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Where and when did you start (on trains)?
I started painting in late 1976, same year that I got into the High School of Art and Design. That was the first place that I was really exposed to writers. Before that I had always seen pieces on trains. Namely stuff by TRACY 168 and BLADE and I always wondered, Just like everybody else how people did it and where did it come from, but it wasn't until I got into Art and Design that I really came into contact with people that were actually painting.
Did you have a particular inspiration or mentor(s)?
I was inspired by a lot of different people in about 1976 and '77. Like I said BLADE and TRACY, but a host of a lot of other people too. Like LEE, obviously and The Fabulous Five, The Death Squad, TMT, NOC 167, guys that were really into style inspired me the most. Art and Design was always known for a lot of writers that went there. DON ONE went there, myself, PINK, PHADE, ERNI.
There are tons of writers that went there. A lot of unknown writers that had went there too. When I got there, I noticed that a lot of other writers were just piecing in books. All their style was formulated around books. It wasn't till I meet guys like DON ONE and CHINO MALO, they were like, "All this book shit is for toys. You gotta' get your name out there. You gotta' get your name on the trains, so other people see who you are." and outside of art and design DEAN gave me the same advice, that "if you wasn't paintin' trains you was a toy." So at that point I kind of started to separate myself a little bit from the guys that were just piecing in books and started to go out there more and more.
Around that time I met 2MAD. He was a guy that got good really fast and he was also the kind of guy that was about action. He didn't just talk about what he was gonna' do, he did it. It was around this time that he and I were hanging out at The Bench a lot and meeting writers that were bombing trains. Some of them, granted were toys, but they were painting trains, they were bombing insides, they were doing throw-ups, they were trying to do burners. We just sort of blended in to that whole group that was hanging out at The Bench, which consisted of me, KID 56, BAN 2, POLLO, BS 119, CRASH. Actually that's where I first met CRASH. We were all part of a group that hung out at 149th and the Concourse.
What borough are you originally from?
Originally I'm from Brooklyn. That's where I was born, but as time went on I began to be identified more with The Bronx, because my cousin NAK lived two blocks away form CRASH. So I was always at his house hangin' out, stayin' over there and all the spots that I was painting in were in The Bronx, but originally I'm from Brooklyn. Eastern Parkway, Utica Avenue.
Who was your most successful partner(s)?
Early on I saw that there were guys that bombed and that's what they did,throw-ups and insides and there were guys that concentrated on style. I'm from the second generation of writers, the mid '70s. I saw that in the early '70s you had guys like PHASE 2 and RIFF 170, that were really making a lot of innovations in style. Then later on in the mid '70s, you had guys like CHAIN 3 and NOC 167 that were taking it to the next level and I wanted to be like that.
I wanted to be a guy that was known for style and I wanted to paint with a lot of different people. I didn't really want to concentrate on just hanging out with one group of guys, I wanted to paint with a lot of different people. If you look at the course of my whole career on the trains, I painted with everybody from REPEL, 2MAD, NAK, MITCH77, DEZ and SKEME, CRASH obviously, MIDG, guys from all over the INDs BMTs and IRTs. I went all over, painting with a really weird variety of people. As far as the guys that were really my partners, CRASH was probably my most well known partner and after him DEZ and SKEME.
Who were your rivals?
I didn't really have any rivals because, I was mostly observing what people were doing. I didn't have any wars with people. Beef at that time, the late '70s was really isolated. Of course you had problems, you had people going against each other, but it wasn't as organized as it got to be in the mid '80s, and by that time I had already quit.
List all the other names under which you are known?
Some of the names that I was writing besides DAZE were CHILL 2, I wrote WIND 2 for a while. I did a few pieces of BODE. I noticed a lot of people were painting Vaughn Bode's characters. I had no interest in that, but I wanted to take his name.
Do you have any good raid stories?
As far as raids go, I remember the first time I actually went to the yards was the D Yard up at 215th Street. I just cut out of school and went with this guy DEA 2. He had a lot of tiny little pieces on the CCs and the Ds. We just cut out of school in the day time in the winter. He took me there. The first piece I did was a sloppy dippy piece. Bone White fill-in, Mahogany Brown outline and Hot Pink designs, all paint that I had racked up from Alexander's on 59th Street. It was a big sloppy mess and we got raided, I didn't get busted but I got my jacket totally ripped up barbed wire and trees that were down. After that nightmare, it was on! I knew I had to go back.
How was CYA formed?
Originally CYA started with 2MAD. He knew JEAN 13 from upper Manhattan. At the time we were looking at a lot of stuff on Broadway. There was amazing shit going on on Broadway and JEAN 13 was out there photographing a lot of it. Since we hung out and 2MAD was guy who was about action. He wanted us to start a crew so we could get recognized as well. So he Started the group CYA which stands for Crazy Young Artists. It was me, him JEAN 13 originally. From there it branched out to other guys like BASE 2 and TECH, NAK, this kid WISE and some other people, but that's what what the core of the group was. After a while 2MAD went to the Marines. He signed up for four years and he just sort of lost touch with the scene. Then I took over the group and kept it going.
How did you get down with TNT?
Well the TNT crew as I knew it was CUE, PHADE and this guy PACER ONE. They were all from uptown. I think they were from Eidenwald Projects. I used to go with them to bomb insides at 225th Street and hang out at The Bench. They were all part of The Bench crew as well. Later on I had met DEZ and SKEME at Henry Chalfant's studio. At this point they weren't really hitting up TNT. DEZ had his crew TFA. They were bombing the 3s and they were getting up. I really fell in with DEZ first and he introduced me to SKEME and later on I started painting with both of them and going with them all the time. I think later on is when AGENT and SKEME picked up TNT and continued it.
