Getting graffiti writers to talk about their work in any sort of public way—in any way that pulls the talk out of the necessarily secretive circles of fellow writers—is, to paraphrase Hemingway, very slow, then all at once. That is, because of the acts' very nature—their illegality—writers are less-than-forthcoming when it comes to the guts of their work. So, compiling these interviews was one part amateur sleuthing (primarily on digital social sites like Flickr and 12oz Prophet), one part cold-calling, and one part proving myself to be, above all else, definitely not law enforcement.
Fortunately, my own documentary work and presence on sites like Flickr was often "proof" enough to allow me in. More, once one writer gave me the "OK" and told others, essentially "vouching" for me, doors opened. To be sure, a majority of these interviews were conducted with writers I've never met in person but "know" online. This, in contrast to the long history of graffiti, is strange: maintaining secrecy through a very public (albeit digital) presence. But, as noted above, once the realization that, yes, "this guy's all right," is made, only then does the secrecy drop away. I know that without the nearly 5000 photos of graffiti I've posted and sent around the internet, these interviews would have been harder won.
All of the interviews below were conducted over a 10-month span, starting in March of 2012 with the final responses coming in January 2013; this length reveals the slow process of being accepted into the private lives of the interviewees. Below is a selection that represents the wide range of graffiti being done in the 21st century. From hardcore freight painters like GWIZ—whose abstracted letters and shocking colors I first saw roll by on a snowy Canadian Pacific boxcar—to wall technicians like JABER or JOKER—both some of the first graffiti photos I saw on a young Art Crimes (graffiti.org) in the early-90s—to traditional railroad moniker artists like TEX GOTH, OTHER, and SHRUG—writers whose oilstick sketches I've been photographing in railyards and sidings from Rochester to Seattle—to multi-surface and –media painters TOMB and BERZERKER who are as quick to paint an abandoned building as they are a high-profile spot in Philadelphia or Ottowa—these are all working writers working and negotiating, in varying degrees (sometimes in the same night), levels of (il)legality.
Please tell us where you're from and what you write. How about the first time that you went out and wrote on a wall/train? How old were you? Why do you think you went out and did it?
JOKER: I write JOKER_Transcend.IHU.BA and I'm from Washington DC. The first time I wrote on a wall was the spring of 1985, and I was 16 years old. I originally got into Graffiti due to an advertisement on the back of Thrasher skateboarding magazine. It was a picture of Lance Mountain holding his skateboard, and on the grip tape, in graffiti, it said Powell Peralta. I thought it looked really cool so I started to write words in the same style on my skateboard, on paper, whatever.
OTHER: I am from Canada and I write "other". I am two months away from being 40... I can't remember the first time I went out and wrote graffiti ...it sort of built up ...first in thought, inside me ... then from chicken scratch to bigger and bigger blobs, slowly forming into something legible ... I was a sponsored skateboarder and traveled to a lot of big cities to skate...I started seeing these tags everywhere I went and I wondered who the people were and how they got away with it; so I started painting too, to find them.
GWIZ: Geewiz, raised in a southeastern state, currently a resident of a northwestern state. First time I ever went out was with a friend, we were 13 and 16 andwent to an auto-rack lay-up in the heart of the city. We skated/ bussed pretty much everywhere until he got a car so spots were limited to the 2 legals and a couple of sketchy lay-ups. The reason behind going was to draw on things...one of the legals happened to be a skate spot too... lots of bums and busted bottles.... seemed like a fun thing to do when it was too hot to skate.
TEX GOTH: Fort Worth, Texas. I write TG / Tex Goth / Texican Gothic and associated "bat" designs. I first wrote on trains in 1989 at age 17 when I lived in west Texas. Was inspired by the traditional freight monikers, especially ones I was seeing large numbers of, like the Rambler and Water Bed Lou, also the classics like Bozo Texino and Herby.
JABER: Jaber—California. I was pretty young when I first wrote on something. I think it was a school or a dumpster by where my friends skateboarded. I might have been 12 or 13. I got influenced from a "Bills Wheels" skate demo. They had a bunch of panels and people painting at the event. I claim the west coast.
TOMB76: I am from the regional Pennsylvania/Philadelphia area and my name and moniker is Tomb76. I have grown up with graffiti my entire life but never worked up the nerve until I was 20. Iwas a very late bloomer and was living in Altoona, Pennsylvania, when I started. Ironically, I started writing in a freight train city but only cared about traditional graffiti. I was tired of doing what other people my own age were doing anddidn't want to be interested in something (graffiti) and not experience it. I went out for the same reason most people do: the rush of the moment and notoriety. Few things feel as good as being bad.
