Graffiti: Bigger than the Renaissance

A critique and review of Henry Chalfant’s Graffiti Archive Volume 3: TC5 Featuring Blade

“The graffiti movement has become a greater thing than the Renaissance.” – Lady Pink

Graffiti versus the Renaissance

Has Graffiti surpassed the Renaissance Art movement in size and importance?

In rare instances, an archive strengthens its subject’s history. This is the case with the third installment of Henry Chalfant’s Graffiti Archive. In particular, graffiti artist Lady Pink makes the wild and inflammatory assertion that graffiti art spawned from the New York Subways transcends the Renaissance art movement (as in like, Michelagelo, Da Vinci, Raphael, etc.) in size and importance.

Even though I am a graffiti artist, I have issues with this statement.  Even though graffiti art style has proliferated around the world, so has Renaissance Art. In fact, Renaissance art has touched people for centuries, whereas graffiti art as we know it today hasn’t yet reached its fiftieth anniversary. Graffiti’s reach has been primarily through modern means of communication, and Renaissance art not only rides the same wave of communication to a comparable degree, but also was reproduced in print form going back centuries.

Having said that, I think Lady Pink correctly puts graffiti art in the same arena. What other art form do we know of that has touched as many lives as the Renaissance? We can’t say the same for Cubism, Dada, Surrealism, not even Pop Art. For me, this is where it gets tricky. HCGA Volume 3 once again betrays the schism between graffiti’s early promoters and the art itself – most notably in Chalfant’s introduction and Lady Pink’s interview. Chalfant describes how many early graffiti promoters saw graffiti as a great neo-leftist rising of the people against their oppressors. Lady Pink essentially asserts that all art is political, and that an artist has a responsibility to know history.

Blade Walking photo

Famous Blade "walking" whole car.

I have swooned to this siren song in the past, but upon reflection I am astounded that neither approach really addresses what graffiti is or why I think it spread. First, graffiti historically has been “writing on a wall.” Graffiti by definition is about the words, the letters. It was often political, particularly in ancient Rome where the rich would paint political messages on the wall surrounding their homes. But graffiti isn’t always political. In fact, the most virulent graffiti that has spread across the globe is only political when considering the overall social phenomenon of its creation rather than the artwork created. The average graffiti writer that makes up the wide mass of adherents that Lady Pink counts as overwhelming the Renaissance, simply wants to make a dope style, or just “get up.” Strangely in all these years of graffiti books, magazines, tv shows, and movies the examination of why “lettering” caught on is strangely missing. I mean, it’s kinda weird that adolescents are maniacally obsessed with this new age calligraphy.

The Lady Pink interview in this volume is one of the many great interviews in this volume. One golden moment is when Pink describes the John Lennon double whole card her and Iz the Wiz did. Basically, the workers at the train yards refused to buff the piece for 4 years, and the cars ran in tandem during that time. I have to admit this part of the book brought tears to my eyes.

You would think from this review that the Lady Pink interview was the main event in this iBook. Not so, the volume is PACKED with amazing photos, history and interviews. In fact, Blade is supposed to be the star of this show, and he certainly delivers, but the Seen (TC5) interview, Doze, Comet, and Doc interviews are all mind blowers in their own way.

The Blade interview precisely described what, even today, I might consider the closest thing to heaven. He describes painting trains in the 70’s and what it was like: Hanging out in the train yard with your friends, girlfriend, a bucket of Kentucky Fried Chicken, beer and spray paint. I mean, there it is. I challenge even vegan graffiti writers to dispute this. Blade also talks about his bombing competition with Lee, his influences, and the controversial history of TC5’s evolution. One interesting thing is that he mentions how there was absolutely no beef amongst writers in the early days, 1972-1976. It’s interesting to reflect how the effect of outside forces eventually caused the writers to fight amongst themselves.

The Comet interview cements the history of one of graffiti history’s most notorious bombers. The Seen TC5 interview has another doozy of a statement regarding who has better style, Seen TC5, or Seen UA. You’ll have to watch it yourself for Seen TC5’s answer though, I’m not going to be a spoiler. The Doze interview has an amazing time lapse of him tagging and his description of the cafeteria scene at the School of Art and Design and what it meant to graffiti at the time. It’s interesting to note that the City’s taxpayers were funding the evolution of graffiti at the same time they were buffing it!

Finally something special has to be said about the Doc TC5 interview. Though not as famous as Blade or Pink, Doc had awesome style, often writing “Arab”. His interview sheds tons of new light on the graffiti we know and love. Most notably he points out that many of the iconic subway pieces we know today were done during the New York Transit Strike. His interview also dovetails with Seen TC5 wherein they describe TC5’s transformation from “The Crazy Five” to “The Cool Five.” It seems that at some point TC5 grew so large it became a joke. Comet controversially handed the leadership over to Seen, who holding court at Rock Steady Park, subsequently ejected members if their graffiti blackbooks weren’t to his liking. Thus overseeing the crew’s ruthless transformation from “crazy” to “cool.”

Blade Maze Window Down Burner

Blade Maze Window Down Burner

My main complaints about this volume are some of my usual. The series really could use more meticulous documentation and footnotes. This problem is especially apparent with a writer like Seen TC5 who often utilized different aliases. The navigation, though overall pretty good, has a glitch at the end where you could miss a couple legendary Blade whole cars if you aren’t paying attention. Lastly, I would love to seen a “zoom and hold” control for looking at the cars. Currently the zoom snaps back to original size if you let go. A small matter but hopefully in an update they can add this feature.

Henry Chalfant's Graffiti Archive Vol. 3 - Blade and TC5

Cover art for the iPad Book.

The pictures of the trains are truly the main event in these volumes, and there are all the iconic Blade pieces one would expect, and then a ton of lesser known but excellent pieces as well. Whereas I don’t one hundred percent subscribe to the idea that Graffiti is bigger than the Renaissance, this volume is the first to my mind that broaches the subject, and in this writer’s opinion, should.


