Welcome this month’s celebrity art director Kelly Graval, aka the graffiti artist RISK, who used his street-art aesthetic to enhance the beauty of smoking-hot girls.

Kelly Graval Pop Shots TitleThe Penthouse World According to Kelly Graval

For more than three decades, RISK has been making his mark — literally — on Southern California. He’s long since parlayed that into a career in fine art, and that aspect of his life is reaching a new peak with the opening of his Buckshot Art Gallery in Santa Monica. The exhibition space features urban art as well as fine art; the first show, which opened on October 17, consists of photographs from renowned artists as well as painted skulls.

For Pop Shots, RISK cast Brandy Aniston, Mia Malkova, Jessa Rhodes, and Penthouse Pet Courtney Taylor. Then he selected the perfect backdrop for the models: his own paintings. After that, it all came together quickly, and with absolutely gorgeous results. [Mia Malkova became a Pet in October of 2016, for the record. -Ed.]

You’ve accomplished so many different things in your career. How would you describe yourself?

I’m an artist. I’ve been doing graffiti for 33 years, or something like that. As much as I love graffiti, it’s just one genre in my life’s work. I’m one of those dudes who’s like, “Graffiti will never die,” but it’s not all about graffiti. To me, it’s all about art. And I was lucky enough to help pioneer this art form on the West Coast and try to make it a household name. I’m very proud of that and I love it.

How is it that a surfer kid Kelly Graval in Los Angeles got involved with graffiti?

I was a problem child who was surfing and skipping school. When I did go to school, I was drawing waves on my desk and writing “wipeout” and stuff like that. Some kid transferred from New York, and he was like, “Hey, what do you write?” I didn’t know what the fuck that meant. What do I write? What the fuck are you talking about? He goes, “What’s your tag?” And he taught me the whole subculture. He showed me pictures of trains. That shit was dope.

That day I stole two cans of red and two cans of white from some hardware store and went back to the school. I remember sitting there, waiting for it to get dark. Finally, when it wasn’t even dark yet, it was dusk, I was like, “Fuck it.” I jumped the fence and did this big piece. In my mind, I had visions of this awesome fucking piece, but when it was done it was so bad. It was terrible. But the next day, when everyone came to school, they had never seen anything all filled in like that, and kids were like, “That’s cool.” I kept going and going, and got a little better, and then I really started to seek out New York graffiti.

Of course it was terrible. You were using stock caps on the paint cans.

Oh, for sure. For years, even when I was doing pieces that I considered to be pretty good, I was using stock caps. And I’m glad I learned to paint like that. You can give me a can with a fucked-up cap and I’ll make it work because I had to adapt. I think that’s what old-school writers did. We adapted. Nowadays, there’s something like 27 different caps. Some of these kids know how to use all of them. That’s too much fucking work, man. I use the fattest and the skinniest, and that’s it. I use two caps. If you can’t do the job with those two caps, then you just can’t do the job.

Mia Malkova for Kelly "RISK" Gravel
Hmm. Must have been a smudge on the camera lens. How odd.

Did you start out writing “RISK”?

I was this surfer kid who adopted the tag name “Surf,” and I was doing New York–style graffiti in L.A. My style is very derivative of New York because that’s the only reference I had. It’s kind of funny that I’m considered this West Coast pioneer, because my style is very New York.

Why did you change from Surf to RISK?

I went to a bussing high school. Every­one was bussed in. It was a school in West Los Angeles, and I was one of three dudes in the school who surfed. The white dudes were definitely the minority; there were only about 100 of us in a school of about 5,000. I stood out, and it was pretty easy to figure out who was writing “Surf” all over the walls. Probably that white dude over there who surfs, you know?

And who has paint all over his hands.

Yeah. And who draws all over his desk. So they came after me. I thought I was pretty slick, too. I had a fake name: Cajun. I wrote it in my locker and in my books. Just enough so I wouldn’t get in that much trouble. When they’d come after me and ask if I was Surf, I would say, “Aw, man, I wish I was that dude. That dude’s up! I’m Cajun.” And they’d search my books and they’d see Cajun. But they knew. They were onto me. One day I got caught “bombing” the school, but they couldn’t prove it. I had to change my name.

You got caught but they couldn’t prove it?

Detectives came to my house. We were eating dinner. They were like, “We’ve got photos of you.” Well, let me see the photo. And they show me a photo of the back of me painting the front doors of the high school. They were like, “Just admit it. We’ll let you guys finish your dinner. You’ll do some community service and be done with it. But if you don’t admit it, then you’re going to jail.”

You’re going to artist jail for high school kids.

