Nathan Nordstrom remembers peering over the shoulders of fellow middle school students, anxious to see the graffiti writing etched into their sketchbooks. He was an outsider, a skateboarder from Austin’s west side who yearned to wield a spray can but lacked a mentor who could help him break into the scene.
That changed when he began learning to paint from Al “Skam” Martinez, one of the original innovators in Austin graffiti. Twenty-six years later, Nordstrom has become a fixture in the graffiti scene with his chosen moniker, Sloke One. While his days of tagging the streets illegally are over, Nordstrom has built a career on creating commissioned work. His latest show, “Fatcapped,” which is currently on display at Austin gallery testsite, provides an intimate, up-close look at the graffiti style that Nordstrom perfected in the streets.
“Most people know me for my Wildstyle,” Nordstrom said. “Wildstyle is the very complex, intricate lettering, very colorful. Right now I’m kind of going through an ‘anything goes’ phase. I’m kind of at the point where I’m trying not to think that much when I paint.”
When Nordstrom began painting in 1990, the majority of graffiti in Austin was gang-related. Removed from the epicenters of graffiti on the East and West Coasts, Nordstrom said he had to learn through trial and error.
“I’m going to be truthful — graffiti was dead when I started,” Nordstrom said. “In a way, it was a very interesting time, because I kind of had the city to myself. I had to learn the hard way.”
Nordstrom said it is only in the last three or four years that he has seen graffiti gain a wider appreciation in Austin.
“To be accepted by the public today … it’s nice to be recognized for what you do, but they’re a little late,” Nordstrom said. “What I care about is passing on the traditions and customs and culture to the next generation through education. I don’t really care about the public.”
Nordstrom devotes a significant portion of his energy towards educating youth about graffiti. In addition to mentoring young artists one-on-one, he has taught at the Emma S. Barrientos Mexican American Cultural Center and the Dougherty Arts Center.
UT alumnus Chale Nafus, a longtime friend of Nordstrom’s, curated the show at testsite, which features photographs of Nordstrom’s work and graffiti pieces done on Masonite boards. Nafus said he shares Nordstrom’s aspirations of sharing the art and its history.
“I want to spread the gospel,” Nafus said. “It’s sort of demystifying. As a critic and supporter, I want more people to know about [graffiti] and support it.”
Sarah Bancroft, the director of testsite, said the pairing of Nordstrom and Nafus offers viewers both a history lesson and an appreciation for graffiti.
“I think it looks amazing in the space,” Bancroft said. “[Nordstrom] wanted to talk about the history of graffiti in his work: the good, the bad and the ugly. I think that’s what he’s brought, something that people can really take a close look at in a different environment than they would on the streets.”
In his profession as a graffiti writer with permission, Nordstrom has created work for the likes of Nike, Google and the University of Texas. Nordstrom said he sees himself continuing to paint for the foreseeable future.
“A lot of people say you’re not doing graffiti if you’re not doing it illegally,” Nordstrom said. “My thing is, as long as I’m painting, I’m still painting. I did the streets for 12 years. Who do I need to prove myself to? I have nothing to prove. I just need to impress myself.”