The Art Scene
What were your early gallery experiences like and what prompted you to paint in a conventional context?
The whole gallery thing with making paintings for me came about at Esses Studios. That was the first place that I actually sat down and did a spray painting on canvas and concentrated on it. To me it was just sort of an experiment. I looked at it as practice for what I was going to do on a train. I didnÕt think about money. There was no money involved. We just had a space to paint and paint and supplies to work with. Sam Esses wanted to preserve what was on the trains on canvas. That was his whole concept and he provided the outlet to be able to do that.
After I did that painting, the whole medium of canvas became more interesting to me. It was like a challenge. I noticed after I did that painting at Esses Studios, my stuff on the trains started to get more refined, more developed. I don't know why that was. I guess because previous to that, I was always doing things in a rush and a lot of factors. After that I started to go to lay-ups and just really concentrate on my pieces, relax and just take my time.
What was the early '80s scene like Fashion Moda Fun Gallery etc.?
As far as the way the galleries came into play. Esses Studios happened first and not long after that the Soul Artists. Things seemed to happen like it was like a chain of events that happened very quickly. At this time no one thought of making a living as an artist or anything like that. It was all just "letÕs see what's gonna' happen. Maybe we'll get written up."
I think the Soul Artists was the next event to start to develop. That was just an artist's collective. FUTURA, ZEPHYR and ALI were painting signs. I hung out there a lot. The media started to pick up on it. There were articles written in the Daily News and The Village Voice. Then CRASH curated a show at Fashion Moda that really set it off properly in the gallery scene. It was a show called Events: Graffiti Art Success. It started of at Fashion Moda and there was a real big opening for that. After that the show traveled to the New Museum which was downtown. I think that was the first time that people in the downtown art scene got to see graffiti art in the gallery context in the early '80s.
From that things were written and it just started to snowball really quickly. At that point I made a decision to really concentrate on making paintings. There was the whole Graffiti Above Ground Gallery on West 14th Street that happened. Started by Joyce Tobin and Mel Neulander. Then the Fun Gallery and 51X Gallery happened. It seemed that every month, every week there was a new series of events. At the same time there were a lot of art shows that were happening in clubs too. Just one night events where people brought paintings down and there was a big party and somebody was DJaying. It's funny when you think about that whole era, I never thought I'd be looking back at nostalgically. A lot happened in a really short space of time. When you really talk about that particular scene, you are only talking about a few years. Three years maybe four at the most, but a lot happened in those three years.
Somewhere during this Fun Gallery, 51x period I met Delores Neuman, who became my principal art dealer. Her family not only purchased my paintings but also placed them in many important collections both here and in Europe. Ultimately she got me into the prestigious Sidney Janis gallery who had the ability and connections to represent me on an international level. They were able to bring the prices for the work to another level and arrange museum exhibitions.
Likes and dislikes of galleries as opposed to trains
In terms of galleries as opposed to painting trains, I never made a conscious decision to stop painting trains because of galleries. I just sort of grew out of it. I thought that the scene on trains in the early '80s was changing. I felt like the height of writing on subways was like '80 to like '82. That's when everyone was painting whole cars. After that it started to fall off. People were still painting, people were still out there struggling and doing stuff, but it started to fall off gradually and I just started to get older. I started to feel like I needed a change.
How do you feel about having influenced newer generations of writers across the globe?
It's funny because, I'm always amazed that anybody even knows who I am. I guess through the movies Wild Style and Style Wars and the books Subway Art and Spray Can Art, that made graff a household name across the globe. Those are the things that really brought out the international writing scene. You talk to guys like GOLDIE in London, MODE 2 in Paris, LOOMIT in Germany; those movies and those books are really what set it off for them. I guess I am an influence to some writers at this point. 20-25 years later, but it's not something I think about so much, like I said I'm just amazed that people even know who I am.
1990s and Onward
What are the main differences between today's scene and the transit era?
There is obviously a lot more trains being done in Europe at his point. It's just a different set of rules now in New York It's different, the Transit authority is ahead of the game instead of behind the eight ball, like they were before, but people are still out there painting. It has shifted more to walls, but even that seems to have slowed down a little bit in the last two years. Right now it's the year 2000, a new century. It's a real transitional period for graff right now. IÕm not really sure what's gonna happen next. New York is always going to be the Mecca for writing in terms of history. This is where it started. This is where it developed. People are still blazin' styles like nobody else here, but I think it's up to other people to continue that legacy and hopefully not forget where it came from.
Any closing words on your work?
Having had success in the gallery world in the '80s and into the '90s, obviously that is what I concentrate on now, the sort of fine art aspect of it; but I'm still out there painting walls and doing pieces just for the love of the culture. I think at this here point in the year 2000, when people see one of my pieces on a wall with writers from the '80s and writers from the newer generation, that alone inspires them to continue. 'Cause they are like "He's still out here. He's still doing his thing." That's really gratifying.
In terms of the art world, despite the success I've had I still feel like it's somewhat of a struggle to achieve real success. I don't want my work to be labeled as "graffiti" art. I want the work to be included in the discussion of all contemporary art, if I'm working towards anything it's to achieve this. Having my roots in the world of the subways has been a blessing and an inspiration, but also in some ways a curse. It's like a family member you love despite all the disagreements, and arguments you might have, in the end you're still family.
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