Moxie has commissioned LA-based artist Upendo Taylor to spearhead our MX brand’s new ongoing “Artist Series” of distinct packaging from different local artists. He’s evolved an original design aesthetic that has led to collaborations with influential brands like Nike, Adidas and Gatorade, along with recording artists Raphael Saadiq, Danny Brown and Strong Arm Steady. We interviewed him in his Watts studio to discuss art, community and cannabis as he created different pieces.
Upendo’s Background, Influences & Style
Moxie: Alright, let’s just give just a quick introduction with your name, where you come from and why you work in LA. Just some basic stuff.
Upendo: I got you. What up! Well, I’m Upendo Taylor. I’m LA based, specifically Watts is where I’m resting my head at. Abstract expressionist, I guess that’s what they want to call me right now. Shit, man, I just love to create so I don’t really want to pigeonhole myself by any specific title or anything like that. Because I tend to make whatever I want to make, when I want to make it, you know, so there’s that.
Moxie: Who are some of your biggest influences, artists and non-artists?
Upendo: Non-artist? Pretty much most of my friends are some kind of artists and those are the main inspirations that I have. You know the different kinds of artists that I have in my life. But shoot, man, I really can’t pinpoint any specific artists that I’ve really been inspired by or influenced by. I spent so much time trying to develop my own style. That was the most important thing for me as an artist, to create something that was unique for myself. I mean, of course, all the greats: Picasso, Haring, Basquiat were all the underlying influences. But I can’t pinpoint one particular artist that I was like, “Damn, I want to emulate that kind of style.” I kind of just let this pattern stuff work organically ‘cause I was really trying to do something that was pop art. Oh shit, the background’s falling off.
Moxie: What about, let’s say, influence from other areas. Do you think LA influences your art a lot?
Upendo: Well I wasn’t living in LA when this–
Moxie: When you started.
Upendo: When the painting really started to happen, I was in New York and Chicago. So, I think the California aesthetic influence was already in there ‘cause my background was in skating. So that kind of lightheartedness of the design culture in LA stayed with me. But graphic design was the big influence on the stuff that I’m doing now, with the bold shapes and patterns and stuff. I was trying to put those two worlds together, graphic design and fine art, when a lot of people would say, “You can’t do that.” You know, graphic design is one thing and fine art is another. I think now those learned techniques or standards have changed. It’s kind of like whatever it looks good; you know if you can make it look dope and could pull it off.
Moxie: As far as how you work, what are your mediums?
Upendo: I pretty much use everything. I like watercolor, I do spray paint, acrylic paint, pencil, marker–it don’t matter.
Moxie: What’s the difference between the water base and alcohol base? Is it all different? That whole fill in problem?
Upendo: Yes, the oil-based shit. Like that’s what that crank is, it’s like an oil base.
Moxie: And it’s hard to fill in.
Upendo: Super hard to fill in, yes. Like the moorings that are more like acrylic paint, you know? But my preferred thing, I guess for the stuff that’s really grabbing people, is acrylic. I think that’s where I’m going to stay just because I like to work fast. I’m not a patient artist. Some guys could be like, “Yes, this piece took me three months.” I can’t do that. If I can’t bang it out in like two or three days I’m over it, you know?
Moxie: So, you say you have a short attention span.
Upendo: Yes, I got a short attention span for sure. You know ‘cause then, like, if I have to leave and walk away from it too many times then I just move on to something else, you know?
Struggles, Doodle Gang & Recent Works
Moxie: What’s the hardest thing about being a professional artist?
Upendo: The hardest thing man, shit, is maintaining finance…that’s the toughest fucking thing, you know? Dealing with the ups and downs of workflow, or checks coming in and out. That’s the main thing I felt like is the biggest part. And then the second part of it is, like, as an independent artist, I don’t have an agent or a representative or anything like that. So just managing that side of the business. It’s pretty tough.
Moxie: Well, as far as what you’ve been doing recently with your projects like Doodle Gang and stuff like that, can you walk us through some of them and how you’re reaching out to the community?
Upendo: Yes, I mean Doodle Gang was a way that I could get all my friends together in one place. And then it just snowballed into some other cooler shit. But what I didn’t realize was how much of a connecting event it was. There are people that met their sponsors, got jobs, different connects with brands and product through the Doodle Gang, man. And I didn’t know all of this was going on until people started telling me after like, “When is the next one? You know I met my girlfriend here.” I was like, “What? So crazy!” Or, “You know I got my next big gig ‘cause I was at this Doodle Gang.”
So, I think that an important thing for me is maintaining my community of creatives, just not creative thinkers. You know not necessarily people that are actively making art or anything like that, but just left-brain thinkers in general. It was a great way to bring everybody together. You know we had musicians with photographers and painters and poets and just all different types of artists, so that was nice.
Moxie: Can you walk us through some of your most recent murals, what’s currently going on in the landscape and how you’re commissioned for those?