BERZERKER: Hi, my name is Clint and I am from eastern North America, south of Quebec and north of New York State. When I was a kid I ventured down to this semi-abandoned rail line and saw a whole new world, sort of a subterranean layer. Lots of grime down there: drugs, prostitution, and what my grandma refereed to as "rubbies." There was also tons of wall space that got repeatedly painted over. One day I picked up a used can with a bit of paint left in it and gave it a few sprays. I got hooked and it basically consumed my life for the next 20 years.
SHRUG: I write SHRUG and I'm from Cloggsville, near Cleveland. I was a teenager, 14 or so.... Graffiti finds you; especially back then. Why I did it? Because to paraphrase Henry Miller: "Everything that does not come from the street is literature..." or something. I was a confused, adrift, awkward, befuddled, put-upon kid who needed outlets or something. Graffiti provides.
How long have you been writing? Who were/are your influences? How would
you describe your style? How often do you go out to write?
JOKER: I've been writing, seriously, since the summer of 1985. A friend I skated with was really into Graffiti and had an amazing style, already; he was writing JOKER at the time, and had moved to DC from NYC. I soaked up everything he taught me. He was easily my earliest and first influence, and without him and his willingness to share his style and teach me, I'm not sure I would have the style/aesthetic that I have today. My style started out in true NY fashion, it was all I knew and was what I was learning from in those early years, thanks to JOKER and Style Wars. About six years later I moved to the San Francisco bay area and met two writers, RAYGE and RAEVYN, who molded me into a more artistic/abstract style of writer, which is still where I'm going with my style today. As far as painting on walls, I maybe get out once a year. I tend to spend more time creating work on canvas, now.
OTHER: I have been scribbling for 25 years ... I am influenced by music, travel, adventure ... I paint outside maybe once or twice a week.
GWIZ: The first time I painted on something was in 96.... I was heavily influenced by the unique styles of Esteme, Joker, Pusher, Zes, Daks, and anyone that was pushing the funk side of graff. Nowadays I am a big fan of the VTS [crew] guys, Kaput, Pufer, Niche, Large.... mostly they all influence me to paint more than I do, draw more than I do and push style harder...I have been on paint hiatus for about a year now.... I think this summer will see a whole mess of panels as I am moving back home.
TEX GOTH: I wrote very sporadically between 1989 and 2008... and then started writing much more aggressively beginning in 2008. Early influences were the Rambler, Coal Train, Herby, and Bozo Texino. Later influences have been: Colossus of Roads, Bookman, Herman Beans, Deuce 7, KHaze, Other, Theory, Labrona, Relish, Flak, the Watchman, Sank to Grief, Matokie Slaughter, Faves, Whistle Blower, Virginia Zeke, Conrail Twitty, Stackabones, the Solo Artist, Retribalize. I'd consider my style to be very much in line with the traditional railcar monikers, with an occasional touch of street art inspired by other writers and artists. On average, I'm writing two or three times a week.
JABER: 20 years. Every night for a good time period, then it slowed to every other night, then once a week. Nowadays, it's random. Could be every night if I am away from home but if I am in my hometown then probably twice a week. If I go more than twice a week, my lady gets grumpy. My influences range from death metal logos to old school NY writers to west coast legends—DREAM, LEKS, TWIST, KOLAGE, DEVR—too many to name. But simple fonts and death metal had a strong hold on me and my style back in the 1990s. Now I like concepts as a style. Doing a themed one-man production is my bag.
TOMB76: My relationship with writing is going on 14 years but with signs of slowing up more recently. For many years I was in a yard almost every single day and many times I was going to around three or four small lay-ups in a day. Most of my influences are tied to ";outsider"; culture but not always train related and vary greatlysuch as Beatnik writers, tattoos, DIY 80s hardcore. General Neo-Loser Americana.
BERZERKER: Phil Lynotte from Thin Lizzy is my biggest inspiration at the moment. I don't get out so much these days, I have a lot of hobbies that take my attention but when the urge to get out comes I jump on it.
SHRUG: Influenzas: SANO, CST, PRESTO, HOVER, MYLK, FAT, WILLY WALL STREET, KRAZO, FOLK ANDY, etc. I'm missing many. Ur-heads o' Clevo I heart you, so many good hands of yore who sunfaded into pure oblivion un-internetted and free... My style: Not good, still improving. Still life w/ apples, style is such a serious thing: unobtanium... How often? Not enough with fams and all, but it's a long haul thing, the whole is greater than...
