The young artist and his friend started hitting Hollywood by night, and the huge concrete canvass of the lawless conduit known as The LA River. Soon, a group of kids from school were out every night tagging. He quickly decided that the name “Mantronix” was too long, telling people he’d be arrested by the time he got to the “x.” So he cut it down and worked on developing his style using the first three letters. The “One” came next, he explains, as “an unspoken trademark or register mark. It means you’re the originator of the name in that city.”
Most graffiti artists go through several versions of their names, as they come up with something they like better or hear about someone else using that name, but Man One’s never changed. “I got lucky,” he says, “my name is a common word but it’s so common, no one uses it.”
After developing a style and avoiding arrest, the most difficult part of graffiti for a bunch of high schoolers was getting enough spray paint. ”Back then we didn’t have any money so we used to rack to paint. Racking is a nice term for stealing paint, you know?” The kids would hit the usual targets, taking cans from hardware stores and wheeling carts of paint out through the garden center at K-Mart where there were no metal detectors to catch them. “When we would go into a shop,” Man recalls, “Me, a couple of black kids… the security guard would follow us around. So we would always go with a white kid and the white kid would hang out behind, and so while we’re walking around the store being followed, the white kid would be in the paint area stealing all the paint.” Eventually, he laughs, “They’d escort us out and not realize the white kid had already stolen all the paint we were going to use. We had to be clever.”
Man recalls his friends laughing at his dream of graffiti as a career; they couldn’t imagine anyone paying for graffiti art. He couldn’t either, which temporarily dissuaded him from pursuing it further. And then one day, while still in high school, a neighbor saw him practicing on a panel outside and offered him $50 to come paint his garage door… the inside. The outside would have been painted over by someone else’s tag. It was the first time Man had ever been offered money for his work and he was over the moon.
Fate drew him on further; one day a man pulled up in a car while he was painting, and asked him what he’d charge to paint a canvas in the same style. “I said ‘I don’t know, like $100,’ and he’s like, ‘Done.’ He gave me $100 and a canvas and I painted this abstract painting for him and that was the first canvas I ever sold. I have no idea who that was, just some random guy.” Despite what the galleries thought, there was a growing interest in street art and it was building towards something, especially in Los Angeles.
By 1990, Man One was off to college for an art major. Happy to finally find a place he could be accepted, he showed his first professors the photo albums of his work and was rebuffed. They told him it was nice, but not art.
So it was that he began to live a double artistic life, studying classical drawing during the day and heading out to tag at night. That lasted until his junior year. His design professor saw him showing his work to another student and saw something the earlier professors hadn’t.
“He told me, ‘The whole point of art school is to find your voice and you’ve already found it, you’ve found your style, all you need to do is develop it.’” Man says. “And I was like ‘Really? My other professors didn’t tell me that,’ and he said, ‘Well I’m telling you that.’”
Reinvigorated, Man started integrating his graffiti into all of his classes, carrying his style into sculpture, graphic design -- every class he had to take. Once he did, the encouragement kept coming.