Over the summer, Frankie and I started noticing raccoons in fresh sneakers popping up in random parts of the city. We got curious, and of course started trying to track down who was behind the racoons, and trying to find out what they were up to. This eventually led us to the ali6chicago Instagram, and thus to the website. We were lucky enough to grab pizza with Ali6 himself.
A&F: So how did you get into art? What you do isn’t a small thing.
Ali 6: When I was was little, back in kindergarten, they started making us do art projects. I had to make a card, and my mom drew a cartoon bear for me to color. I had always been into cartoons, obviously I’m a little kid, but when I saw her do that, that’s what tipped it off. Throughout school I kept on drawing.
A&F: So how did it go from there to decorating the city with it?
Ali6: Well the thing is, in high school, we didn’t have art classes or anything like that. So I just kept on doing it myself, and eventually got into graffiti and other forms of that.
A&F: So would you say your mom influenced you with your art?
Ali 6: I would say she influenced me as far as being able to create cartoons, and I’m able to draw and push forward.
A&F: I feel like it’s all natural. I could never do that.
Ali 6: Well it sucked because from elementary school, there were no art classes. I’m pretty much self taught. It was pretty much that moment I talked about before that got me into it. I always watched cartoons and read comic books that inspired me. I grew up in Chicago, so that goes into it too.
A&F: Do you plan out when you’re going to go post a new Richie (the raccoon) or is it just spontaneous?
Ali 6: It’s just kinda random. If I’m really feeling an idea, and I’m super stoked about it, I’ll go out and do it that night. Sometimes I’ll just keep creating them, and then go out and put them up.
A&F: How do you decide on location? I’ve seen them everywhere.
Ali 6: I just try to…I don’t know. I’m around the Wicker Park area just because that’s where I always am, but I still have to travel to different places so other people can see it. It just kinda gets boring always putting them in the same area, so I’ve had to switch it up.
A&F: So where did Richie come from?
Ali 6: I was drawing cartoons, and when I put it out there, a couple people really liked it. I just kept following up with it. I wasn’t serious about it at first. I’m starting to write a graphic novel, so that’s going to be part of it. I just want to publicize the happy part, which is being Richie. He’s always smiling.
A&F: Do you put the other counterparts to Richie out there? I’ve seen a boy and a genie, just never with Richie.
Ali 6: I have a genie done, I just don’t want to put it up yet. I probably won’t put the boy up unless I do a three person piece. The boy is really just supposed to be me anyway. Actually, one of my favorite pieces that I’ve done, is when I painted Richie and the genie together.
A&F: So the outfits we see on Richie…where does that come from? The inspiration for that?
Ali 6: Richie symbolizes me in a way, so I like to dress in streetwear and skateboard. I have a pretty good collection of Jordans. I put him in things that I would wear. It’s not really planned. I don’t want to repeat the same items.
A&F: Do you ever base Richie’s shoes off of releases or anything?
Ali 6: A lot of people tell me I should do that so brands will work with me, but I just want to keep it to what my personal interests are. Don’t get me wrong, that would be cool, but that’s not my purpose in doing this.
A&F: How did you get into streetwear and sneakers?
Ali 6: I got into it around the same time I got into graffiti. One of my boys from high school was teaching me graffiti and he was also into streetwear. So just hanging out with him a lot got me connected to Saint Alfred, and being around that area and that culture got me really interested in it. I made sure I learned the history and I knew it was something I was really interested in.
A&F: What’s your favorite thing you have gotten to do thus far?
Ali 6: The Everybody Eats Mural (Western and Dickens.) I got to work with Deal from Saint Alfred who is a sick ass artist and do whatever I wanted. I went to him with the idea, and he sketched it out and it was mad sick, so we just did it. It’s my favorite.
A&F: Are there any local artists that you look up to?
Ali 6: Yeah, there’s a graffiti artist called Bandit. I mean there’s a lot of graffiti artists that I want to meet. It’s kinda segregated because people are run by crews. Not really in street art how I do, but in graffiti. There’s a lot of people I look up to on the street art and graffiti scene, but it’s all happy work. I just really like positivity and stuff that makes people smile. It’s hard to go through all the cats I like.
A&F: Where do you see yourself in five years?
Ali 6:I just want to be traveling. I want to go to New York, I’ve never really been outside of Chicago. Hopefully in five years, everything kicks off the way I want it to and have my work selling and take care of my mom and be able to live comfortably.
Since this interview took place in late November, Ali 6 has shown at Vertical Gallery and completed murals around the city. For more on Ali 6, check out his website: http://ali6chicago.com/