Search and Destroy: The art of Sabo

Sabot: saˈbō,ˈsabō noun a device that ensures the correct positioning of a bullet or shell in the barrel of a gun, attached either to the projectile or inside the barrel and falling away as it leaves the muzzle.

When you meet Sabo in person, as ABC news experienced, you might end up walking on the pages of the Koran just to have a seat in his living room to interview him. You will see a man who doesn’t look like a street artist who’s been active since 1999. You'll see a man with a greying beard and eyes that have seen a lot. Perhaps too much.

You also see a guy who is unapologetic about who he is and what he believes. Unlike a lot of artists, Sabo explains himself a lot, tells you exactly what his art means, and puts it into context. Spend enough time with him and you’ll realize he’s neither a tin-foil hat extremist, nor a shock-jock joker. He is a contrarian, and offers up a counter opinion.
Whether you want to hear it or believe it is none of his concern. Sabo named himself after a thrust-transmitting carrier that positions a missile in a gun barrel or launching tube and that prevents the escape of gas ahead of the missile but dropped the “t” so people wouldn’t pronounce his name like “Say-Bot.” He’s been labeled as a conservative artist. Certainly his art would lean that way.

But it would be more accurate to describe him as an anti-establishment artist. It just so happens that the current establishment in America is seemingly more left-leaning. He tends to use shocking imagery to disturb because he knows that shock-value wears off, but something disturbing weasels its way into your brain and doesn’t let go. And he's not about to tone it down.

At one point in our conversation he brings up Lenny Bruce. "Would you have asked Lenny Bruce to tone it down?" Of course not. because if Lenny bruce toned it down, he'd no longer be Lenny Bruce. Sabo’s website is called Unsavory Agents, which is a terminology for a particular type of group the government (particularly CIA) work with (in a clandestine manner of course) to get the job done. If you're on the left, you'll hate him. If you're on the right, you might still treat him like your crazy uncle, even if you agree with his message.

One thing's for certain: He is Unafraid. Unapologetic.
And he considers himself untouchable because he’s neither bought and paid for or on anyone's payroll. He's neither right nor left. he lives in the anti-establishment cloud of punk rock mist that questions authority ("ok, sez who?") any chance he gets. He believes that ethos exists outside our time period. It existed way before the Sex Pistols, he said. People in the 13th century had that attitude, as much as any one today.

To Sabo, punk means believing in something bigger than you. Interestingly enough, that belief system aligns with both sides of the political spectrum. It's right and left. It's as much an image of Nancy Pelosi twerking as it is the cover of a French left-wing magazine.

This explains why Sabo would show up to our interview wearing a Je Suis Charlie t-shirt. Strip away images of Nancy Pelosi Twerking, and what you’ll find is a passionate and highly articulate designer who graduated from Art Center, and has a high regard for Mark Fenske. Before he was inciting anger among the mainstream, he was making ads. Until one day a brief came across his desk, attempting to sell an Acura-style SUV to the same affluent demographic who were buying Hummers, when he threw up his hands at the meaningless of it all, and said “fuck this.”

It doesn’t matter if you like his art, hate it or have never seen it. He came from advertising stock, and understands the value of a good concept more than most people working in advertising today. Don’t be surprised if one of these days, you’ll walk into class at Art Center, Creative Circus or Otis and he’ll be lecturing. If he’s not arrested for vandalism first.
see "Expect Delays" at UnsavoryAgent's website - a piece that works in the context of congested L.A. traffic due to presidential visits. How he 'hacked' the sign is a mystery to the cops who helpfully informed him "your sign has been hacked" to this day.

When we met Sabo at a Venice dive, our topics ranged from Punk rock to Lenny Bruce, to never toning down the creative, to what’s wrong with advertising. And how you have to die before you can live free. Sabo uses the word "dying," to describe his transformation.

Forgetting everything you were told to believe. Deprogramming if you like. Relinquishing the material goods, the stuff that doesn't matter that we insist matter so much. Sabo died to become who he is today. One of our first questions to Sabo was “has your art started a conversation or created awareness among people?”

His answer : “You’re here, aren’t you?”

Adland: What did going to Art Center teach you that is applicable to your career now?

Sabo: 1. Don't hate rich kids. It's a pointless pursuit. They might be annoying to be around but hell! I know a ton of poor ones who are just as annoying. 2. The concept of concept. At the Art Center ad guys are drilled the importance of not only grasping the idea, but honing it down to its purest most applicable form.

Adland: What do politics and advertising have in common?

Sabo: This answer might apply to both questions 1 and 2. Take two brands of smokes. One being far superior than the other. However, the inferior brand has all the advertising, celebrities, television and movie stars smoking it (getting paid of course), and all the musicians sing about the inferior brand. Artists know smoking the inferior brand gives off a cooler image so they smoke them, they have to or God forbid they be perceived as "unhip" even worse "square."
Teachers at every level of education are telling students the inferior brand is 'the brand to smoke.’ Year after year, movie after movie, song, after fashion ad we are told the inferior brand is "the brand." But then one day we run out. Desperate, we ask some random person to bum a smoke and he hands us 'the superior smoke.’ And just like that ... all the bullshit that's been pumped in our heads year after year goes into question. All those ads, celebrities, movies, tv actors and actresses, rock stars, all of them ... FUCK THEM.
Now don't get me wrong, switching over might take some deprogramming but getting the thought of that awesome smoke out of my mind makes it that much easier. I might lose some friends, they might throw me dirty looks when I bust out that new "EVIL" brand but again, FUCK EM! This shit taste good!!!