Please tell us about the graffiti scene in your city. Is there a large scene? Are you part of one or more crews? What access to supplies do you have? How connected are you to other writers?
JOKER: Currently I live in the Northwestern region of the states. The Graffiti scene is live but it's not like NYC, San Francisco, or other large cities. However, there are some incredible stylistic writers from Northwest who have influenced/inspired writers around the world. Currently I rep[resent] IHU (I Hate You) and BA (Burning America) crews. I'm also a member of the group Transcend. Though I still rep these groups, it's rare that I "get up" anymore. Access to paint/markers is as easy for me as it is for anyone else in the world. Online stores have seen to that. My connection to other writers is solid. I keep in touch with old mates and with new ones who are putting in work every day.
OTHER: Normally, I am not in one place long. I migrate to new cities, explore, paint, and leave. In Canada there is not a large scene for graffiti and I tend to keep away from most writers. I don't use spray paint very often; I use oil sticks that are handmade from beeswax and pure pigment; my friend makes them.
GWIZ: I guess I'm not a very social writer, I also do not visit the [online] forums or really talk to many writers...by who's getting up regularly, no there isn't much of a scene, just a couple here and there. There's also a shit ton of legal eagles, always at the legal wall.... maybe it has a bigger scene. As for crews, nope, never really felt like I fit in with any of the crews. I like painting, so I paint; mostly with 2 others but sometimes I catch panels with a hero or two. I paint with Rusto[leum] so access is easy; I only use Presto [white-out correction] pens that I get in bulk off the internet. Rack what I can't afford but I'm getting old now so pushing a bunch of carts isn't as exciting anymore.
TG: I know of other writers in Fort Worth who paint freights, but I've never gone out painting/marking with them. Have met and talked to a few of them at my spots a few times. It's hard to tell how active the Fort Worth scene is, because the city is very aggressive at keeping graffiti covered up, buffing most of the walls as soon as they get hit. I purchase my markers (Markal) online and receive them in the mail... couldn't be easier than that.
JABER: I don't really have one city; I travel a lot but can speak on the west coast. I have lived in every major city on the west coast and prefer California: I like the weather; the scene is heavy; the buff can't keep up; and I stay out of the politics pretty well. I stopped writing crews a while back and that probably was the best thing I have ever done because the politics ruins the joy of graffiti for many people. It turns into a competition against other crews and egos and diminishes the pureness of it. I am well connected with almost every major crew and I paint with them all nowadays. I have access to any type of marker or paint available [and] there are many. It makes it easier to be good at this young man's sport.
TOMB76: My area is the cradle of life for Graffiti but most people still site New York due to they way they evolved the trade and nearly everywhere in the world followed. Philadelphia, to a degree as well, but there are styles here that could never be written anywhere else. This is one of the last places where the regional style was not muddles up with other cities' styles. I am not a part of any crews currently; I believe the phrase is "Always a Bridesmaid, never a Bride." I know many crews but never joined. If I were ever to join a crew I would have to be close with the other members.
BERZERKER: There is a scene here for sure, there was lots of stuff out there for a long time but the city has put the kibosh on it pretty hard. The best spots are the ones that are hidden; it's the only way to keep anything running. This city has an L.A. KINGS style of defense. I am not part of any crews. Materials are becoming a bit hard to come by these days, I do have a special spot around that sells Krylon with the old valve system but that's going to run out soon and I fear the day I have to rely on hip hop stores for my paint. Painting with Endzo is my only connection to others.
SHRUG: I have no idea about the current scene; I'm anti-scene. Scenes ruin and wreck by codification. Squash a scene. All graffiti should be done alone in a harried state of nervous bliss...or something—like shooting heroin or any bad drug alone in utterly pure human despair and unconnected then like after some deep Native-American peyote dream you return to the fold and avail them with your hard-won knowledge. That's how to build a scene. Nah, just kidding; I email my dudes e'ryday... People are very important....
Do you plan
"missions", go out with a general plan, or improvise? Can you take us through a
day when you are planning on writing/painting. We would like to know the
everyday stuff that goes into planning and then writing.
JOKER: Not applicable for me [because of the focus on doing canvases, design, gallery work, and so on].