Back To Burn! A review of City As Canvas: Graffiti Art from the Martin Wong Collection

Martin Wong at Keith Haring opening 1990.

I found this picture of Martin Wong on the site. Martin is the guy in the checkered flannel shirt. This photo was taken at Keith Haring's Future Primevel opening in 1990.

February 3th 2014, the Museum of the City of New York launched graffiti once again into New York’s collective conscience. The art form half the city hates and most of the world loves once again reminds New Yorkers that “we may be through with the past, but the past may not be through with us.” Indeed, the next morning -as if it were 1985 all over again- the New York Daily News editorial section scolded the Museum for hanging the show! –as if the now-homogenized-excuse-for-a-world-class-city could even get over the irony of its homegrown criminal activity being safely encapsulated in its own museum!


20140203_183245Thankfully, graffiti’s triumphant return to controversy came way via one of its most loving supporters, Martin Wong, and one can see his affections for the art in the collection itself. Martin loved all levels of graffiti art: the tags, sketchbooks (black books), drawings, walls, canvases. He went out of his way to collect pieces he knew were historical and made great pains to collect the work of old school masters. One of the nicest pieces in the show is a wall of old school writers’ tags which I doubt any other museum or gallery for that matter would recognize as important. But it is here in all its glory.

Caine One

Caine One

There were tons and tons of graffiti art luminaries at the opening. One such was Daze, a.k.a. Christopher Ellis. One summer I hung out with Martin and Daze, going to gallery openings and such. I mentioned how Martin would have been out-of-his mind excited that so many famous graffiti writers assembled in one place. Daze’s eyes lit up as if Martin were alive once again. Then he remarked how Martin, despite the fact the show was in his name and dedicated to him… would actually be too busy trying to get the writers to piece his black book or napkins or whatever he could get his hands onto to even notice the show! I still laugh about it because I knew it was totally true. Martin’s spirit imbued the opening that night and everyone that knew him even a bit could feel it.

20140203_190038Some highlights of the show for me were the aforementioned wall of tags, Charlie Ahearn’s mini-documentary on the collection, a Futura 2000 wall, the black book collections, and A-1’s canvas. One nice addition was the projection of “Stations of the Elevated” a documentary of old graffiti trains running through NYC.

Sean Corcoran organized the show for the Museum of the City of New York against some initial resistance and the perseverance it seems paid off. Not only is the show delightful in-and-of-itself, but it seems will be a good attractor to the museum’s other exhibits which can only benefit the City of New York. Frankly there is so much stuff jammed into the show it would be exhausting to list all the good pieces.  The exhibit runs until August 24, 2014 and the museum will rotate pieces periodically so check out the show a few times during its run.

One of Martin Wong's paintings.

One of Martin Wong's paintings.

Wall of Spray Paint Cans at the Martin Wong Collection in the Museum of the City of New York.

Wall of Spray Paint Cans

From left: Kinjal Mitra (Micro), Peter Brooks from Unstoppable Stickers, Me (Buda), and Ted Shaffrey from the Associated Press.

From left: Kinjal Mitra (Micro), Peter Brooks from Unstoppable Stickers, Me (Buda), and Ted Shaffrey from the Associated Press.

Tracy 168's piece in my old sketchbook, now under glass!

Tracy 168's piece in my old sketchbook, now under glass!

Phase 2 piece in black book.

Phase 2 piece in black book.

20140203_184657 20140203_184702

My back-in-the-day pal, author and actress Mercedes Mercado (sorry guys she's taken) in front of the graffiti tag collection.

My back-in-the-day pal, author and actress Mercedes Mercado (sorry guys she's taken) in front of the graffiti tag collection.

20140203_190016 20140203_185951 20140203_185827 20140203_185758 20140203_185428 20140203_185230 20140203_185255

Dondi drawing

Dondi drawing


Iz the Wiz's old Jacket

Iz the Wiz's old Jacket

20140203_193140 20140203_193328


The Tale of the Blue Black Book.

94_114_310_069-070On February 4th, 2014 the Museum of the City of New York will open "City As Canvas: Graffiti Art From the Martin Wong Collection" and I’m told my old graffiti black book is in the show. It won’t be the black book’s first time in a museum either. Previously it appeared at the Los Angeles Museum of Contemporary Art for their “Art in the Streets” exhibit, and all the way back in 1989 at the Franklin Furnace in New York City. Please allow me to tell the “Tale of the Blue Black Book…”

94_114_310This particular blackbook is blue. Blue and black to be exact. They didn’t have any proper black books at the art store the day I got it. Or maybe they did and the page size of this one was just right. Anyway, the year was 1987 and I was in high school in the northern suburbs of Pittsburgh.

I had been traveling around the East Coast, more specifically Boston and New York City, writing and hanging out with graffiti writers. At the time there was an airline called People’s Express that had very cheap flights. You literally paid cash on the plane! $59 Round trip from Pittsburgh to Newark or Boston. 94_114_310_007-008The ease of transport facilitated the forming of Badassest with the Salem, Massachusetts writers Neone One, Alfie and Jon, and from Pittsburgh, myself, Burn and +FX. I would hang out at their place, and they would stay at mine. The first time I remember piecing in the Blue Black Book was with Neone and Jon at my parents’ house. We were listening to an audio cassette of Style Wars! Not a video cassette (that was bleeding edge technology to me then). I literally taped recorded the airing of Style Wars on PBS and we listened to it as we drew in our books. 94_114_310_032That is when I did the “No Need to Bleed… …Fry To Die” piece in the Blue Black Book.

Later that year I met Kinjal Mitra, a.k.a. Micro. Frankly I forget how we met. I seem to remember getting a phone call from him, or someone gave me his phone number. Who that was - maybe Kinjal remembers. I had been doing graffiti in Pittsburgh and had a reputation for it already. Kinjal had just moved from New York to live with his Father. I think someone, maybe Joy Borelli the owner of Borelli-Edwards Art Gallery, told Kin’s Dad about me, or something like that.

