend from Copenhagen. Brisk can’t help himself. Turning to this new face at the mention of a city name, with an excitement his cool demeanor can’t contain.

“Oh, Copenhagen! Do you know Bates?”


“A graffiti artist, the king of Europe. He’s a friend.”


The world has changed a lot since the 1980s. So has Brisk. The man and the moniker. Behind Brisk, the names that came before, combinations of letters that comprise more meaning than they do on their own. Names that might never make it mainstream, remain famous in his mind. There’s a reverence for those footsteps he followed in, they led the way. Ahead of Brisk, is an end. That aspect of humanity precedes the art form. But, for now, it lives where it lives.