Yeah. And my dad was like, “Just tell them it was you and let’s get this over with.” I told my dad that it wasn’t me. And I knew they couldn’t prove it. I didn’t admit to it, and the detectives said they’d see me in court, but they never called. And then I knew the game. I changed my name to RISK, and I got a lot bolder. I started killing the shit. I was breaking into schools to do pieces. I was doing overpasses. I was doing trains. And I knew I wasn’t going to get caught because they couldn’t even prove that the longhaired surfer kid was Surf.

You never got caught?

Well, I got busted many times, but I never had any of the charges stick.

Did you ever think you would transition from graffiti to fine art?

One hundred percent. People ask me that all the time. Yeah, I did. Everyone expects you to say that you never thought it would happen, but I completely thought this would happen.

I mean, I’ve dedicated my life to this. I wouldn’t have if I didn’t think I could make something of it, you know? I always believed in this.

But did you ever think graffiti was going to lead to Kelley Graval directing a Penthouse photo shoot?

Ha. No…. Well, I’ve got to say yeah, and you know why? When you want something long enough, everything happens. And this is something that I wanted. When I got the phone call I was like, “Dope!”

Do you have a pretty clear vision of what makes a girl hot?

Besides the typical bombshell-type girl that I like, it’s the way that they hold themselves. The way that they carry themselves. Self-esteem. Being secure. Pride in themselves. The whole package.

How do you represent the Kelly Graval ideal woman in a medium where it’s difficult to convey the whole package?

It was easy, because my ideal woman is my wife. She is the epitome of the ultimate female to me. So when I was doing this shoot, I wasn’t trying to pick a chick who looked like my wife. I picked someone who was the quintessential centerfold instead. I picked a California lifestyle: blonde hair, big tits. That’s what I thought the shoot should be. It’s not necessarily my ideal girl, but it’s my ideal girl for this shoot.

I get it. But choosing a California girl still speaks to some type of real, natural attraction of yours. What is it about the California girl?

Well, when I reached puberty and had my first sexual experiences, that’s who I grew up idolizing. I’d be on the beach, and there were chicks in bikinis running around. You know, the first one always makes the impression no matter what it is. The first time you have some food that you love. That becomes your favorite food. And this was the first to me, the first stroking material, that blonde chick. That was the one. The whole California dreaming was romantic to me. California lifestyle has always been a huge part of everything I do. People think that I’m stuck in the eighties. I’m not so much stuck in the eighties as I’m stuck in the California lifestyle.

With the 1980s representing the heyday of that lifestyle.


As someone who communicates with paint, was it a stretch trying to communicate with photographs?

I completely over thought it in the beginning. I started thinking about all this complex stuff, like, I’m going to make letters out of the girls’ bodies and I’m going to do chalk outlines on the ground and all this shit. And literally right before the shoot I’m like, What am I doing? This is so not organic. This is so not refined. To me, it’s just my artwork in Penthouse with beautiful girls in front of it. So now you have the California lifestyle, and I got my artwork, and I threw some art supplies down and said, “Go with it.”

It was super organic and simple.

Do you have a favorite setup or shot?

The four girls in front of the “RISK” piece might be my favorite, because there was a girl for each letter and it glorified the piece so much. But I can’t say I have a favorite, because the shots with the girls down in the basement, I thought those were really cool. For the epitome of what a Penthouse shoot should look like, I thought they nailed it. I’m also excited to see the ones with the girls in the cubes.

Technically, the photographs in this layout came from Tommy O., under the Art Direction of our featured artist. As you might be able to tell from the interview, the vast majority of the “RISK” Kelly Graval took with this shoot ended up being with the women naked. Since we choose not to show that sort of image out in these easily-accessed places, we chose a few that showed off the art instead. Radical, right?

What was up with putting the girls in the box?

They’re supposed to be an object of beauty, a piece of art in the box. That’s it. The girl is the piece of art. And I put that in front of my art.

Framing that perfect California girl and showcasing her in front of your older, Wildstyle art?

Yeah, I felt like that was important. I had to take it back to the girl and to the era that was the most exciting. That was the time I most wanted to be in a magazine like this, when I was out there writing “RISK.”

RISK ... Kelly Graval

RISK has evolved the aforementioned Buckshot Gallery into Regime Contemporary and moved it from the beaches to downtown Los Angeles since Penthouse Magazine first published this article in September of 2015. He does maintain his own site as well, where he shows off all variety art which serves to both impress and humble we mere mortals. One can inquire about pricing for some of the finer art available, but we live by the old standard as a rule: “If you have to ask, you can’t afford it.” … One can find many more “reasonable” options via Compound Editions, though, so that might be fun. Now we just need to create more wall space around here.

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