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  • Writer's pictureZach Servideo

101: Boston Speaks Up with Kyle Wallack of Refined Graffiti

Boston Speaks Up (BSU) is a podcast owned and operated by Value Creation Labs.

Kyle Wallack is an artist-entrepreneur and the founder of Refined Graffiti, and you can learn more about his work at his digital gallery The KW Gallery. After graduating from Endicott College in Beverly, MA, he lived in New York City for several years where his career took off before recently relocating to the Tampa Bay, Florida area. Wallack, inspired by the likes of Banksy and Basquiat among others, has now done work for global phenoms Missy Elliot and Cardi B. His work has inspired millions across the world.

Before becoming the esteemed American contemporary artist we know today, Wallack’s journey was struck with hardship. In 2018, and at just 23 years old, Wallack was diagnosed with cancer of the parotid gland, which required intensive surgery to remove the cancer from his face. After a successful surgery leaving him with more than 600 stitches, Wallack was walking to his apartment when he stumbled across an easel. Wallack of course picked it up, brought it back to his apartment, and the rest was history.

Due to the nature of his surgery, Wallack was informed by his doctors that the blue light produced by phones and TVs were extremely harmful to his health. With no access to electronics for more than a year, and a newfound easel and paint, Wallack’s journey as an artist began. Once Wallack picked up his newly found paintbrush and graffiti can, he never put them down. Painting became Wallack’s outlet, and as a wide-eyed, young, 23 year-old trying to figure it all out, painting allowed him to produce positively during this time of adversity. 

Before Wallack had his surgery, he had never dabbled in art in an international way. Afterwards, everywhere he looked inspired him to create. Fast forward to the present day, Wallack has now dedicated his full-time career to being an artist. Through years of repetition, hard work, and grinding, Wallack is now represented by Quidley & Co, a well-respected, full-service gallery that has been representing artists for 30+ years.

In this episode, we explore Wallack’s impact that transcends the graffiti and traditional fine art communities, how he perseveres through all the hardships life throws at him, what he’s creating now, and what he wants his legacy to be. You can listen to our podcast discussion embedded below or on any podcast platform you prefer (YouTube, SoundCloud, Spotify, Apple Podcasts, Stitcher, and Google Play):  

Before we dive into the written Q&A, here’s Wallack sharing his story about discovering an easel and embracing art through his battle with cancer: 

Written Q&A: 

Where did you grow up and how would you describe your childhood?

I grew up in a small beach town Madison, CT. My childhood was filled mostly with sports. Since the town was so small I was able to ride my bike all around town doing various beach bum activities. We spent a lot of time fishing, and playing sports outside. Growing up I did not really have any interest in art, it was mostly sports focused. I am really close to my family so I also spent a lot of time with them. This is where I learned to cook, another one of my passions.

Can you tell us about your time at Endicott College? Did any of your experiences in Beverly lead you to where you are today?

Endicott was great, they really allowed me to focus on the business side of life. They allowed me to pursue Entrepreneurship starting my junior year. The school allowed me to grow my clothing company starting junior year, which is where I began to make art on adobe illustrator and photoshop. Lacrosse also was always a big part of my life and I played for 2.5 years at Endicott before leaving to focus on my business venture. 

Can you talk about your entrepreneurial journey starting out at Endicott starting your own apparel brand?

I started a clothing brand in my off campus house out of my room. I was in the airport in Texas when I thought of the idea. I first started taking orders on a yellow notepad and people would come to my room to pick up the clothing. I would solely bring this notepad to class some days, which probably wasn't a great look, but I had to grind. 

How did you start making art while recovering from surgery? What led to it all?

The surgery was on the left side of my face, the doctors told me that I was not going to be able to use a computer for a while due to the displays blue rays. This would lead to major migraines and would even throw up if I was on the computer. So by the grace of god, a couple days after my surgery I found an easel in the garbage of my New York apartment’s hallway, I brought the easel up the flight of stairs and had my friend bring me some paint. I had no idea what I was doing but the first painting turned into a robot, and it was a wrap from there. I was painting all day everyday when I was able to move. I couldn't really go outside at the time or use the stairs so this is all I had.

