Graffiti is an Italian word and examples of it can date back to ancient Egypt. People can debate whether the modern origins started in New York City or Philly. I don’t really care. It’s Election Day, and NYC is in a bad way. While people are quick to say the city looks like its reverted back to the late 80s or the early 90s, rightfully so, and this could be the curmudgeon in me or that I’m partial to certain decades, I would agree the city is covered but a large share of the work lacks style, and for the most part, not my cup of tea.
My introduction to graffiti was around 1993, though I wasn’t an active participant just yet, I was paying attention. Upon entering Edward Bleecker Junior High school my understanding of what graffiti meant opened up. It was now more than just Metallica or my name scribbled onto my binder. There was much more to it than just vandalism. It became a complex Venn diagram of tag names, crews and parks. Graffiti was violent, shrouded in mystery, and executed in secrecy during the black of night. This was long before graff was hip, before it was a marketing tool, and I liked it better then.
I was a tiny prepubescent latch key kid in a new school and everyone had a tag. It was a little while before I found mine, or rather one that was found for me. My first tag was ENUF, and I copped some awful tags here and there, and then it was brought to my attention that it was taken. Taken? The fuck! What did that mean? To my knowledge ENUF IF didn’t exist. I had not yet learned all of the rules. And for a criminal lifestyle there were many.
So I tinkered with a few tags before I got mine, which I never really liked to be honest, but I settled. The irony of my awful moniker was that over the years there appeared to be others, my tag was undoubtedly taken by four others that I knew of. Maybe each of us did some damage, though I think it is safe to say that none of us really killed it.
I should have wrote SG. That is not to say that a few SG fill-ins and some tags didn’t appear in my hometown of Whitestone.
proximity is a key component to the park you held down or the crew you repped. The first crews I became aware of were: HR, WSK, TCS, OFB, and TMR. That list would expand exponentially. HR, were the older kids at Memorial Park where my friends and I hung out, a park that began at Willets Point boulevard, and ran along 149th street, ending at Bayside avenue. HR, (no affiliation with the Bronx crew) was a motley lot under the banner of MPB, Memorial Park Boys, along with a few other cliques such as THK, UBM, KOA, and 1211. For an impressionable and mischevious young lad trying his hand at vandalism there were vast amounts of inspiration.
On the benches in the dark little playground of PS.21 we took the reins from the THK guys, and ran with 21 PK, which morphed over time into XXI. It would take two summers to fully forge our own crew in that schoolyard down the block from Memorial. Majority of the kids down with us didn’t write graffiti, they may have had tags but they didn’t really write, which was fine, it wasn’t a requirement but for those of us enamored with the artform, we started out like everyone else, toy.
One throwie in particular, that I still fuck with, was an amalgamation of ROOK, LOKO and MEND. I stole some style and tried to alter it enough to become my own. I paid close to attention to the walls and roll down gates in my neighborhood. LOOT, LACK, KWIK, DARE, EM?, SINCH, DQ, RESR, SPE, TP, MECH, NATE, RI, DEIS, PHES, DC, FLARE and others left little tutorials each time they bombed the handball courts. This was just my backyard and it flush with talent.
At the northernmost corner of Queens I learned about Krylon and Rustos, German fat caps and roughing up the tips to silver Pilot markers. Queens was a hotbed for Graff. RF WSK was unavoidable with precisely stamped straight letters on strategic rooftops. DERA and SEOD were up all over. I passed MERK TRK fills everyday on my walk to the park. I would be surprised to hear someone from my generation say that DEAD DBI is not one of their favorite writers. It didn’t matter if it was the Hell Wall on the Cross Island Parkway, the anchorage of the Whitestone Bridge or garages on Francis Lewis Boulevard, there was influence tagged on it. Growing up and seeing dudes from DBI, DTB, SFP, AFC, 22 PK, DWS and the hundred other crews around, as well as our own, made me want to write.
One day after school, I sat at the park and showed the throwie I mentioned above to DARE, it was something I had been working on. “Cool,” he said, with a wry smile, “but it doesn’t make sense.” I was so confused, but he was right. It never occurred to me that there was a certain amount of logic to it. I started to approach it differently after that. Like anything in life, if you’re going to do something, try to do it well.
I’ll share a little story. One of the first people I crammed cans into a Jansport and walked around town with, writing on things during the witching hours was a childhood friend, Billy “MAGE” McIntyre. We did wack fills, experimenting with new styles off the cuff with clashing colors. We didn’t have the foresight to know how important the documenting of those days with photographs would be in the future.
We trooped down Frannie Lew, and caught a fill-in each on the wall of Boulevard Variety, across from the Mcdonald’s. We continued down the boulevard, then along the Cross Island, dogging walls with tags and throws. It was exciting and my heart raced with adrenaline. It is hard to explain the feeling of doing graff to someone who’s never experienced it.
The sun greeted us as we reached the Throggs Neck Bridge. We decided the mission was over, and that we would walk down Willets Point to get home so we could take a look at the fresh fills we just caught in the daylight. When we reached the intersection, we were eager to see the spot, instead we saw the proprietor putting the finishing touches on buffing our fills. Had anyone seen them? It was as if it never existed at all.
Mage passed away this summer. The side of my favorite silver marker reads, Permanent On Most Surfaces. Permanent? Nothing is permanent. Tibetan Buddhists make these elaborate sand mandalas, and when they are complete, the mandalas are ritually destroyed to show impermanence.
I’m merely a spectator these days, and maybe too much time has surpassed and I can’t relate to the younger kids getting up, or maybe I’m just jaded with the hubris and social media posturing, either way, I’ll look forward to seeing the old timers out of retirement, and I’ll think fondly of my brief tenure, and I’ll hold a spot for graffiti and my lost friends in my heart.
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