OTHER: Well, in Canada painting mostly has to do with rolling stock and a train can stop anywhere at anytime so it is important to be prepared to jump over barbed-wire fences at any moment and that no matter what you wear it is likely to get paint all over it and ripped... I explore cities and abandoned places in general, most of the time looking for things to take home and paint on. In all my walking and biking, I record places I would like to return and draw on.
GWIZ: It depends on what the spot is. I paint trains almost exclusively so the "planning" is more of knowing a dependable spot. I usually have a bunch of white and black [paint] and grab a dozen cans of various colors depending on what's on the shelves. I sketch the car out before we go so it can be more of a surgical strike with less decision-making needed on the spot. I like to paint real big on the biggest panels; the planning is more estimating what needs to go in the bag and what concept to put up. Then it's all fun time and hours of filling [in colors].
TG: I generally have access to trains at about 8 different spots here in north Texas. When I want to go out marking, I'll just stop by one of the spots and if there are no trains there, I'll move on to the next spot, etc. I prefer some spots to others (more chill, more likely to have a train stopped, some are better to work at night, others are good any time night or day, etc.) but over time, I'll hit all of them. Sometimes my mission is just to go out and put up numbers, marking as many cars as possible... other times I will slow down and do detailed pieces or portraits on just one or two cars. I never have much of a plan besides just deciding to go out and mark trains, and then taking advantage of what's available.
JABER: I like to plan things out but I don't bring sketches for letters, maybe a character but rarely letters. I like illegal spots or trains. I do legal walls, but the feeling is more like a social interaction than a mission. I thin if you plan your missions and take it seriously, the hobby turns into a way of life where you can find self-satisfaction and sense of accomplishment. Everyday stuff is: knowing the location, getting supplies, tips, ladders, bucket paint, arranging home life so you have the time, possibly having a police radio or a lookout and maybe even a cameraman to document. It takes some planning.
TOMB76: I used to plan missions but it was never very involved. Since I was going to my [train] yard every single day, I would observe the daily lay-ups. I only had to figure out how to get in and out various ways to each. If you can switch things up on a daily basis in an intelligent way then you can get a lot of work done unobserved. I was able to see open panels in the daytime and plan my color schemes for night.
BERZERKER: I don't really plan anything anymore, I usually get excited about a spot that I have had in mind for a while, put together some paint and head out for what usually ends up being a much bigger mission than I expected. I plan out the materials and make sure I have water and stuff like thatbut I don't really draw stuff out anymore, I like to just get there and feel things out for a bit, usually the spot will determine what gets put on it based on the texture, imperfections in the substrate, the surrounding area, if there are bars or other things I might attach to, how many beers I have left.
SHRUG: Sure, of course, formerly; we planned: X's and O's. Now I ride my bike and un-plan. Graffiti is no longer a planned action when you're old instead it's a giant lucky break and shot in the arm of impromptu fortune...or something. I plan "house payments" or something. Graf kinda still fortunately happens because I stay up long enough at night sometime to go out and facilitate its steady presence in my life.
What is the reaction
to your work? What would happen if you were caught (or what did happen if you
were caught)? Do you have any chase stories?
JOKER: When I first started to do the more abstract work, back in the early 90's, the reaction was mixed. More on the "What the fuck is that?!" side of things than on the positive. It was fine, though, as it fueled me to keep trying new ideas and pushing the envelope more.
Chase stories... there are plenty. I was once chased down a freight train line and jumped off to the side, into a ravine. At the bottom of the ravine I laid there, still, waiting for the coast to be clear. I waited for about an hour, at which point I started to notice some movement in the bushes across the way. In the distance was a large building, somewhat lit, and completely surrounded by tall, barbed wire fence. I started to really pay attention to the movement to see what exactly was going on... was it an animal? I couldn't figure it out for a while. Then finally I saw a man, moving really slowly toward me. He was in military gear, night vision goggles... all that shit. I booked it so fast up that ravine and down those tracks to the highway. I figured if it my options were the police or whatever that guy was... I was going with the police. I left my bag in the ravine, too. The cops were gone; my friends were gone as we all ran in different directions. So I walked home. Took me two hours. I rode my bike back to the ravine the next day and my bag was still there. I could tell it had been gone through but all my stuff was there. Still don't know what that building is all about.
OTHER: I have hidden on trains to escape. I have jumped from moving train to moving train. Ran down the sides of highways. I have had knives and bats pulled on me; been caught numerous times; attacked by strangers; given drinks and urged on by strangers; come across people having sex and people shooting up. I have been followed by wolves. A fox not paying attention almost knocked me over.