Upendo: So the most recent have been during the lockdown. That’s a tripped out experience. You know, the first couple of ones I think were in late March. It was a trip just being outside, like I felt like I was the only person out there, you know? I think the art is what’s maintaining people’s sanity and focus through everything that’s going on. All that escalating racial tension, it’s like the art is always the saving grace to give people relief, you know? So I felt like it’s important and these murals have just come from the community in certain areas. You know, really that’s how they’ve been coming together.
Moxie: So, the community reached out to you?
Upendo: Yes, yes, yes like the last three or four have all come from, like, “Yo, we need to put something up that’s going to bring some hope or some type of positive vibe to the area,” you know?
Moxie: So, I notice there are some people on those murals. Who are these individuals?
Upendo: Oh, those are pieces or a collab with another artist named Tony Concep. And we talked about inspiration and people in black culture that we’ve kind of looked up to and the images in those pieces speak directly to myself and Tony’s inspiration. So Kaepernick, Big Daddy Kane, Jordan–you know just different black figures that have been inspirational to us. So we wanted to reflect that in those pieces.
How Cannabis Influences Upendo’s Life & Artwork
Moxie: Nice. As far as cannabis, do you use it for inspiration, or do you think you already have the inspiration when you use it? What’s the relationship?
Upendo: Right, well, the relationship with the plant is necessary. I think a relationship for me, you know, as a creative is I’m constantly, constantly, thinking of things to do, things to make and different ways to get the things out of my head, right? There’s all these voices going on. So, for me, cannabis kind of quiets down the other voices in the background and lets the one voice speak. You know, let that one kind of flow come out ‘cause I’m a person that’s all over the place.
So I think it’s a calming ritual, and I like to say “ritual” because it’s a very spiritual thing for me. Just even the connection with the Book of Revelation and cannabis and the Rastafarian culture, you know, really stuck with me early on. I’ve always thought of it as a spiritual connector, more than anything. It does bring us some inspiration, for sure, but it’s more of a spiritual connection; just kind of like being able to tap into outer space real quick, other than like closing my eyes and meditating.
Moxie: Do you feel that your process is almost kind of spiritual because it’s patterned and it’s kind of intuitive?
Upendo: Definitely, definitely. Like I was telling you before, this is the most honest expression of myself ‘cause it kind of just flows through. You know, I don’t know sometimes where it goes when I start; but then when it ends, I’m like, “Oh yes,” you know? So that part of it connecting is good, it’s good for me. And I appreciate that people are being able to relate to it so much, and it’s definitely connected to music as well.
Moxie: Yes, and music culture. Our culture, it’s kind of like the outcast culture, right? The skate culture that you grew up in.
Upendo: That’s it! You know, that’s really what it is. It’s like saying that prayer at the beginning of my day or whatever, and then at the end of my day, it was just that gratitude and humbling life experience. There’s times when you just like, “Yo, I just want to fucking zone out.” But what is zoning out? You know, it’s like tapping into something inside of you, that’s going to calm me down or whatever.
Moxie: Yes, and you feel like it’s more playful spirituality? Like it releases a lot of tension, correct?
Upendo: Definitely. Like tension relief, you know ‘cause I don’t take pills or I really don’t get headaches and shit like that. So, the healing aspect of it is the biggest component of it all, really. I didn’t realize it until probably about five or six years ago, as the culture started to evolve. And you start to read different things, the healing properties of it, but you know, shit, when I was smoking like 10 years ago, I was just like smoking just to feel good.
Upendo: You know, I couldn’t tell you what, why or anything like that or whatever or how much it was, so I don’t know. Weed is just fucking good, bro. This is just the most natural earthiest shit that God gave us or the spirit of the universe or whatever you want to call it, you know? Like it’s the dopest thing, there’s nothing like it. I mean, you can grow it, you can have it in your fucking garden, you can eat the shit and it’s all going to make you feel good. You know, why not? Why would you do anything else? Shit.
Moxie: So how do you feel about your influence on the Moxie MX brand and how do you feel about the collaboration? Do you feel like it works really well with you?
Upendo: Yes, it was unexpected. I really wasn’t sure how ‘cause I only seen a few of the package design stuff that [Moxie] did before and the same more existing stuff, like the stat assisting look that was out there. So, I was a little worried; I didn’t know how it’s going to work out, you know what I mean? It’s just so different, in a way. And I don’t want to say “off-putting” to people, but it’s something that they can’t really, or what I’ve found out or heard, find a particular pinpoint of reference for it.
A lot of people are like, “Oh, it looks like heroin shit, but then it doesn’t though.” It’s like they try to connect it with something. So, I was really worried about how it would look, how it would be used but shoot, man, your team did a great job, you know? It was dope!
Moxie: So, you feel like you’re represented well within the MX brand?
Upendo: Definitely, definitely came off like far and beyond anything that I was thinking; it was dope.
Moxie: ‘Cause now you’re like, yes, this is good stuff.
Upendo: Dope. Well, I need to hit the restroom.
Find Upendo’s new Moxie MX brand vape cartridges and concentrates packaging on dispensary shelves soon. Or make things easier and get these affordable, quality and attractive MX products delivered to your door straight from the source–Moxie on Demand. Call or text us today at 1-888-99-MOXIE (66943) to join and find out when you can get this awesome packaging with your MX products!