Secret Walls offers art illustration ballot platform

By Darlene Donloe

Contributing Writer

LOS ANGELES — Anyone who is an artist or interested in the art scene knows about Secret Walls. Its popularity has exploded internationally — and the momentum is increasing.

In 2006, Terry Guy and some of his friends created a live art illustration battle platform where artists take the stage to test their skills, show off their talent and compete to win. The result is Secret Walls.

The arts and entertainment company, based in Los Angeles, is known for the live art paint and NFT battles it hosts in 50-plus countries around the world.

When Secret Walls first started, fans came out in the hundreds to cheer on their favorite heroes of the underground art scene. Hundreds quickly turned into thousands as Secret Walls’ reputation began to expand.

The vision for the company then and now is to disrupt the dusty art gallery scene, entertain fans, support local artists and showcase the best creativity on the planet.

Guy, 42, came up with the idea of Secret Walls by happenstance. He initially called it Secret Wars like the 1980s Marvel comic, but changed the name due to some inevitable legal issues.

“I didn’t want to change the name too much,” Guy said. “I wanted it to be close to the same name, so I changed it from Secret Wars to Secret Walls.”

What began in a small setting in the bars and warehouses of Shoreditch, East London – has become an international sensation.

When he was younger, Guy wanted to work for Disney or Pixar, so he went to the University of West London to study digital design and animation.

“I dreamed big,” said Guy, who grew up on the Isle of Wight, just off the south coast of England. “I never did work for Disney or Pixar. When I graduated, I had two years of trying to survive. There was this constant pressure of trying to eat. I was eating baked beans and toast because that’s all I could afford. I worked for free a lot. I was a starving artist. I realized I had to change my strategy.”

His luck would change after attending a party in South London where he witnessed a graffiti battle.

“I was a country kid, not from the city,” he said. “I saw graffiti on the walls for the first time. I was looking at this artwork that I had only seen in the movies. I thought, why can’t we put art on the walls.”

Guy met the graffiti artists that night and together they came up with a competition.

“We put 90 minutes on the clock,” he said. “I thought black paint on white walls would look clean. I was inspired by Marvel comics. I was in the Marvel world at the time so I called it Secret Wars after the comic that came out in the late 80s.”

Today, Secret Walls is located in the Harvard Heights area of Los Angeles. The creative studio, which occupies four distinctive spaces, is a community space for its wider network of artists and fans. The space has regular event programming, in-house content productions, artists’ residencies, the city’s only black-and-white mural yard, educational workshops, a coffee shop and more.

I recently caught up with Guy to talk about Secret Walls.

DD: Why did you want to launch the company?

TG: It came naturally. In the beginning, I did it as a party with some friends. I made money on the tickets. I made a thousand pounds on the door. I sold drinks. We had money. We split it. We did it again. Then we had a tournament. We did that for about six or seven months. It accelerated. We built an underground fan base. I relied on word of mouth and guerrilla marketing. 

After the first year, we got a call from Reebok. They asked if I wanted to join them in Barcelona. We hosted battles every day. We met a lot of influencers. It changed our brains. We kept pushing and it snowballed. 

It’s been 20 years now. We’re now based out of L.A. near Venice and Western. We’ve been here for eight years now. We’ve worked with companies like Adidas and Nike. It was rare to get brand dollars. I always ask myself how this came about.

DD: What was the organization’s goal initially?

TG: I feel like we stayed true to our goals. We are a profit-making company. There’s a lot more opportunity here in the states. We’ve been to 100 cities in 50 countries. We’re very global. We’ve collaborated with some of the world’s most iconic brands while building a global network of art world up-and-comers and superstar talent. We want to connect with as many artists as possible. Supporting your local artists was and is the mission.

DD: Why is Secret Walls important?

TG: I was reminded by artists I worked with what’s important. It’s the networking, scouting, opportunities and diverse spaces we create. KRS-One coined the phrase, ‘edutainment’. I love that. I feel that we are educating people with our shows.

DD: Tell me about Secret Walls and Secret Walls Academy.

TG: It’s about schools. I would visit high schools and do workshops. We want to inspire kids of all ages. We work with the sixth and seventh grades, but mainly with high school kids. We did school battles called School Wars, sponsored by Adidas.

We’re developing a plan to serve the artist community. We want it to be a resource hub for all ages. We get people in their 40s and 50s. An educational hub is definitely in the future.

With its mission to unlock and inspire creativity in any individual, the academy strives to build community through hands-on experience with various forms of contemporary art, such as teaching graffiti, street art, digital, illustration, and art business.

We’re working with schools, youth clubs, museums, community organizations, and brands across the globe. The Secret Walls Academy fosters a worldwide community of artists and aficionados with monthly events, including artist dinners, workshops with guest artists, zine building and live panels. Every academy session is led by one or more experienced artists from the Secret Walls network.

DD: How do you decide which schools you’re going to work with?

TG: They contact us through the website. Sometimes we cold call schools in our neighborhood. We don’t have a structured formula. We are building relationships with teachers. We just had a meeting with the Compton school superintendent to find out how we can help.

DD: Talk about the collaboration between Secret Walls Academy and Posca.

TG: Posca is a Japanese brand. It’s amazing. I spent my student loan money to go to Japan and hang out. Posca is a non-toxic chalk-based product. They sponsor us now. We use their pens exclusively on stage. It’s an easy marriage.

DD: Do you know how many artists you’ve helped over the years?

TG: My guest estimate would be 3,500. On the last tour after the pandemic, we had 160 artists on that tour alone.

DD: What are you most proud of?

TG: I’m working with friends and building something that doesn’t feel like work. I just want to make it bigger. This concept works.

DD: What’s next?

TG: We’re planning a tour later this year. I can’t reveal too much.

DD: Why is Secret Walls so successful?

TG: The live process is the secret sauce. When you’re here, you feel it.

For more information, visit secretwalls.world.

Darlene Donloe is a freelance reporter for Wave Newspapers who covers South Los Angeles. She can be reached at ddonloe@gmail.com.

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