Me and Kinjal talked graff, dropped names on each other and soon were trading mix tapes and showing each other our sketches and such. Kinjal had a good friend, Moses, who made some pretty awesome mixtapes, and I was making scratch tapes in my basement. Hip Hop and Hi-NRG was initially the music we were grooving to. I mention this because our musical tastes would soon change in a way that influenced the drawings we did.

94_114_310_030When I first saw Micro’s styles, I was blown away. I thought, “Geez this guy is no joke.” A lot of times people would move from New York and say they were writers, but really they weren’t. No style – basically their only claim to fame was they were from New York and happened to be in Pittsburgh. Not Kinjal though, his style was tight and I felt pretty inadequate when I saw it… like, “jeez all my stuff drips and my lines are fuzzy and this guy is super precise.” So Kinjal’s art immediately inspired me to get better. I never achieved the clean lines and style Micro did, but I think by trying to, it helped me define my own style. I almost immediately asked him to join Badassest, and excitedly called up Neone and some of the other members to tell them the news. Badassest was officially Pittsburgh, Boston and New York!

94_114_310_018Besides Burn (a.k.a. Ken Baurle from G-Force crew), Kinjal was the geographically closest writer to me so we started hanging out a lot and soon were giving each other our sketchbooks and doing pieces in them. I’ve always been slow at drawing. So Kinjal generally busted out a lot more styles than I did. We also started painting freight trains in McKees Rocks around this time at the P&LE train yard -- and generally just hung out as the teen-agers we were, going to parties and such. One of our main interests at this time became Speed Metal. We would go to City Limits roller rink in Penn Hills, PA, where they had various punk rock and speed metal shows every weekend.

94_114_310_020By looking at the pieces we did at this time you can see how much that music influenced us compared to Hip Hop. At that point we made the decision to turn our back on Hip Hop to some degree. I can’t speak for Kinjal in this matter, but in my mind by 1987 I felt betrayed by Hip Hop. It seemed that every song was about money, money, money. The subject matter was getting increasingly materialistic and more popular with the general masses. When I first discovered Hip Hop around 1983 it was a revelation and seemed really positive and creative. Though it talked about money and girls and such, it wasn’t so concentrated on power. The rhymes and disses were playful and the battles were about style, not really killing people or trashing each other.94_114_310_010 I couldn’t identify with the increasingly materialistic lyrics. Growing up in the suburbs, I mostly got what I needed. Surely I wanted things, but not so much so that I chose to define myself by the sneakers I wore.

As I spent more time with my peers in the suburbs, their musical tastes rubbed off on me and I would eventually find myself the singer in a hardcore band, Citizen Pain. The energy, sound and message was frankly more resonant with me at that point in my life.94_114_310_036 Looking back, I’m a little disturbed by how death-oriented and militarized many of my drawing were, but that was what was on my mind. Militarized culture is what I grew up in (like most of us), and as a teenage boy that was the language I was given with which to communicate my natural energy. Also, part of me resented the idea that graffiti seemed to be automatically glommed on to Hip Hop. The metal sang to the darkness I felt in my soul.

When we weren’t stage diving at punk and metal shows we were busting out increasingly darker styles. We soon hooked up with Base and Sage from New Kensington. Once again I forget the exact details, but Base and Sage were out-and-out metal heads more than we were. I mean, they listened to Venom. 94_114_310_044You couldn’t get any more metal than that. The first night me, Micro, Base and Sage hung out, we almost died. And I think it might have been that night we decided to form a crew.

Base drove an ancient stretch Cadillac. He and Sage drove from New Kensington to pick up me and Micro. We were going to a party and then paint. It was a torrential downpour that night with an inch of water on Camp Horne Road. The Caddy was like a big rickety ocean liner splashing through the rain flooded streets. We were running late so Base wasn’t taking his foot off the gas. Coming down the other side of the road was a tractor trailer. The Caddy hydroplaned straight into the oncoming truck. Base spun the wheel such that the car spun 720 degrees in front of the oncoming truck, narrowly missed and promptly ploughed into a wall of mud to the side of the road. The Caddy’s grill was literally sucked into a foot of mud!

We proceeded to the party. So, inspired by a Metallica song, Damage Inc. we formed Demolitia. As much as Demolitia seemed to be a head bangers’ ball, soon Dasez joined, who was in G-Force Crew with me going back a few years earlier. He never gave up on Hip Hop, so I guess I can’t say that Demolitia was “metal only” but it was pretty close.94_114_310_048

The summer and fall of 1987 I would return to New York City. I generally stayed at Henry Chalfant’s studio on 64 Grand Street. There I would pour over Henry’s photo albums, study the black book pieces framed on the wall, and best of all, get to meet other writers. I ended up painting with some greats: Daze, Phase 2, and Tracy 168.

I spent the most time with Tracy. For whatever reason we hit it off right from the start and I wanted to learn everything I could about Wild Style. 94_114_310_074And for doing so, he literally had me paint his bathroom. Not with spray paint, mind you, but with a brush and a bucket of white paint! He was playing the “Karate Kid” aspect of “tutelage” to the hilt. So while I painted the bathroom, he made out with his girlfriend! But this got me the “Black Card” of Wild Style. There were two membership cards with the Wild Style Crew. The red card was given out like water to anyone. T-Kid initially gave me a red card a year earlier. But Tracy had to give you a black one. I’m sure someone out there has a Black Card for cleaning up his garage too!

Tracy introduced me to a lot of new styles and it was his influence that continually made me want to innovate. Being around all these kings, I had to come out with something myself. Something that got me at least in the general vicinity of these dudes. Finally I developed what came to be known as the “Monster Rock” style. Which basically was one of the first wild style pieces that had twisting 3D and designs. There were occasionally pieces in graffiti history that had multiple 3D perspectives, but I guess Monster Rock was the first that did it consistently in a way that looked fresh. 94_114_310_014I basically perfected the Monster Rock during the Blue Black Book period.

