ABCKills Heals the Wounds of his Inspiration

Photos by Julien Carr

Artists depict what they truly understand. Regardless of where they come from, true creatives can always find inspiration in their own life experiences. The same can be said for the artist known as ABCKills. As a reflection of his former lifestyle, ABC’s work often entailed the ins and outs of street and drug cultures alike. However, the elements of ABC’s artistry are more than mere symbols, they are tangible situations. For those of us who are also creatives, at what moment does one’s brilliance begin to impede the path it is creating? For ABCKills, this question and more have come full circle over the past couple of years. Before then, it was just another day at the office. 

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"As things developed it was more about helping the homies out... I got that triple H tattooed on me for a reason you know."

— ABC Kills

"‘You’re getting farther and farther away, you’re not selling art, you’re not doing shit...you’re just partying. WHAT are you doing?’"

Near the end of 2012, ABCKills had been working towards success on several fronts. Although he was more prevalent as a graffiti artist, ABC began showcasing his vision through painting, clothing, and graphic design as well. Through some of his collaborative works with the fashion boutique Jugrnaut and the artist collective Legion of Dudes (LOD), ABC’s brand of creativity began to shine in more ways than one. Showyousuck’s song “Hunter Hearst Helmsley” featuring Auggie The 9th is a great way to describe a lot of ABC’s artistic motivations during that time. Showyousuck being ABC’s best man at his wedding some years later only proves the song’s slogan, “Homies Help Homies” was more than a hook. “As things developed it was more about helping the homies out. Whether it was t-shirt designs, artwork, whatever I could do. I got that triple H tattooed on me for a reason you know.” Along with being a shop manager, ABC also worked with Jugrnaut’s marketing team. Before leaving the boutique, ABC had already developed a relationship with Pabst Blue Ribbon and he was ready to focus on his craft full-time. 

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"...at the end of the day, I’m an artist. I paint. I draw. I got back to doing that shit."

— ABC Kills

At this point, life for ABC was, “kind of like a bittersweet time ‘cause I started doing a ton of shows, a ton of stuff like that but I was also married at the time.” Even before the marriage, ABC’s then girlfriend always supported his artistic endeavors. However, doing art shows here and there, tagging bathrooms, street lights, and even wheat pasting on corners is one thing; a calendar solely dedicated to hustling artwork, clothing, and booking gallery shows at all hours of the day, was something else entirely. As his workload swelled with more opportunities nearing 2015, ABC’s personal life began to suffer. “You can’t get mad. I wish her nothing but the best but it was one of those things where...she didn’t sign up for any of that and I understood that.” 

Shortly after his divorce, ABCKills began working with an art gallery called Paper Crown in Arlington Heights, IL. ABC credits his mentors at Paper Crown for shaping him into the artist he is today. Through Paper Crown, ABC not only received the tools he needed, but the space to create bigger pieces as well as his own art shows. At the time, a good month for ABCKills could yield thousands of dollars while a bad month could bring nothing at all. Needless to say, selling artwork and booking art shows are not skills one can perfect overnight. In order to deal with the fluctuations in his wallet, ABC elected some less-than-legal means of supplementing his income. Around then, ABC wasn’t only finding his inspiration from a lifestyle of using controlled substances, he also began supplying them.

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"I had a couple of people who really checked me—the Paper Crown dudes, Penny Pinch. Honestly a lot of close friends..."

— ABC Kills

As he looked back on those days, ABCKills remembered some of the friends who tried to save him from himself. “I had a couple of people who really checked me—the Paper Crown dudes, Penny Pinch. Honestly a lot of close friends were just like, ‘You’re getting farther and farther away, you’re not selling art, you’re not doing shit...you’re just partying. WHAT are you doing?’ Then you know, by then everything started to spiral out of control.” Toward the end of 2015, vandalizing became one of the least illegal aspects of ABC’s lifestyle. As time progressed, creating and selling art became less central to him while the drug culture responsible for so much of his inspiration began to overshadow the art itself. Unfortunately this overcast lead to ABC’s arrest in August of 2016. “Initially I was facing like seven charges. A bunch of manufacturing and deliveries, two weapons charges, assault and battery, all sorts of shit. You know, they got my ass. Ain’t much I can really say about that.” Following his release in November of last year, ABCKills had time to reflect on his time in prison. As he described, being locked up presented a handful of mixed blessings, ”Well, for one I sobered up, but at the end of the day I’m an artist. I paint. I draw. I got back to doing that shit.” With a redetermined focus and an unwavering support system, ABCKills looks at the canvas of 2018 from a new headspace. 

ABC no longer wishes to associate himself with the imagery of substance abuse. In fact, he doesn’t believe he’ll ever be able to create in that capacity again. ABC does still have a fondness for some of his old pieces, though. Getting back to his graphic roots with trippy renditions of famous cartoon characters and 1960’s acid tests are a few aesthetics he’s currently working on. He aspires to re-establish his artwork in the streets but understands that it takes time to get back into the full swing of things. Most importantly, ABC knows that without the help of some close friends, he’d be much worse off than he is now. It is by the strength of those relationships that ABC can create a new fate of his own volition. We haven’t seen the last of ABCKills, that much is certain. As for what to expect, only time will tell.