GWIZ: I've been chased plenty, mostly trying to paint lay-ups in the daytime. I've been grabbed after cutting into a fence, grabbed walking away from wet paint. Getting caught sucks. The first time I was caught I was painting a raw bridge along a railroad line; it was on a bend so I didn't have any warning when the CSX [railroad] truck came flying by. They stopped fast, jumped out, and snagged me (because I can't run to save my life). I was zip-tied and detained. That sucked. Getting tackled on the rocks sucked. The fines sucked. The day in jail sucked. But that's nothing compared to what the heavy hitters get into; much respect to them. As for the reaction to my work, I think most of the scene thinks what me and DOIT put up is gay, unfinished, too arty, and dumb. It's weird. Real mixed reactions. I think it's funny most of the time. As for the others, I think any respect we've earned is because people can see what we are trying to do and that we have fun doing it. That's what its all about. That, and going big.
TG: Reaction has been positive, among benchers and other artists and even non-bencher/non-artist friends who have seen my work. If I were caught, at the very least I'd expect a trespassing citation. Chase stories, if they do in fact exist, are "classified."
JABER: I think people like my work. Unless I beat you up in 1999 or a writer is jealous of my work, I think my art is accepted as decent. There is always someone who doesn't like it, though. If I get caught, I get a court case. I have been chased several times by police, dogs, heroes, helicopters. It's mostly squad cars, I guess, but it's been a while. I try to keep a low profile anymore. One time I got chased because I matched a description of an armed robber. They caught me on someone's lawn in San Jose, beat me down, and then found out it wasn't me. They searched my car and took a gun I had, but I didn't rob anyone. San Jose sucks; don't go there.
TOMB76: Unfortunately, I have been caught but was able to talk my way out of anything major. I had to pay hundreds of dollars in fines but nothing was permanently placed on me. My chase stories are too many to mention. I have had run-ins with cops, dog units, State Troopers,yard workers, druggies, a Marine, multiple pit bulls, a [railroad] bull and the same female Rottweiler more times than I care to think about. As dumb as it sounds, part of the rush of writing is the delicate balance of almost getting caught and the feeling of accomplishment of getting away with a crime.
BERZERKER: I'm not too sure about getting caught; it never really occurs to me that what I am doing is so harmful that someone would want to catch me doing it. I know that I can't stand getting rolled up on by tag bangers when I am at what I thought was an impenetrable fortress of a paint spot. No real chase stories, but once, while on a train in Thailand, we spotted two boxcars in this small remote town; we got off and waited around all day to paint them. We get going on it and I notice behind me that wild, frothing-at-the-mouth dogs were surrounding us. Pure terror. We threw rocks at them and they all left but kept lingeringaround making attempts to get near us again. We had to take turns painting and fending of the dogs. And I had the shits the whole time I was in Asia.
SHRUG: Sure, guns get pulled, cops wildin' out, heads chasing heads, lotsa hollering, all that stuff happened and doesn't matter. It's the peaceful stuff that happens when being outdoors with paint sticks that really sticks. How about all the un-chase stories? Like seeing comets & meteors or fireworks over the ball park or muskrats in the Cuyahoga by the old DK yards, or gulls by the salt mine screeching o'er the lake, or deer bumping and snorting into you and being cool with you catching streaks in their meadow on the hoppers by the cement plant. Fuck a chase story.
What, in your view, is the point of graffiti? Do you think of it as art? Vandalism? Political? Fun? Resistance?
JOKER: The point of Graffiti is ego. Yes, it's art... it's vandalism, it's political, fun, teen angst... it's all that. It's the most fun you can have while doing something illegal... maybe.
OTHER: Graffiti is such a broad term; there are as many different kinds of graffiti as there are musical genres. It can be art, crime, violent, racist, beautiful, pointless, inspiring, overwhelming, destructive, funny, sad, on and on. For me, graffiti is just leaving a mark behind as you explore a city, like a little note: I like it here; this is an interesting spot. Look under the bridges; go in the guts of your city; know the noises the bowels make. You accept all the noise and scents and errors of a lover, why not a city too? The tattoo artist of a city.
GWIZ: For me, it's all about the fun. I like the late night creep[ing around]; listening to the yard hum with reefer units; picking panels; seeing who's on what; and making something happen in a big way overnight. If I were going to comment on the scene in general, I'd say it's all about fame. People want to be important. They want to be recognized. They want to be liked. And when that doesn't work, they want to be hated and feared. Folks are still either Dondi or Cap in my mind and few play in the middle. Some people come at graff with art in mind and some people just love to get fucked up and fuck shit up; it's all there.