One night I accidently left the Blue Black Book at Tracy’s. In retrospect it was good I did, because he made what became its most famous piece, “The Super Juicer.” A green hot rod with Tracy’s notations all around it. Quite frankly, it’s the ultimate “piece you do in your friend’s black book.” Soon we will be taking bids for the One Million Dollar Spot (see picture if you don’t know what I mean)!

94_114_310_108During this summer I also traveled to Philadelphia with Henry Chalfant who was busy getting photos for his second book “Spray Can Art.” There I got Makosa and Suroc who tagged and pieced the book.

There are aspects of the book that are hard for me to remember. For example, I believe that a few pieces were stolen from the book. As I recall, there was a T-Kid and Phase 2 page which are now missing. Also, at least one of the pieces I did was removed at some point. But it could have been I sold or traded pages away and don’t remember. 94_114_310_078In 1988 Daze would do a piece in the book, before me him and Phase 2 painted together in the Bronx.

By 1988-89 I was starting to drift from graffiti and into college life. I went to New York University and proceeded to major in partying and carousing and dropped out of school after one year. However, I embarked on a fine art career and made some headway. The Blue Black Book’s first public showing was at a black book show at Franklin Furnace. The book was open to the double pager of flying snakes and dragons. The book would then be carried with me as I moved around New York City trying to scrape together a career in art whilst struggling with a heroin addiction.

If memory serves me correctly, I think I first met Martin Wong in 94_114_310_023-024the brief time period the American Graffiti Museum was open. At some point I was told that Martin was buying black books, and he would be interested in mine. When I showed him he sure was! I deliberated about the sale for a few weeks but eventually I had to pay my rent and buy heroin so I sold the Blue Black Book in a heartbeat. Looking back I am grateful I did, because it went into better more caring hands than mine. Martin was one of the first collectors that knew the value and importance of real graffiti. Not the watered-down homogenized white-bread fluff that was popular at that time. He appreciated “the real deal.”

94_114_310_004It was during the sale of the Blue Black Book that I got to know Martin a little and we struck up a friendship that summer that I still remember. Knowing I was down on my luck and too young to know the difference, he took me to lunch and dinner sometimes, introduced me to art gallery people and shows and relayed graffiti gossip that I was as fascinated with as he was.

He introduced me to eating squid in Chinatown claiming it was known to be good for the skin. He was the first person I ever met that drank copious amounts of carrot juice. He wore fireman boots and jackets, sometimes in the summer, because he admired fireman! Martin was an awesome guy and the streets of New York City surely miss his footsteps.

94_114_310_050Two decades later I was living in Hollywood, California and for some reason I found myself searching online for something related to Martin. For the life of me I cannot recall why. I stumbled upon some documents referring to Martin Wong’s collection being bequeathed to the Museum of the City of New York. It was more like an internal memo than a press release. Intrigued by the thought my old Blue Black Book might be hiding in their basement, I called the Museum to inquire if they possessed it.

94_114_310_052About a week later they said they had found it. Soon thereafter I would run into Roger Gastman who was busy writing his “History of American Graffiti.” Fortunately I mentioned the Blue Black Book to him and that I had identified its whereabouts. He would later help curate the largest graffiti exposition the world had yet seen, LA MOCA’s “Art in the Streets.” Imagine my surprise when I saw my old sketchbook under glass after two and a half decades! It was a great feeling seeing it again and I was flabbergasted that something that I once carted around New York City in my back pack had made its way to a museum a continent’s length away two decades later!

94_114_310_069-070As of February 4, 2014 the Blue Black Book will be on display back at its adopted home, the Museum of the City of New York. Like so many of New York’s residents, the Blue Black Book was embraced by the city and understood it in a way the book’s hometown could not. In this case, as an early and seminal testament to the calligraphy New York City bequeathed to the world.

Here are the images from the book:

94_114_310 94_114_310_001 94_114_310_002 94_114_310_003 94_114_310_004 94_114_310_007-008 94_114_310_010 94_114_310_012 94_114_310_01494_114_310_016 94_114_310_026 94_114_310_023-024 94_114_310_020 94_114_310_018 94_114_310_040 94_114_310_038 94_114_310_036 94_114_310_034 94_114_310_032 94_114_310_030 94_114_310_02994_114_310_042 94_114_310_044 94_114_310_046 94_114_310_048 94_114_310_050 94_114_310_052 94_114_310_054 94_114_310_056 94_114_310_058 94_114_310_060 94_114_310_062 94_114_310_064 94_114_310_069-070 94_114_310_074 94_114_310_078 94_114_310_082 94_114_310_088 94_114_310_105 94_114_310_108 94_114_310_113 94_114_310_114

Rolling Thunder Writers

A review of Henry Chalfant’s Graffiti Archive: New York City’s Subway Art and Artists Volume 2: RTW, SA

“Rolling Thunder Writers” refers to a clique of graffiti artists that painted the New York City subway cars in the early and mid-1980s. Their fascinating history is recounted in volume two of “Henry Chalfant’s Graffiti Archive: New York City’s Subway Art and Artists Volume 2: RTW, SA.” The made-for-iPad book also recounts the history of the Soul Artists, a graffiti club instrumental in RTW’s development.

Graffiti art aficionados will be readily familiar with some of the luminaries in this book: Min, Revolt, Zephyr, Quik, SE3, Mare and Kel to name a few. There are over 80 photos of their artwork emblazoned on the Metropolitan Transit Authority’s subway cars. Decades have gone by since these artworks rolled through New York’s five boroughs, and these photos are some of the best that give testament to that exciting period of New York’s history.

The photos will endlessly fascinate a younger audience, but for art collectors, history buffs and ageing b-boys there is a wealth of new info, exclusive video-interviews and Chalfant’s memories of these writers and their particular imprint on history.

Mare Zephyr window down burners in New York City Subway Car.

Mare Zephyr window down burners.

