Relm1 has the ultimate weekend warrior gig as a graffiti artist. Some dads form bands, and some take up running. But Relm1 takes things in a different direction.
Dad to five children and a signmaker by day, in his spare time, Dawood Relm collaborates with other Raleigh, North Carolina, artists to paint the town. For a rebel-turned-businessman, Dawood’s art is a prominent reminder that the rebel never really went away.
We’re diving into the life and story of one of the most influential American graffiti artists to see what makes him tick.
The Story of Relm1
In the short history of American graffiti, Relm1 has a whole chapter. No, really. Blowing up on the scene in the early 1990s, Relm1 captured the attention of the graffiti world immediately.
Like most graffiti artists, Relm1 started working under the cover of darkness to avoid detection. Not long after he started, though, he stepped out into the light.
Originally from Boston, MA, Dawood started painting on the street in 1985. Inspired by the style of graffiti he saw around him in Lynn, a northern suburb in the Boston metro area. At the time, Temp drove the local graffiti scene, and his style inspired young Dawood to play with color and line in new ways. People who were into Temp’s bold lines and bright colors appreciated the work Relm1 contributed to the scene.
Working in graffiti is a high-risk business, or at least it was. Artists worked on the wrong side of the law and had to hustle to find space for their masterpieces. Relm1 lives by the code, however. He doesn’t cover other artists’ work unless he’s going to “burn” it by outdoing what existed there before.
A New Path
Relm1 worked all over the East Coast with crews in Boston and New York City before leaving life to raise his family in Raleigh, NC. Things changed for him when he accepted a new faith in 2001.
Now a practicing Muslim, Relm1 continues to create work with local and visiting artists in the Raleigh area. Instead of cruising the streets, he contacts businesses with blank space before tagging or creating a production, a wall done by several artists.
When Caleb Neelon and Roger Gastman started work on their book The History of American Graffiti, Dawood figured heavily in their narrative. The authors can’t deny his influence on graffiti writers on the East Coast. And while he’s out of the hustle for good, he still gives back to the community by inspiring new artists and creating exciting new pieces.
What Inspires Relm1’s Art?
Since picking up his first can of paint in the 6th grade, Relm1’s inspiration has always been other artists. SPone, Slick, Sly, and Wombat all influenced his early work in the Boston area. Since moving to Raleigh, Dawood continues to develop his signature style. His pieces call back to his early work as a tagger and usually contain his tag somewhere.
Instead of relying on imagery or outside inspiration, he’s inspired by two significant factors: color and space. When embarking on a new piece, Relm1 lays out his colors and meditates on the space in front of him. From there, the work usually appears in his mind’s eye as fully-formed art. Once muscle memory kicks in, shading, shape, and line become part of his flow state.
In interviews, Relm1 talks about how he self-edits while creating. A fix here or there, tightening up a section, adding color and shading, all are part of his process.
What Mediums Does Relm1 Work With?
Since childhood, Relm1 has worked with spray paint as his primary medium. But when adulthood and responsibility called, he translated his art skills into something else. Through his business, Sign Scientist, he works in digital design, car wraps, murals, and signs.
Some might see this move as a sell-out, but Dawood sees it differently. He’s able to support his family through his art, and that’s the most important thing.
Relm1’s Trip to Egypt
In 2006, Dawood made a trip to Cairo for an art trip. A practicing Muslim since 2001, he felt the call of his faith and traveled to the capital city of Egypt to create. For an artist, the opportunity to make a piece in the ancient city was too good to pass up. And for a follower of Islam, there were specific rules guiding his work.
In Islam, there is an emphasis on calligraphy in art. This worked in Relm1’s favor because his style is primarily rooted in lettering. For his piece, he transcribed a blessing from the Koran that reads: “verily in the remembrance of Allah do all hearts find rest.” While painting, locals surrounded him and brought him tea and a blessing.
What Are Some of Relm1’s Art Pieces?
After nearly four decades, Relm1’s art is all over the East Coast. It’s hard to narrow it down to just a few of our favorites, so we took to the Internet to explore NFTs created by the artist.
One of Relm1’s digital pieces, Medieval Metro, combines a modern skyline with castle walls. Using the same stylistic elements, he includes in his graffiti, the piece comments on the feudalistic nature of contemporary city life. A green-to-yellow gradient unifies the otherwise unconnected images, and the castle seems to drip off the page.
Making Fish Moves
This nod to sushi lovers combines Relm1’s tag and several classic sushi and nigiri preparations. With bold red and black lines in the tag, this digital piece’s sharp, angular lines feel modern and new. And, of course, the sushi doesn’t hurt! For an artist who enjoys life, this piece is a fun reminder that it isn’t always just about the hustle. Sometimes, it’s about the sushi.
MoonNight combines several elements that speak to Relm1’s inspiration. In the foreground, his tag zig-zags across the image. Just behind the tag, minarets rise next to the domes of Middle Eastern cities. Behind the skyline, a full moon dominates the piece. Using bold colors, the artist creates a cohesive image from unrelated elements.
Where Can I See Relm1’s Art?
On the Streets
Relm1’s art is all over Boston and New York City if you know where to find it. But since he’s spent most of his recent time in the Raleigh area, you’ll find his newer work there. Working with local businesses, Relm1 has built a little graffiti empire for himself in the area, and locals will give you hints on the best spots to see.
You can also find some of his work in cities like Cairo, San Diego, and Los Angeles, although they’re older pieces and may not exist in their original forms.
Online is the best place to find Relm1’s work. You’ll get a good look at his style through his Instagram, where he posts regularly, and his Opensea site with NFTs and other pieces.
Relm1’s Instagram is perhaps the best place to see him in action. You’ll see the artist in action in his reels, usually accompanied by classic hip-hop. And if you think his style is dope, his taste in music is right up there too.
Faith in Relm1’s Future
Relm1, one of the godfathers of contemporary graffiti writing, survived the streets of Boston to become a family man. After a life of hustling, he prefers the slower pace and regular paycheck. But there is still a dream of creating meaningful work and getting paid.
Father, artist, businessman, and man of faith. From a rebel without a cause, Relm1 became a man of principle. And as he translates his beliefs into his work, we think his best work is yet to come.
Outside Folk Gallery
You can explore folk, street, and outsider art in our personal collection at Outside Folk Art. We’re celebrating these creatives and giving voice to rising black, Native, immigrant, and working mother artisans.
We’ll also be offering pop-up shows and collaborations with small museums, so be sure to follow us to discover the where and when!