Category Archives: Artwork

Buda’s artwork in various media.

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.

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 98bowery.com 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.

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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

20140203_191830

Iz the Wiz's old Jacket
Iz the Wiz's old Jacket

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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