Like the previous volume, this one starts with Chalfant’s introduction sprinkled with photographs of the environment which the art was created in. This volume features his famous photo of Min painting, and a hilarious picture of Chalfant tagging a train. So much for Anthropological neutrality and thank goodness for the statute of limitations! Chalfant often gets criticized for this very thing: a lack of impartialness. However, to my mind this approach is ultimately more honest. Rather than having to poke and prod for the author’s biases hidden behind strained obfuscation, Chalfant wears his biases on his sleeve making it easier to frame his work in the overall panorama of graffiti art history.

RTW broke the mold of the public perception about graffiti artists. Mainly, that some weren’t rich white kids from the Upper West Side, or that they were even old enough to drive. The history of New York graffiti generally cut through every demographic, so it isn’t fair to say that RTW was entirely unique in this regard but its members were some of the first to garner media attention via their affiliation with Soul Artists.

Soul Artists formed in the early 70’s and disbanded after their leader, Ali, was badly burned in a subway accident. He later reformed the group around 1979 with the idea of taking graffiti into the art galleries. Many artists known today such as Lee, Daze, Tracy 168, Mare, Futura 2000, and Revolt frequented the Soul Artists meet-ups. Soul Artist train photos are sprinkled throughout the book, and their history, mostly recounted in Haze’s (SE3) interview, seems to permeate discussions of Rolling Thunder Writers.

Revolt graffiti art on New York City Subway Car.

Revolt window-down piece.

My perception of RTW’s writers were generally that, “these guys are hippies.” Frankly, this iBook does little to quash my preconception. But what’s wrong with that? It isn’t mentioned in the book, but to my mind RTW sort of took off where early 1970’s graffiti writers like Stay High 149 ended - a sort of psychedelic, underground comix inspired graffiti explosion. They would hang out at the Central Park band shell, painted Vaughn Bode characters, and executed a style that was much more free-form than some of their contemporaries. Frequently during this volume I thought that the members should come out of retirement (many are still painting, actually) and bomb the Phish tour buses - maybe they already have though. These images mainly come from the Bilroc, Regal, Revolt and Haze (SE3) interviews.

My favorite interview is Bilroc’s. He recounts the New York City Transit Strike, and how graffiti writers reacted to it. I will let your imagination run wild with this and say no more –you have to hear it yourself.

In somewhat stark contrast to RTW’s hippie art vibe was their eventual next leader, Min. By all accounts he was driven and determined to bomb graffiti and his persistent energy seemed to be a galvanizing force once the Soul Artist influence receded into the background. His interview describes the historical dynamics of RTW and what eventually led it to be renamed “Rock the World” and its assimilation and synthesis with other graffiti clubs throughout the five boroughs.

Kel and Mare 139 (brothers) were instrumental in the “Rock the World” period, and photos of their trains are well represented in this volume. Kel’s interview frankly opens more questions than answers any, and seems geared to the most researched graffiti buffs, having many references to situations and events not covered in this volume.

Of special note is the Quik interview. Noted by the art world, revered by graffiti writers since the 1980’s, his interview twists every preconception one has about his motivation, inspiration and appreciation of his situation –mid interview! Surprisingly he eschews any artistic motivation on his part whatsoever! He frankly proclaims his main motivation was in fact, purely destructive and amplified by peer pressure. Picture a black guy in a Black Sabbath T-Shirt, driving his car after a few college classes to bomb the lay-ups just to “let off some steam.” He’s interviewed by Chalfant and Carl Weston (who produces the videos for the archive) who seem genuinely surprised. Keep in mind Quik later goes on to have a successful art career… his pieces the want of many a collector.

The “Rolling Thunder Writers” volume of Henry Chalfant’s Graffiti Archive is one of the best. Filled with train photos available nowhere else, fascinating interviews, and a recollection of history that still resonates today. For $5.99 you have one heckuva stocking-stuffer this holiday season for any art lover or Apple iPad owner in your life. I will also include my usual disclaimer with any graffiti book though: Graffiti is a loaded issue and parents should take care if their children want to get more involved. Keep your eyes peeled if your kids come home with mysteriously stained fingers and all the paint is missing from the garage

Henry Chalfant’s Graffiti Archive: New York City’s Subway Art & Artists – a.k.a. “Big Subway Archive”

Original cover image of Henry Chalfant's Graffiti Archive

Original HCGA cover.

Last year, Apple’s iPad was bombed with the exclusive release of Henry Chalfant’s “Big Subway Archive Volume 1 – CYA & TVS” (later renamed Henry Chalfant’s Graffiti Archive: New York City’s Subway Art and Artists). The archival series will eventually comprise of photographs of over 800 New York City MTA Subway cars emblazoned with graffiti artwork. The photos were mostly taken in the early-to-mid 1980’s, arguably the artistic high point of New York subway graffiti. Interspersed between subway car photos are interviews with the artists. The archival series is special to me because I literally saw the first version of these archives decades ago. I will say right off the bat this series is a must-have for anyone remotely interested in graffiti. I do have some issues with the released volumes however, and the volumes themselves compel commentary from virtually anyone that sees them –and I’m no different.

Zephyr Revold Window Down Burner on New York City Subway Car.

Zephyr Revolt Window-Down Burner

Back in the 1980’s I visited Henry’s studio with my writing pals Badroc and Dasez. We came all the way from Pittsburgh to see the mecca of graffiti at that time, New York City. One of the high points of our trip was visiting Henry Chalfant’s studio on 64 Grand Street. To this day, every writer in New York alive at that time remembers that address. Henry had five behemoth photo albums filled with train photos spliced and glued together to display the whole car.

We spent hours studying these trains. The styles, somewhat primitive compared to today’s standards, seemed so amazingly out-of-reach of anything we could do. I can remember thinking and saying, “Wow, look at that “L.” Everything about New York graffiti seemed more alive, more tuff, more original and more real than anything I’d ever seen. I wasn’t the only kid that felt this way, writers from all over the city and world would come to marvel at these albums. These archives did as much to generate graffiti style all over the world as did Henry’s book Subway Art and his movie Style Wars.

