Lord Pawn balances his graffiti writing roots with his current life as a professional artist
I must have been about 9 years old when I practically shat my pants from my first real world run-in with street graffiti, or at least what my young mind imagined street graffiti to be at the time.
My brother and I were walking home from school in our cozy Elk Grove-bordering neighborhood when we turned a corner and instantly saw five big distorted letters plastered on the adjacent fence next to us.
Dripping in what seemed like only hours-old red spray paint, the looming letters looked something like this:
To this day, I’m still not sure if that sloppily written message was saying Fuck U, or simply telling me to beware of FuckO, the newest graffiti boy on the block.
Frankly, it didn’t really matter; what I saw bothered me. Images of older, meaner kids roaming around my neighborhood with spray cans ran through my head as I pictured myself having to deal with one or all of them somewhere in the near future.
My childhood got a good gut check that day over what turned out to be nothing more than a one-time amateur tag job. What I witnessed was most likely done by a first-timer who might have just gotten a hold of his first can of spray paint and wanted to let loose on the nozzle for a thrill that, for some, only a canister of color and aerosol can offer.
Twenty-eight-year-old Sacramento graffiti artist Ryan Kroger, who officially paints under the name Lord Pawn, knows that feeling all too well.
Growing up all over Northern California and eventually settling in Sacramento, Pawn says he’s been painting for as long as he can remember.
“It’s something that I loved to do and I just figured it out on my own,” he says. “And honestly, I don’t paint the way you’re really supposed to because I don’t really follow the rules that I was taught in school… I feel like with art, you can kind of break the rules sometimes.”
Pawn says he remembers the days when he too was just a punk kid running around with a skateboard in one hand and a marker pen in the other. It wasn’t long, though, before he discovered spray paint and began writing his graffiti name on any surface he could get his can on.
As he grew older, Pawn ran with a few different graffiti crews in town, going where he wanted and tagging what he wanted. But it wasn’t until he got with Ain’t Life Beautiful (ALB) and, eventually, accepted into the world renowned Legends of Rare Designs (LORDS) that he started to slow down a bit.
“I feel like it’s something I did in the past, and sort of something everyone has to go through at one point,” he says. “So I mean, like, I do miss it, ‘cause there’s nothing more fun than running out on the freeway and bombing stuff. But, I guess I just can’t really do that anymore.”
It’s true. Not only is Pawn well beyond his juvenile years, but he is also a professional artist now—in spray paint and acrylics—with a reputation to maintain and commissions to lock down.
“At least in this town, I’m getting murals and stuff like that,” he says of his recent work flow. “And I don’t want to be someone the cops are after or anything.”
Pawn says he’s been fortunate enough to secure work consistently over the past few years, painting mostly character murals for companies like Red Bull, Technine, Tropicana, Sacramento Mustang and even the Sacramento Kings.
He also does residential and commercial murals for smaller businesses, like a close-up piece he did of a girl’s face for Dabstix—a smoke shop in Roseville—about a year-and-a-half ago.
Ironically, sometimes even graffiti abatement programs will hire him to spray paint over an entire wall in hopes of deterring other taggers from constantly ruining it. Apparently, the backwards strategy works.
“So they’ll pay for me to put a mural on [a wall], and the kids will respect it—they won’t go and tag it anymore,” Pawn says. “Then the business doesn’t have to pay to paint over it every week. So it’s like a good thing for everybody.”
As focused as Pawn has been on his successful painting career lately, he says he still gets the itch to the hit the streets every now and then when his days get to be a little too mundane.
“Sometimes it’s good to be in a grimy place,” he says. “I’ve seen some crazy stuff just going and painting… You get stories out of it all; you’re going on adventures.”
Pawn says some of the best graffiti is done under the radar, usually in the cuts of any given city. Even now, he doesn’t take issue with painting in these remote areas, so long as it’s out of the way and not hurting anyone.
“You’re sort of out where nobody else goes. You explore a little bit, find a spot you can paint and you don’t have to be clean necessarily,” he explains. “You can just go and do it. And then you leave something beautiful behind that’s pretty. And people have to find it for themselves.”
At this point in his life, Pawn has struck a good balance between grime and convention.
While he says he’s mainly interested in traveling the world to pursue a legitimate art profession from here on out, he’ll still find himself at rail yards at times painting massive concept projects on train cars with at least one other fellow writer—what he and other graffiti artists call themselves.
Pawn says he knows the consequences of painting over trains, which can become a federal offense if they go over state lines.
“If you get caught, you can get in a lot of trouble,” he says. “But I don’t know. It’s like, to me, it’s sort of something that I’m willing to risk because it’s not like… you’re not a real criminal. You know? You’re not stealing, you’re not hurting anyone. It’s artwork.”
Pawn’s personal time isn’t always spent out painting the town red, however. He’ll actually stay home pretty often to work on more detailed pieces that he eventually puts up for sale.
In fact, his very first art show was held this past Saturday, Nov. 8, at The Bench Art Supply and Gallery on 12th Street, where more than 20 original pieces—some acrylic, some spray paint—were on display and up for grabs to the public.
Prices went as low as $25 for prints to $5,000 for original works. His $5,000 piece—a 72-by-24-inch acrylic painting he spent a whole year working on—had already sold before the night’s end.
Pawn says he wants to do more art shows—not just for himself, but for the Sacramento art scene as a whole, which he thinks has potential to flourish.
“I think that there’s a lot to offer in Sacramento, but there’s just not that much of an art scene here, and there could be,” he says. “It’d be cool to start having some bigger artists coming through this city.”
Whether he stays in Sacramento to turn the art culture around or heads overseas to further his career, Pawn is sure to bring something new and exciting to the table in whatever scene he becomes a part of.
It’s funny how someone who produces such gigantic, surreal works of art can sport such a small name. But Pawn thinks it suits him.
“For me, it’s more of like a humble thing, you know? Because everybody wants to be a king, and really, we’re all just kind of like pawns—we’re the peasants,” he says. “There’s a saying that goes like, ‘The pawn is the most powerful chess player on the board,’ or something like that. Just because there’s many of you.”
Lord Pawn’s show at The Bench Art Supply and Gallery, located at 906 12th Street in Sacramento, runs now through Nov. 22, so if you haven’t gotten there to see it, we urge you to hurry it up! While you’re at it, follow Lord Porn on Instagram @PawnPaint. That’s what the cool kids are doing.