News and Public Media for North Central Florida
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

From graffiti to fine art: The journey of Gainesville-based artist 444 IDK

The artist who goes by the name 444 IDK has done graffiti from West Palm Beach, where he grew up, down to Miami. He said he has tagged highways and street signs in various locations. But he said he enjoys tagging trains the most because he considers them to be giant steel canvases for his work.

He said 444 are just some numbers that he began to identify with before he even considered himself an artist. When he started using 444 as his artistic persona, people would ask him what it meant. "IDK" was his response to the question.

"I'm just some young guy making art. I can't tell anyone what some numbers mean," he said.
Earlier this month, 444 IDK held a collection release a the Gainsville Fine Arts Association.

He attributes his passion for large-scale projects to the satisfaction he gets from doing large-scale art and graffiti on trains.

He said he sees graffiti as another one of the design realms he engages in. He wants to dive back into graffiti at a later time.

444 IDK, who is based in Gainesville, said he has tagged the 34th Street wall many times but has stopped doing so because others would destroy his work within a day. He wants to tag places like train yards where people are scared to go because his work will last longer and make the time and effort he puts into tagging more worth it.

The debate over whether graffiti should be considered art is ongoing.

“Some graffiti can be a work of art, other graffiti is not,” said Richard Heipp, 70, professor emeritus of art at the University of Florida. “It has to do with the intention, context, aesthetic and conceptual framework.”

“We have some very talented taggers in this town,” Heipp said, referring to a lecture he gave on the 34th Street wall in Gainesville a few years ago. He said those taggers have an artistic intention. On the other hand, most of the graffiti on the wall is announcements or musings, which he does consider art.

In the 1980s, graffiti artists transitioned to the gallery scene in New York, according to Heipp.  Their work was marketed, sold and accepted as fine art in the art realm. One of the artists who made this transition is Keith Haring. Haring went from being an art student doing graffiti in the subways of New York to being a giant in the art world.

Another example Heipp gave was Jean Michel Basquiat. Basquiat started off as a graffiti artist and now his work can sell for millions at auction.

Heipp said he would not consider the graffiti of talented taggers to necessarily be art but it is very artful. The work of Keith Haring and Jean Michele Basquiat employs graffiti elements and it's widely considered to be art, according to Heipp.

“There’s a time and a place for it,” he said, when asked if he thinks graffiti should be legal. He thinks tagging should be limited to where it is not enforced on the 34th Street wall. Vandalism should always be punished, but if there is artistic intent behind tagging then there should be some consideration.

444 IDK said his childhood was great and school was his main priority. He said he faced consequences when he wasn’t performing in school. He also was rewarded when he did well in school and kept up with his chores.

He said his parents have financially supported him through art school at the University of Florida, which is where he does most of his work. His family did not support his artwork until his video lookbook premiered in April 2022. His video lookbook was a showcase of a fashion collection in a form similar to a skate video.

“I love my mom more than anything in the world,” he said. “It’s super important to me that she is able to see my vision and understand where I’m going.”  He said he does not want his mother to worry about him. When he sees her stress about him, it makes him stressed and can distract him from his work.

“Two years ago, I was a graffiti guy with long hair on probation,” he said. His trouble with the law had to do with his graffiti, and he said he knew he had to express his art in a different form.

He began creating designs inspired by his studies in printmaking. He used these designs to design clothing and furniture.

“I’ve honed in on myself as a person: focusing on myself, increasing my vibrations, becoming more spiritually aware,” he said. He said he believes his art has been a reflection of him working on himself as a person.

He said he credits reading with enhancing his spirituality. He catches inspiration from others’ work. The key to reading is he can take in whatever message he reads and analyze it himself.  He does not want anyone to interpret things for him.

“The plastic water bottle is based on consumerism and capitalism,” he said. “Selling water contained in this thing that is meant to be used and thrown in the trash leaves a carbon footprint.” Plastic water bottles with his design lined the floor of his collection release at the Gainesville Fine Arts Association.

“The water bottle creates the opportunity for people not to open it and years down the road people will be able to still have their water bottle that they got from April 4, 2023, and it is no longer seen as a water bottle,” he said. “It is now seen as art and can be held in a collection.” He said he wants the water bottle to serve a greater purpose than its original use.

Robert is a reporter for WUFT News who can be reached by calling 352-392-6397 or emailing