And what albums they were! Besides each weighing about 30 pounds, they were rat-chewed on the side (or did a writer do that?), some trains were missing because occasionally writers would steal certain photos, and they were tagged up here and there. Now, when me, Dasez and Badroc visited the studio, there were also other writers there and Henry himself. Guaranteed you would be hearing some tall tales of unbelievable police chases, writer beefs, zip-gun battles, and unsubstantiated claims. This is an extra reason why “HCGA” is so great, the writers are interviewed on video and go over all these stories themselves, in conjunction with the photos and sketches of their art pieces.

I do have some beefs with HCGA though. First, it’s iPad only. I had to get an iPad just to enjoy these volumes. If you are in the same boat I was, here are a couple links to get one. Amazon has some good deals here, on an Apple iPad Mini and you can get a used iPad 1 on eBay now for about $150 here. I’m kinda glad I got one though, because I avoided Macs for a while and I have to say the iPad is more comfortable to use than the Android tablets I’m generally familiar with.

Once you’ve paid your tribute to the ghost of Steve Jobs and get the books from the iTunes Store, you’re ready to go. I had a little trouble navigating at first, but that just may be me. My biggest gripes are with the zoom feature of the trains. It “snaps back” and doesn’t allow you to zoom and hold a particular area of the train. This is somewhat offset by an extreme scrolling close-up image that each car has, but I think it’s more natural to want to zoom and scroll at your will. This might be a general drawback of the iBook format.

The next problem I have is with the backgrounds of the subway cars. It looks like the photos were pasted on a black book that was tagged up with Design markers, and that is the general motif of the series - I guess as an ode to the black books that delineated the styles on the train.  However, I liked the pitch-black background of the original archives. I think the fancy backgrounds somewhat distract from the artwork. My opinion might be different though if the zoom feature was updated. And, maybe as an ode to writers pilfering photos from the old photobooks, volume 1 is missing 2 photos! Of course, these are small concerns overall, but I do hope they get fixed in upcoming installments or updates.

Volume 1 - CYA & TVS

Duro Peo Baby Window-Down on a New York City Subway Car

Duro Peo Baby Window-Down

Volume One features the art of Crazy Young Artists and The Vamp Squad. The crews’ most famous members were Daze (CYA) and T-Kid (TVS). Any fan of either of these artists will appreciate their archived early work in this volume. The introduction to the series is written by Chalfant, and it shows why his productions have launched more graffiti pieces than perhaps anyone else on the planet. He’s a really good writer and one of the best of the genre. No small feat when you are being compared to the likes of Norman Mailer (who wrote “The Faith of Graffiti)! Chalfant’s writing briefly recreates the 1980s. Combined with the photos of New York City at that time the prose really brought it home to me. The sweltering hot New York City summer air and the smell of piss and oil clouding the lay-up as I waited to see the next burner roll onto the platform.

I’m curious how new writers born after-the-fact would react to these introductions though - if they would be resonant? From my mind it seems all the elements are there. In fact, there are aspects of the early graffiti years that Chalfant touches on that are controversial today and even I wince at mentioning some of the real history. For example, Chalfant mentions the drugs that permeated New York at that time –and the writers. Sometimes I want to ignore this part of history because it has some bad outcomes and I don’t want to encourage similar behavior in newer writers, but the fact was it was there. Today’s society has even worse drug problems throughout the Western world, but the 1980’s New York City was a particularly acute period of drug activity in every borough.

You also have to deal with the fact that, if you have children, exposing them to this world may enamor them with, well, crime. Let’s face it, graffiti is exciting and it walks the razor edge of art and crime, clumsily falling on each side and always will. Youth are attracted to power. The tales of police chases, fights and thievery ignite the imagination as much as graffiti’s powerful art form. I can only advise careful parental oversight in this regard, but fortunately the interviews with the writers themselves aid in this conceptually challenging conundrum.  Three interviews with Baby 168, Shock 123, and Daze give a nice introduction to various approaches, attractions and outcomes of graffiti in the 1980s.

First up in Volume One is the interview with Baby 168. This interview might as well be straight outta Henry’s old studio. Baby describes a police raid in which he and his friends barely got away. Only by taking a huge leap off of a 30 foot high platform (ok it probably wasn’t 30 feet but that’s what he says) did they get away.

Next up though is Shock 123, and this interview will make you cry. Shock ended up going to prison for 17 years because of accidently killing another writer during a graffiti beef. I say accidentally because when you are young you don’t know what you are doing, really. The victim and his family my heart goes out to and you can imagine how Shock must have felt, and still feels, having this burden to carry with him. Just for a graffiti beef.

In contrast, CYA formed in art school, and it becomes apparent that the circumstances of TVS were a lot rougher than CYA. There was more competition and less space to paint at TVS’s usual yards, they were muscled out by drug dealers, and found themselves picking fights maybe as a reaction to the adversity of their situation.

The last interview in the volume is with Daze. He and the Crazy Young Artists mostly avoided beefs with other writers, and it shows in their resulting artwork. The Daze pieces are studied whereas the TVS pieces, as great as they are, look rushed at times. Daze’s interview concentrates more on his career as an artist, from his admiration of the trains when he was young, to his graffiti years and then his career as a gallery artist.

The Photos

Kel 139 Min Whole Car on New York City Subway Car

Kel 139 Min Whole Car

One of the greatest things about the old archives was that you saw trains and pieces you didn’t see before and never probably would see: the long since buffed, or for one reason or another didn’t make the cut into Subway Art or Style Wars, or were taken after the fact. As a connoisseur of style, these were the pieces that fascinated me the most. And frankly, some of the best work never made it into Subway Art because they were made after it went to press. Those last dying days of the trains featured some of the most advanced window-down burners. Well, now they are here! If you love graff then you probably feel that if a book has even one photo of a great piece it’s worth the price. Well, this series has scores of photos and pieces you’ve probably never seen before.

