How do you fuse traditional Japanese philosophy with Los Angeles street art? Meet Alex Kizu, also known as Defer. 

It’s difficult to explain someone’s style when they do not claim just one school of thought: when you are more predictable, you are more likely to be defeated in battle. When we asked Alex about his influences and his evolution as an artist, he explained, “my crew in particular, we kind of infused what we saw in our neighborhoods like the placasos, the block letters, the Old English letters and made a hybrid of it. We kind of infused that into our style which made it unique.”

As a youth, Alex took his cues from what he saw on the walls and streets of Boyle Heights. At the time, graffiti was frowned upon and seen strictly as vandalism. However, Alex saw an art form, and by adding elements from his heritage, his style emerged as a fusion of his environment and his experiences.

Defer’s work is also defined by his Japanese-American identity. His mother was a very influential force, as a founding member of the redress coalition that garnered reparations for Japanese-Americans who were detained during WWII. Defer’s grandfather, a highly respected Samurai sword appraiser, also helped shape his unique style, introducing him to Miyamoto Musashi, a 16th century swordsman and philosopher. 

Musashi has been a prominent guide for Defer on several fronts:

"I've been very influenced by a lot of ancient Japanese manuals. I've used these concepts and precepts, not only in my art, but in life. This diligence to craft, this diligence to pursue a certain enlightenment that is deeper than material. I feel a lot of that ancient energy flowing through my veins when I’m painting. There's often times where I have, Miyamoto Musashi’s “School of Two Swords”, where I have two brushes on me, literally. One is useless because I don’t paint with my left hand but I need it there."

It’s this ‘flow state’ that has allowed Defer to seamlessly navigate the different art forms that have contributed to his style: from LA gang typography, to block lettering, and countless others, evolving into an obliteration of the letter form, self-defined as “spiritual language.” When Defer creates, he is freeing his inner being, and visualizing the many layers of his existence.

As an artist, and in life, Defer is always pushing himself to grow and evolve.“I'm trying to constantly reach that level and diligently, in solitude, constantly trying to reach that level of perfection; which I am not going to attain.”