How does this apply to politics? Let's take into consideration that maybe you are a Democrat. If this is the case then what I just wrote probably means absolutely nothing. Worse, its simplicity is offensive to such an educated, learned individual. And you just don't have the time to give it much thought. Remember, it's me, SABO who is the crazy person. Everyone says so, so it must be true.
Point of this is that the Democrats became who they are preaching hell fire independence, rebellion, burn a bra, be yourself, explore your mind and have since degenerated into a bunch of Big Government nannies in support of some Collective Hive.
They own Hollywood, just about the whole of the entertainment industry.
The Republicans busy just trying to make the rent, left their kids parked in front of a tv screen for decades and in doing so lost them to an entertainment industry they had absolutely no appreciation of. And it's this that has turned and bit them in the ass. When a Republican is acting like a Republican they are the superior party. When they pander to the Left in order to "get along" they become something else, weak, lesser than. I don't know if this answers your question. Apply yourself. Then maybe more people would want to go to them.

see "All Men Must Die"at UnsavoryAgent's website

Adland: What comes first, the concept or the image?

Sabo: Always concept. Sometimes the solution isn't even an image. Shit, it could be anything, and that's why you need your idea first. I believe a well-educated craftsman learns how to create a final piece (image) however they must. (it takes) Years of practice, like learning to play the notes on a piano for years on end. As graphic designers we learn to produce "images" in any number of mediums. These methods are the scales we learn to play. Once you get that shit out of the way then you can learn to create at will.
I was just at a gallery show where there were a few draftsmen showing. There was not one piece there that hit me.
The world is filled with good technique or "images". It's the ideas that stand out.

Too many people today continue to focus on the ideas of yesterday. We need newer ideas or concepts to help define this new time. The supporting images come after.

Adland: How important is social media to getting your message out?

Sabo: Very important, I equate it with the invention of the printing press. It liberates us from having the established gatekeepers standing between us and the public.
We can create our own public now sans a PR department or an ad agency, or anyone. We can do it all ourselves if we work at it hard enough. There are other factors that need to come into play though if you really want to reach out and touch someone. Learning to work the media on your own for me made the biggest difference. If you want people on your social media it helps for them to hear about you or about what you're doing then you can add them to your list. The list of interested people keeps growing.

Adland: Politically, you’re an outlier artist, especially in Los Angeles. How has this helped you? And how has it hindered you?

Sabo: I am the only true Rebel Artist in Los Angeles if not the country. If there's another I probably taught them. There is no meaner, there is no one more street level than I am. Shepard Fairey is the biggest sellout in the history of sellouts. I've met him and he's a nice guy, but there is something evil and unforgivable about someone who teaches kids to hate the very system that set him free.
To me that is unforgivable. All the other street artists in Los Angeles and New York are busy creating beautiful wallpaper, pointless shit that's easy on the eyes, absolutely not substance. Most of them are politically retarded and it shows in their art. FUCK EM!!!

Adland: What demographic has been the most receptive to your work?

Sabo: Obviously, the Right/Conservatives but I warn them to do it with caution because I'm not here to go to their churches, I'm not here to be like them. I'm here to insure our young hear my side of the story because they spend so much time hearing the other side. I'm here to remind the Right that there is power in art and communication. Without that power they are lost and at the mercy of the Left.
Without that creative power the Left will be the ones who define us because we simply wont have a voice in the matter.

Sabo might have taught other street artists a few tricks, but he didn't do the Sarkeesian #Gamergate posters which he thought were "utter shit", nor did he do the pretty little liar stunt. He's inspired by the city of L.A., and other artists like the Venice beach artist who sowed the seed for Bad Ass Ted Cruz. Sabo's work will be appearing along with Shepard Fairey and other artists at Los Angeles' first ever comic-con style non-partisan event for politics called Politicon form October 9th-10th. That is, unless they deem his art too offensive or radical, in which case he'll kindly tell them to fuck off.

Below: April 15th Pimp at UnsavoryAgent's website

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kristen peterson's picture

Great article! Sabo reaches an audience the Republicans so desperately need.

ad kid's picture

Very interesting internet irw. What he says about images not coming before the idea is something every ad student should pay attention too. I never knew he worked in advertising, this guy might be my new hero.

ad kid's picture

Interview, not internet. Someone please buy a poor ad student a larger phone.

GH addict's picture

The "Delays" street sign is marvellous. That's street art on the next level. Great concept.

Dabitch's picture

Yes, that's my personal fave as well. It's ballsy, and very funny in the context.

Mary Ann's picture

That vicious-looking 3-eyed raven is amazing! A shame it has the message it has. Not that I like Hillary, but I would like her better than the Clown Car full of paranoid, racist, homophobic, misogynist wannabes the GOP has offered up this go-round. *shrug* What happened to the GOP that used to exist 40 -50 years ago? You know, the sane ones?

Lame's picture


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