Some highlight pieces from Volume 1 are definitely the T-Kid Booze window downs. There are quite a few of them and these were made Post-Subway Art. Ken is represented as well as some nice Zone pieces. Lots of window downs for Shock and Min, some Shy 147, Kel and Duro. Granted, some of these guys weren’t strictly TVS but they painted together enough that they are represented here.

Moving to the CYA portion of the book you get a lot of great Daze window downs and a couple whole cars. This description doesn’t do justice to all the great work in this portion though, because CYA seemed to do other names than their main on a fairly regular basis. Another small criticism I have of the book is that there should be footnotes with some of the trains to let you know who really did them. For example, there is a “Daze Bus Zeph” window-down car in this volume. This car is somewhat well-known in graffiti circles, but new-jacks wouldn’t know off-hand that “Bus” was really “Dondi”.

In conclusion, this iBook is a great addition to anyone’s iPad with the caveat that parents should take extra care to guide their children through the intellectual and emotional minefield that graffiti art can potentially be. Depending on the fleeting whims of society graffiti is either heroic or criminal, and subcultures service both elements and the grey areas in-between. Having said that, If you are looking for a document detailing the nascent stages of the 20th Century’s culmination of modern and popular art, this is it.

*Editor's note: I will be reviewing volumes 2 & 3 shortly, in the meantime, here are links to all the releases so far in the  iTunes store: Volume 1 , Volume 2 , Volume 3

Hallucinating the Future…Again.

Pain creates desire. Desire for alleviation of that pain in some way, and oftentimes desire manifests itself in our fantasies of the future. Unlike dreams, hallucinations are usually the result of some pain or discord in the body or mind and therefore can create elaborate fantasies, strategies, and madness… that can manifest in reality sometimes quickly, sometimes slowly.
I find that I am hallucinating again. This could be good or bad.
I think I shared some of my hallucination with you already: that I could transform my past into some worth to myself and others. In this vision I am DJing again, producing music again, animating again, painting graffiti again all the while maintaining a decent lifestyle raising my daughter, maybe even starting a new family, or maybe jet-setting around the globe as an international DJ of mystery, blogging from airport to airport, editing new jams at the gate, making my way back to LAX in time for my custodial obligations. It sounds funny but I’ve always been just on the verge of living this fantasy.
Key here for all of us is determining whether our desires stem from a good place or bad. Were they inserted and promulgated by the person or thing inflicting the pain so as to carry out their agenda?

Deddy's halucination from the Somatic Response EP

Deddy's halucination from the Somatic Response EP

Looking back to my days preceding my assumption of Deadly Buda, I can now map out some of the pain. And it started out really early… when I started watching tv and going to school. It was media that caused my pain.
It’s quite popular to blame parents and guardians for our emotional hang-ups and traumas. But upon careful reflection and consideration I would say that MEDIA, in general, has in recent times a far more devastating effect on our mental state. Sure, some people have crappy parents but they really are the minority. In general, most parents try hard to do right by their children, and any negative consequence of their love and care is generally unintentional. On the other hand, especially in the last century, mass media and education have served to enslave people without them knowing it. In fact, it has made people beg, clamor and test themselves for their slavery.
I remember cartoons and books and comic books and ghost stories and my family’s dinner conversations discussing the news would frighten me. I remember a comic book where a teen-ager was getting the best of Superman… this shook me to my core because I had faith in my elders. Likewise, school was a hotbed of introduction to pain via history class. Framing the arguments of who you should hate and admire, and therefore how to pattern your life to maintain an agenda set forth decades or centuries prior to your birth.
It was as I got older and started watching “older” programs where the pain was intensified rather than lessened. We think that as we get older we are wiser and think more critically. But looking back I merely upped the dose of programming that was laid before me. As a teen-ager, cartoon violence wasn’t real enough. In order to produce the mental effect that would alter my mindset and subsequent actions I would need to see more human-looking blood, more “adult” psychological problems with a grittier sheen such as “Hill Street Blues.”
I would read the newspaper and get incensed by whichever polar-opposite opposed that which I identified with… an identity that was getting more confused and manipulated each day by successive layers of programming: TV, Music, Books, Magazines, Movies. Have I escaped this tornado of confusion? Some, but I am not sure. I am at least cognizant of it now and can at least get perspective that might help me avoid more pitfalls.
The “entertainment” we enjoy has an agenda… but whose? The sum total of it all in my life convinced me to reject my family and rely on self-will. I am certainly not alone in this conclusion so I would say that the media laid before me had the intention of destabilizing important life-sustaining bonds, wisdom and security that otherwise would naturally occur – replacing my natural loyalties to a larger amorphous super-body that desired and used my energy.
So the “who’s” would be some higher stratosphere of society where the mass movements of persons and collective conscience were analyzed and manipulated on a daily basis – think tanks and their contributing corporations and non-governmental organizations mostly. Now in my life I wonder if there is a small subset of persons that really truly benefit from the top-levels of these entities, or are they just the well-dressed slaves of an inhuman force compelling their actions. As of this day I cannot say for certain.
So in my head and in my day-to-day life I fought wars for strangers and the deceased at the expense of myself and my family and neighbors… and they did too. Unknowingly we were conquered and refused to listen to anyone that might point out that fact. I searched in the underground for relief, only to find more virulent and devastating social programs. Enter: the early American rave scene.
As a pioneer in this scene, I ran into numerous roadblocks. Many of these were due to baggage and faults I carried with me into the situation. That said, many roadblocks also came from the fact I was unknowingly bumping into to forces more powerful than I, that let me flourish only so long as forwarded an agenda and when I was done, would have no use for me.
Thus, I present Side B of the classic Helltrek mixtape.

HellTrek Side B by DJ Deadly Buda by Dj Deadly Buda on Mixcloud

Why Would I be Sickened by My Past?

