When street artist Amuse126 was a kid growing up in Chicago, he was told not to play by the railroad tracks or in abandoned factories. “It’s not safe,” older family members would tell him. Many of us were told that by adults as kids. But as he got older, Amuse126’s perspective on parental warnings shifted.
“Things at home became uncomfortable for me, due [to] family situations,” he says. “I realized, ‘Well, if it’s not as safe at home, what’s to say it’s unsafe by these factories and such?'”
He started exploring abandoned city spaces. And what he found wasn’t abandoned at all. It was a whole other world, alive and brimming with color. The seemingly decrepit buildings were covered in graffiti. And he gravitated towards the artform — often visiting the same pieces again and again, trying to get under the skin of what made them speak to his visual aesthetic so clearly.
Before long, Amuse126 had joined the scene and started doing art, illegally. And the thrilling, rebellious nature of it kept him coming back. It was kind of like a game of Truth or Dare, just…. with constant dares.
“You begin to look and scan the surface of everything differently,” he says. “It’s like skateboarding. You’re looking for a set of stairs to jump over or a rail to grind or something to really wow. Things that haven’t been done. Like, no one’s ever jumped over a distance this large. It’s the same thing, ‘Wow this is so bold, this is so right on the street, how could we not try to have our name on it?'”
He loved the challenge — competing with himself to do things that were bigger, better, more exciting. And being the best, he discovered, meant finding the best version of you, not copying or competing with other artists or styles.
“It’s very easy to think, ‘How can I compete or keep up with someone else?'” he says, “It’s harder to challenge yourself and stay true to yourself. You’re much better off at war with yourself than everybody outside.”
It’s Amuse126’s constant striving to be the best and truest version of himself that made his recent commission with app TikTok all the more exciting. The social media app — exploding on the scene right now — is itself obsessed with people expressing their own style and steez. So when approaching the artist for a collab (designing an Atlanta mural ahead of this week’s big game for Overall Murals to paint), they gave him very few parameters. Just a theme, “Dare to be.”
As Amuse pondered this, he realized that even though he tries to be himself in his art, he sometimes protects himself from too much vulnerability. This project gave him the chance to really tackle that.
“I wanted to strip it down a little bit,” he says of the work. “Normally, there are many, many layers to how I build what I do. Those layers protect and build a whole world for that piece of art to live in. This time, I tried to not put as much protection on the letters, giving them a chance to kind of breathe and just be themselves without hiding a bunch of trickery and visual distractions on top of them.”
The result is a piece that feels unusually personal for the artist — simple, in a “back to basics” kind of way. For Amuse126, a dare has often been about being bigger or flashier. But for this piece, Daring to Be is a dare to be willing to expose the parts of yourself and art that you normally try to hide away a little. Exposing your core self, and then trusting that who you are and what you want is worth it.
“You gotta have tunnel vision for what you want,” he says. “Believe in it and then just continue to work and push it.”
It was that tunnel vision, that daring to pursue his passion (and trusting that being himself was special), that has brought him to where he is today, a professional artist. And that passion is on full display in his TikTok collaboration.
“I was told by everyone, teachers, police, parents, you name it, ‘You’re an idiot, don’t do this, this is a bad idea,'” he says with a laugh. “But it was the craziest draw to anything I’ve ever had. It just made me from the very beginning say, ‘I want to do this and I want to be the best at it.’ So I pushed and pushed and pushed and pushed. And now, I’m able to laugh at teachers or my parents and be like, ‘Look, I turned it into a career.’ So yeah, you got to trust yourself.”