Jennifer Battaglia: Let’s introduce you. Who are you?
Adrian Morales: I am the owner of The Fat Cap, [and a] a self-taught entrepreneur. I was born in the small city known as the Big Apple. My family moved to the great city of Houston, in an area called Fairbanks, back in ’97 when there was still a lot of grassland and livestock, and traffic was unheard of. I grew up a mischievous child with no limits but was raised by a great family.
Most of us are known as bad kids from good homes. I get my creative side from my Pops, an artistic man with military background. I remember being three years old getting a head start on my parents, waking up really early to get to my dad’s art supply closet full of markers, paints and pencils. I would stare at the colors and organize as best as I could and, of course, get in trouble by writing all over the walls.
As I got older I realized how creative my Pops was, from characatures, to airbrushing, even tattooing at our little shotgun 5th-floor apartment in Brooklyn at a time when it was illegal. I was surrounded by art, not to mention the amount of graffiti in the streets of New York in the early ’90s.
Fast forward to a freshman [year of] high school: my younger brother was obsessed with graffiti. As an older brother I did not want him to get into trouble, so I tried my darndest to steer him away from that habit, but there was nothing anyone could do to get him to stop. He wrote on everything — “SCOOP” on this, “CKC” on that, “AK147” over there. I was 17 and found myself hanging out with him and a few of his friends and they were all in a room writing on black books (a writer’s sketch book), so I joined in. His buddy, “OPIE,” explained the fundamentals to me and gave me the name “SLIM.” I was a scrawny kid, so I found myself doodling in these black books trying to style out on my letters.
I can not explain why, but I was hooked. In an instant I realized why my brother was so heavily into this thing called graffiti.
JB: Tell me about the first time you painted graffiti.
AM: I don’t really remember the first time I did graffiti, but I can tell you I was doing a lot of it after that day at my brother’s friends’. OPIE and I actually became really good friends.
I do remember the first time I had a run-in with the law. We found this secluded alley behind an old business with some tags here and there. We parked by what looked like an abandoned trailer and walked to the alley. At the time, I was writing “GRAVY,” — we were pretty much finished when we see lights coming down the alley. It was around midnight so we knew that was bad news. I rushed to grab my bag and dashed for the end of the alley but before I could hit the corner all I could hear was the sound of a Super Charger full force my way. The cop nearly ran me over. My blood was pumping, OPIE was gone, and I was ready to go to jail.
Luckily the cops were responding to a break-in, and we were just painting on the wall, but I didn’t admit to anything, so the cops were nice enough to drive me to my house and let me go with a warning. After that, I couldn’t get enough. Now I knew how risky it was to go out and “get up.” It was an adrenaline rush every time — my drug of choice.
JB: What is The Fat Cap?
AM: The Fat Cap is a graffiti shop based in Houston, Texas. We cater to muralists, street artists, and graffiti artists, but mainly muralists and street artists, since graffiti writers have their own way of getting paint. We also have an art gallery where we feature established and upcoming artists, hold events, and throw awesome private parties.
JB: Why did you decide to open The Fat Cap?
AM: I have always wanted to be a business owner. When I was 23, after I had dropped out of college, I picked up a job at a well-known art handling company. For over three years I was blessed with being able to handle high-profile masterpieces in mansions, museums, and galleries. From hanging an original $200 million Van Gogh at a billionaire’s mansion to moving around Picassos, Matisses, Pollocks, Bacons, and the list can go on — there was never a dull moment.
One family’s collection really inspired me the most; they had a lot of modern art, pieces from artists I had only seen in magazines like Juxtapoz. My favorite collection of theirs was that of Chen Wenling, a Chinese sculpture who makes giant-scale pieces. They had them in the living room standing 12 feet high. This family’s collection was one of my inspirations to start an art gallery.
Unfortunately, like most companies, there wasn’t much room to move up so I quit the art handling gig. I took on a job with my good friend and mentor, Jay, over at Jay’s Frames in The Heights, and I learned the ropes of custom framework. Jay is all about entrepreneurship and would always find the time to talk about our latest reads and motivations. I started teaching myself business and learning from other entrepreneurs, and then I found out my beautiful wife was pregnant with our handsome son, Otis.