Some might find it disappointing that I would be troubled by my past in any way. After all, it seems that we are constantly encouraged to “Just Do It!”, “Play Hard”, “No Regrets”, the list of clichés goes on…

I’m naturally able to galvanize people into action. Not sure why, but I’ve just always been able to catalyze situations when I had to or felt the need. Looking back with perspective, I realize that due to my ignorance I had led people down some bad roads. Granted, I took those very same roads, but I wish I had more guidance at the time not only for myself, but for others.

DS-006 Somatic Response Cover

DS-006 Somatic Response Cover

Deep down, I’ve always wanted to do the right thing. My flirtations with immorality and vice were rarely satisfying. Like a pair of pants that just didn’t fit quite right. I’m not the best liar, poker player, schemer or thief. My forays into these areas have generally turned out quite bad and embarrassingly so. At some point I just had to face the facts: I’m no good at being bad.

There are people that are great at it, and I guess I can’t really blame them for their ways. Perhaps it is a natural part of their make-up. I’m not sure. When I feel a lack or inadequacy I find myself admiring the sociopathic personality. They seem to get exactly what they want… and what I want! Perhaps if I were great at the selfish arts I would employ them. The catch for me though is that maybe I just don’t want things bad enough. I generally don’t cheat at board games because I like the game and could care less really if I win or lose. But some people find all manner of ways to cheat at simple board games like Monopoly.

So, even in my most immoral periods, pulsing underneath was a persistent feeling that I was doing something ultimately good. Looking back in the big picture I know overall my influence was positive, but now I identify pitfalls, bad turns, and personal failings that I feel should be addressed. Partly to clear my conscience, but furthermore to help others and especially a new generation of youth. I didn’t have much guidance during my early 20’s and anything close to good advice I often rejected in my bravado. Missing in our culture is the passing of knowledge and even though I don’t qualify as an elder statesman, I am at least a little further down the road.

So I am sickened by my falls into pits, wrong turns, embarrassing things I said and did, moves I made and failings I cultivated. Yes undoubtedly there were immense positive things I assisted, but it is time to fine tune the experiences for the greater good.

In keeping with my pattern of uploading mixes, I present HellTrek Side A to Mixcloud and the site.

HellTrek Side A by Dj Deadly Buda on Mixcloud

Sickened by my Past, Hallucinating my Future

I stand on the precipice sickened by my past while hallucinating a future. The past I dread is my life as a graffiti artist, rave promoter, dj, and producer. The future I dream of salvaging that past to make it beneficial to others and myself too.

My present is arguably not that bad… even great in many ways… however in the back of my mind nags projects unfulfilled, psychic debts that I owe, and responsibilities I must fulfill or forever bear their burden.

DJ Deadly Buda Speedcore Graffiti

On June 1st 1970 my parents gave me the name Joel, sometime around 1985 I adopted the name “Buda” and in 1991 my added the word “Deadly” to the beginning. I’ll tell you why later, but suffice to say I indelibly stamped those names on underground culture and right now I’m doing it again.

Based on the foregoing, I assume the average reader would surmise I suffer from over-indulgent self-importance, drip and dribble with unnecessary melodrama and faux flagellation – especially if they never heard of my alter-ego, “Deadly Buda”. Part of my brain feels exactly that way too. I excel at thinking I’m less-than, inadequate and chronically unimportant.  However, the facts tell something different. That’s the way it is with most all of us, and I’m here to tell you my version of it.

Why? Because I always took raving and graffiti writing quite seriously. Well, not always… I guess it got twisted in my life that way. I’m one of those “big picture” guys, always extrapolating the mundane into the cosmic. I loved the rave. I loved the music. I loved the clothes (well some). I loved the girls. I loved the promoters, djs, drugs, and illegal behavior. Just like graffiti, I loved the thing that was ABOUT THAT MOMENT, the fractalized kaleidoscopic whirlwind. I’m not alone in that.

But because I immediately took to the rave with a pioneering spirit and relentless evangelism I was thrust face-first into its limitations, dangers, and dark underbelly… and in the process, mine too. My sense of curiosity usually draws me to that stuff anyway. I quickly transformed “having a good time” into a long-suffering quasi-messianic mission of redemption. I don’t recommend that path currently. The great thing about it though, is I did the best I could at the time, and I’m left with some limited wisdom to help the next guy and gal that would invariably follow in my footsteps for however limited a time.

I have to put forth this disclaimer: WE ARE WORKS FOREVER IN PROGRESS. The insight I share now may be revised in the future, and there is undoubtedly someone out there that is more of an expert in everything I say… if you can find him/her. But here I am for the moment, so let’s make the best of it. Many things the average raver of today is involved with, I was involved with decades ago. So I can share what I found out. If you can utilize the info and it helps you... that would be f’in’ awesome. But if not, hey that’s cool too. It take all kinds and what I have maybe isn’t for everyone.

So finally I am updating my website. It’s been about…oh.. maybe 9 years since I seriously updated it. Some stuff got in the way, marriage, divorce, child, sobriety, legal battles, change of artistic direction, change of general philosophy, mind-numbing vicious resentment… the list of excuses go on. But I think I had to get some perspective so I could really once again share something valuable. It’s just the way it happened.

So what I’m going to do with this site now is update the blog frequently with my various writings/blogging what-have-you with a general idea of passing along my perspective on things we might be interested in. Also, I will be uploading my archives and linking to them. Archives of music, art, animation. It will also be a launching pad for new releases as well, most hopefully my animation project. So bookmark this page, I hope you come back everyday for something good and satisfying.

Ok so let's get this party started! Thanks to MixCloud, I can make my mixes available once again. So the first one I'm putting up is "Universal Dynamo." I will make a whole post about this mix soon. But for now, enjoy...

Universal Dynamo - DJ Deadly Buda - Hardcore Techno - Tekno - Breakcore - Rave - Gabber - Morph Beat by Dj Deadly Buda on Mixcloud