©2000, 2003 @149st Do not republish without permission.
@149st thanks MICO for the considerable amount of personal time spent with us to conduct this invaluable interview.
Where and what year did you start ?
I started in 1970 in East Flatbush Brooklyn, New York at Erasmus Hall High School.
What borough are you originally from?
How did you get your name?
The story of my name is a crazy one because when I was still in Colombia, South America. There was this guy in my school and somebody gave him the nickname of MICO. Because the guy looked like a monkey. MICO means monkey in Colombia. This guy used to hate being called monkey. Especially around the girls. So a friend of mine and I decided to frustrate this mother fu*ker even more by writing with chalk, his nickname MICO all over the school. Wherever he walked into the bathroom or the classroom, there was his name MICO. So when I got to New York. That was in '68-'69 and in early '70 when I started writing MANI and I and PALUSA decided to start writing. We had to choose our names. So I said well you know what? I'm gona' write MICO. Just in case this guy ever travels to New York. He would fu*kin' flip if he saw his name even on the New York streets! (ha ha!). Now eventually of course, I became MICO. So that's how my nickname came about.
Did you have a mentor or a particular inspiration?
Not really. I started with MANI, PelUSA and MALO out of a sense of competition and out of a sense of becoming quote-unquote "famous, getting around". I mentored people later on. Like SAVAGE, CLAW 2, CLUTCH 2.
What lines have you hit?
I started on the lines closest to my house. Which was the D line and at that time the QJ which was the local, now it1s the M.
Where were your preferred locations to paint trains?
We started at the Neck road lay ups and the Sheepshead Bay lay ups and the Ocean Parkway lay ups, same line of lay ups. Eventually we moved on into the Coney Island Yard. Then we went off to other lines.
Other writers were content with just painting their name, while you often utilized writing to shed light on political and social issues. What was your motivation?
A I have always been a believer in self-rightousness. At that young age of 17-18. I was aware of the problem that people in Puerto Rico have. Which is Puerto Rico is a Colony of the U.S. although Puerto Rico has its own culture, its own language. Puerto Rico is a country they were taken over by the U.S. government by force one hundred and one years ago from Spain. After the U.S. won the Spanish war. I always liked to promote the freedom of Puerto Rico in my work on the subways and basically any other things that had to do with social injustice. Like I was an anti-Nixon person. That's why I had that hang Nixon campaign.
Hang Nixon was a very important piece because it was a very strong political statement that was something that a lot of people, I'm talking the average everyday people, the average Joe on the train saw that and said "Yeah okay now I can relate to this. The guy is a vandal, but something I can relate to."
Now, if you notice doing a piece like Hang Nixon or Free The Five Nationalists takes paint and time. One of the reasons I declined to write Ex Vandals was because I didn't want to waste my time and my paint because I was trying to do El SALVAJES. I did spend the time and the paint to do something that was not necessarily MICO, but like the Hang Nixon piece, because that was an important statement for me to make at the time. I guess I did not realize at the time and now I do, that that line of work identifies me. That is why I always had social themes in my work. I would always write things;way back then, like Free Mandela things that people became more aware of and became larger campaigns against social injustice. That was really my motivation, social injustice.
You wrote during a very experimental period. Are there any paintings that you are particularly proud of?
Every single painting that I did on the subways I am particularly proud of. Every single one! See every time I did a piece a masterpiece, I would try to do some thing that was unique and different from else that I did before and everything else that everybody else did before also. For example I did a piece on the IRT. The Paint Brush Piece. Sears had a television commercial. The paint brush streaked across the screen and it painted the word Sears. I did the same thing with MICO. I did a MICO with a paint brush at the end of it. I never got a photograph of it. It was one of my favorite pieces. All of my pieces to me are very important because each one had a different meaning to it.
What crews have you written for?
I started SALVAJES with MANI and PelUSA and MALO and that's basically all I did in terms of a crew.
Who were your best partners ?
I started with MANI, PelUSA and MALO and then I met a young man named Jimmy; may he rest in peace, he started to write SAVAGE. I actually took him for the first time to a lay up and he really became very active. My best partners were MANI, PelUSA, MALO, CLAW2, CLUTCH 2. Then later on after I went into U.G.A. I had some real good partners at UGA. Most of the guys at U.G.A. were great partners on canvas.
Who were your rivals?
As far as I'm concerned I never had a rival. I never had a rival because I was just trying to get up myself, trying to become famous myself, getting the name MICO up. I admired other people who did big fu*kin' pieces, like HONDO, LITTLE CROSS, SWEET CRUZ. I admire a lot of people PHASE 2. I never had any rivals per se. I never believed in that. I have seen on some web sites about all these people getting beat if you go into a neighborhood. As far as I knew we didn't have that sh*t, people beating on other people. We were not about violence we were about getting up, being creative, unique and competing of course. It was sort of a friendly competition to see who gets up the most.
How and when (what year) did you become involved with UGA?
I was voted into UGA in early '73. I saw the New York Magazine article and I said "Holy sh*t man these mother fu*kers, I can't believe it. These guys from Manhattan, The Bronx. They ain't no better than me. They don't get up more than I do and they got this sh*t in a magazine and they are doing the Jeoffery Ballet and sh*t. So I actually contacted somebody that led me to Hugo and U.G.A.
Was the transition from painting steel to painting canvas an easy one?
It was not; of course. It was not the same thing to paint a fu*kin' canvas that would just sit there and collect dust that it was to paint the fu*kin' subway that would move around and get your name around; so it was not an easy one. One of the requirements by the way, for membership of UGA, was for you to quit the trains. I was voted in in '73. I didn't retire from the subways until the end of '75. We were all breaking the UGA laws. so it was a difficult transition from steel canvas; for me anyway.
U.G.A. presented the art of writing in the formal context of canvases and art galleries. At the time did you grasp the significance of your participation for future generations ?
At the time I didn't really grasp much. It was just a group of highly creative guys that were having success in dealing with the media and I felt that I could and should be a part of that, and hoped for the best. I didn't really understand what what the future implications were; for what we were doing, what I was doing. I was just too young and ignorant at that time.
Describe the direction of your current paintings.
Abstract Social Realism is really an extension of the social stuff that I was doing on the subways. If you look at my ABSTRACT SOCIAL REALISM pieces, it's broken up into series. And one of the series for example is THE WALL Series and if you look at my web page you will see the message that was on that wall was something like Puerto Rico is a Latin American country, which it is obviously not, because it is taken over by the U.S. When people read that painting they read Puerto Rico is an American country. If you look at it closely the space the piece of the wall that is not there, it's enough to fit the word Latin. My colored paintings, it's something that I believe that I invented, because I've heard of Surrealism, Cubism, I've heard of al kinds of isms, but I1ve never heard of ABSTRACT SOCIAL REALISM. I1m still with this mentality of inventing something new, creating something that is unique. Not because I'm smarter than anybody else or because I'm a fu*kin' rocket scientist, but because I am me. And every body's different. I really believe that we should do our own best. Now one of my series, the CURVISM series is inspired by Picasso and Braque's Cubism. When I saw that style; Cubism, they depicted different scenes with little cubes. I figured that I could depict all kinds of scenes with little curves and large curves. If you notice there is a piece called "Curvernica" which is inspired by the mural Guernica. If you ever look at Guernica and Curvernica it's the same concept. It's the same scene of people yelling, but my sh*t has curves instead of all the other shapes.
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