That’s when reality hit me upside the head. I had always been told how having a kid will change your life but there is no possible way you could know that phenomenon until it happens. I knew I wanted to raise my kid really close, like ducks when they raise their chicks. The only way that would happen is if I owned my own business, made my own schedule and had the ability to call the shots. So, I took a risk and created something from what I love. I hit the business plan hard for a whole year and before I knew it, out popped out my little chicken nugget, Otis. Two months after, and The Fat Cap was born.
Traveling, I experienced what other cities had to offer. Cities like LA, New York, Seattle, and so many others. I witness their maniacal but methodical graffiti scene. From tags to pieces to huge mural installation, everything was marked. Now, I know graffiti in the form of vandalism is illegal, a nuisance, and I don’t condone it, but the experience is like no other. I remember taking a road trip with my dad to LA a few years back. We would stop at all the truck stops to stretch our legs. In the restrooms, above the urinals, were always these stretches of small tiles. Each tile measured about a half an inch by three inches long. Meticulously scribed on most of those tiles were an array of first initials and a last name or a nickname. I thought to myself, who would do such a thing?, and I realized that those are all the truck drivers who have passed by. To me that’s graffiti. For actual graffiti writers, this is very similar except tags can get pretty big, and on some unbelievable spots. Not only that, there is usually a crazy story behind some spots, and who doesn’t like a good story?
The shop is kept pretty clean for the most part. You won’t find tags all over the place, but when you walk into the bathroom — that’s another story. Every wall is covered with tags. You can see how many different people come in. Recognizable writers from all over the nation and some from other parts of the world have stopped by. JABER, BELOE, SAVY, EATSO, BEKIT, SLUR, GENJI, WOLF, MEANER, QUESO, GASP, HEAMS… .
AM: It has been one long year this August. Full of good times and meeting so many awesome people from all walks of life. One of my favorite things about the graffiti community is its people network, and I can say the same about business. I love to meet entrepreneurs, from artists to business owners or innovators.
JB: Which artists have shown at The Fat Cap?
AM: We have shown works from Colors, Jumps, Mr. Money Bags, Sloke, Braves, News, Soner, Supher, Giveup, James Burns, John Champion. We had an awesome model train show with trains from over 100 artists from all over the nation, and even some from other countries.
We are eager to show works from artist like REVOK, POSE, and AGUA. These are some of the graffiti artist who set the bar for what graffiti is today.
JB: What are some of the events you’ve had and/or plan to have at The Fat Cap?
AM: We are planning some pop-ups through the end of the year where we host local venders, food, and all-around good fun and entertainment. We have a graffiti battle we are calling The Fat Cap Street Battle we plan on hosting once a year. This is where street artists and graffiti artists will go head-to-head in an all-out tournament to be crowned Fat Cap’s “Best Artist.” This will be an exciting event.
Our most anticipated event will be an art exhibition featuring Houston’s very own ‘Dual Streets,’ at the end of the year. In our opinion , DUAL is by far the most dedicated, unique, and colorful artists in the city of Houston today. His works can be found in collectors’ homes, murals across town, and on businesses like Coral Sword, Rice Box, Cloud 10 Creamery, and even reaching as far as Los Angeles and the east coast. We are extremely excited to have this show finally come together.
JB: What are some future plans for The Fat Cap?
AM: I plan to get a big ol’ neon sign in front of the building. You can expect to see high-profile artists from all over the world showcasing in our gallery. We look forward to throwing some of the best events in Houston. We want to record a collection of graffiti stories from writers of all generations and document graffiti history. We are looking into hosting art workshops, to teach things like using spray paint for art, sign painting, and maybe even artist talks. We will be running huge mural projects, to beautify the city in a way only The Fat Cap could. We are looking into creating a Fat Cap non-profit charity organization and finding a way to make a difference.
JB: So who are some of your favorite graffiti artists?
AM: Too many to list, but I’ll throw in one that changed the way my graffiti carrier went. Jews DTS — this dude is down to earth. His style is very unique, and he is downright and dirty. He has been in the scene for longer than most writers in Houston and knows more than a thing or two about the scene. He took me under his wing, helped me mold my style and taught me everything I needed to know about graffiti. The stories this guy tells makes me feel like a kid in story time. I think I’ll start calling him grandpa.
Shout out to everyone out there putting in that work and keeping the culture alive and healthy.
Note: This conversation has been edited for length and clarity.