Photos: Joe Tirado

From rags to riches, Harif “Haculla” Guzman is the true incarnation of The American Dream, however unorthodox the journey. Born in Venezuela and raised in 1980s New York when the city was more like The Rotten Apple, Harif found haven in the steady krrrrrrr of his skateboard, and through it, ultimately a creative influence that would steer him through hard times. The outcome? Something that can only be described as modern alchemy, a lowly street-dweller derel emerged into a globally renowned contemporary artist.

Sure, you might’ve stumbled upon a story like this in heaps; however, what should attract your attention is Harif’s humbleness. He’s never dismissed from his memory those moments when he slept on Harold Hunter’s floor or how difficult it was to seek out support for his art. With that in mind, Harif is now looking to offer a hand to art’s youth and mentor-less with his Soho Arts Club; a place where he can usher that support he didn’t have to those that need it.

Haculla

You were born in Venezuela, correct?
Yup. Moved to New York in the ‘80s.

Why did your parents move over here?
It’s like a broken home situation, and I guess America had always appealed to everyone in South America like “The Land of Opportunity” or something.

How did it affect you as a young boy, making that transition?
Coming from a home like that I guess its mostly just confusing y’know? Not knowing where you were, not speaking English, and just when your parents are broken up, one minute you’re there, one minute you’re over here…it’s kind of like being pulled back and forth. So a little bit of that going on and the emotions that are attached to something like that.

I read that your father was a printer and typesetter, so I’m assuming that was your first exposure to creativity.
Absolutely. Even though at the time it didn’t seem like it—I felt like my dad’s slave. I guess all the colors and the pantones and cleaning out the machines and watching him do typesetting…I mean, looking back now it was definitely something special and an honor, but during the time it just really sucked. You know what I mean? It was cool; I always liked paper, but it was just always working and he always made me work and work and work and work.