What was the first painting you ever made? And what was the first painting you ever made you felt truly proud of?

The first painting I ever made was a robot, I still have it to this day, I was really proud of that painting and think as an artist you will always have paintings you like and don't like, but each finished piece you have to be proud of because it is a milestone. Whether you like it or not you were able to put your thoughts on canvas and I think that is something really special.

What is Refined Graffiti? What would you tell older generations who are traditionally against graffiti?

Refined Graffiti is the clash of the fine art world and the graffiti world, two worlds that never have really gotten along. To the older generation I would tell them that graffiti is almost the heartbeat of art in modern day, it's everywhere, you can't knock it. 

How has social media played a role in your journey as an artist? Social Media has played a role in my journey. Though I am still figuring out how to use it properly it allows me to show my art. I also have had the luck of being able to generate sales through the platforms. 

How do you promote yourself as an artist? Do you do this yourself or is it outsourced? I promote myself as an artist. It's always tough to wear multiple caps because I wish I could just paint everyday and not worry about it but the truth is I'm just not there yet. I feel like I go through waves with social media where sometimes I’m focused on it and I am generating good content that shows what I am up to and there are times I don't use it at all. In my mind the rockstars of the 70s did it right, they were out playing shows and getting people to know them in real life. That's how I like to do things. So I am constantly on the phone meeting people and having conversations when it comes to my art. I don't think my social media properly represents the amount of people that know my art, but that's ok the internet will catch up one day. Also I am constantly in contact with galleries, this is more of a slow burn, you have to get to know the people at the galleries and show them your work constantly. 

What has been the most fulfilling part of your journey as an artist? The most fulfilling part of my journey has been being able to inspire people and connect with people through art. I always love having conversations with people about what they see in certain pieces. I have found that people connect with my pieces in many different ways and I love hearing how each one speaks to people differently. Also there is nothing better than having shows, seeing your work on the white walls of a gallery is unmatched, the way people interact with it at shows is awesome. Where are you most excited about in 2024 and beyond? 2024 I'm focused on having multiple shows. I just did one in Miami with OSO studio, it was a really big show that showed a very wide variety of work. I have been locked into the studio for a year and a half now just working and I'm ready to show the pieces I have. I feel like I've gotten so much better in the last year and am really excited to get out there and get my pieces of gallery walls and show. I'm also working on a series for the upcoming election. I'm hoping to show this towards September, I think it will be really eye opening and a special part of my history as an artist. I'd love to come to Boston for a show as well, I just haven't been able to find a place to partner with. 

Tell us about a particularly challenging moment in your career and how you overcame it.  What did you learn from that experience? I think every piece, every experience, every day are challenging moments in your career, a lot of the time as an artist we are riding the rollercoaster, which I've been strapped in and riding since I started. I'm still waiting for my breakout moment as an artist so everything is just head down and keep painting at the moment. I’m lucky enough to have a solid group of collectors that believe in me and my art. Since I'm not an artist that had any schooling or artistic background it took me a lot of trial and error to hone in my skills, that has probably been the most suffocating part. It has taken me a lot of time to generate the skills to get my pieces where I want them, but that's something that I think I will be forever working on. Also I feel like I get stuck in certain styles at times, which goes against everything I want to do. I never want to put myself in a box of only making one type of art, so oftentimes I have to pull myself out and make something completely different than anything I am working on. I try to do this at least once a month. Finally, can you share your vision for the legacy you hope to leave behind as an artist? I have high aspirations when it comes to the legacy I want to leave behind. My quote sums it up pretty nicely “here for a period of time, to create something, that will last forever.” 

I want my art to last forever, I want it to be put up against the greats, I want it to change the trajectory of the art world and leave behind something that is spoken about long after I am gone. FINAL QUESTION: We like the idea of ending our episodes with a challenge for the  listeners/readers. Whether it be reaching out to an old friend, reading 5 pages a day from  a book, creating a new healthy habit… What is one challenge you have for the listeners?  I like this a lot, as humans we are faced with many challenges everyday. One thing I would challenge people to do is try something you have been thinking about for a long time, make yourself uncomfortable at least once a week. I think if we make ourselves uncomfortable we will grow from those experiences


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