TG: It's something different to everyone. For me personally, it's a creative artistic release and a participation in a movement outside mainstream America (i.e. living in the suburbs, working 8 to 5, drinking beer and watching TV at night and on weekends). And marking freights helps me feel like I'm part of the railroad. My drawings circulate throughout North America, across deserts, over mountain ranges, through the inner cities, and are seen by rail workers and photographed by benchers hundreds or even thousands of miles away. I love being part of that.
And it's about creating a mystique that I know others will wonder about when they see my drawings, just as I wondered about the drawings and pieces I have seen. "Who is that artist? Where's he from? What's he all about?"
JABER: All of the above. I think it is an expression of you[rself]. I think it's like saying "Fuck you. This is me and whether you like it or not, I just did this on property that I do not own." That may be rude, but let's face it: human society is already pretty rude. It is super fun to go out and write your name on stuff. It's like a drug because the more you do it, the more you want to do it. It is also a good art form as well with a medium most can't figure out.
TOMB76: Graffiti is not art; it is a craft that has to be learned and practiced. Most people only ever give validity to art because they can profit form it. Nobody really gets into writing [graffiti] because it is a wise career choice. It is a choice that completely defies social logic; it is as logical as emotions. It also makes you feel as human as emotions do.
BERZERKER: All of the above.
SHRUG: Not sure, I think I like how looks simply. Ain't surfaces always asking for it. Surface asks. Walls demand the human touch or something. More high-mindedly, I think I want to make a world full of open-ended little pictures that travel in my stead. I think the goal is to increase serendipity or something by putting things into the world that others can interpret however they will. It's packet sharing and network making without wires. It's connecting without having to bring too much personality to the connection. You make things for others. Others receive it. You make tiny corners meaningful; brighten margins; add surprise in small doses.
How is being a writer
part of your identity? How old are
you? How would you describe your politics? How would you describe your economic
class? Are you religious?
JOKER: Hmmm... I'd say being a writer helped shaped me as an artist/designer, over the years. It was such a huge part of my life for so long that it's been hard to just give it up, even if I don't paint as much as I used to. The majority of my friends are/were writers so it's still something that's part of, almost, everyday conversation. Even not being as active as I once was, I still try to keep up on who's who and what's going on. I wouldn't say that Graffiti shaped my politics, as I don't involve myself in politics. Economic class: upper-middle? I don't know. I do well, but not terribly well. I'm an artist/designer as a profession and I work for a fairly large Fortune 500 company. Not religious at all... never have been.
OTHER: Graffiti, to me, is an action. You are a graffiti artist only when you are doing it. It is only a little moment in a massive world. My politics would be a socialist, liberal, green. I am 40 years old and I have driven a car once; I hate them. I prefer traveling by train, boat, bike, foot—anything instead of a plane or a car. But often in this world you have to relent. My economic class is low; I paint and make money from art exhibitions and murals and illustrations. Although I make little money, I live a life of luxury because my overhead is low: no house; no debt; eat well and travel. To me, success is how many countries I have visited and the amazing adventures I have had. My religion is stories and how many tales I can pass on before I die .... experiences .... I have no time to waste kneeling before some deity in thanks for the life I have; I want to live!
GWIZ: I'm 28 years old, a furniture designer/maker by trade, a liberal on most issues, especially education. Making money has been hard the last few years so I'm in debt. Not religious. I spend most of my time making things with my hands, less and less with a can in my hand.....(sadly). I always wanted to teach. Being a writer has been fun; it's a part of me that loves scribing bar mirrors when I'm tipsy. I think it has encouraged me to be more observant of my surroundings and helped me to understand that most people in the world can't see their hand in front of their face let alone say anything when they see it.
TG: It's an ALTERNATE identity. Most people I know in my "everyday" life (at work, casual friends, family) don't even know that I do it. Writing gives me a chance to escape from the drudgery of suburban American life, to escape from the pressures of work and obligations to family and others, to be "someone else" for a few hours, to do things completely on my own terms and follow my own agenda while experiencing freedom of expression and movement—and a freedom from rules and expectations and societal standards—that I don't normally get to enjoy.
Politics: Disinterested / cynical / disenfranchised
Economic class: Middle
Religious: "Buddha was not a Christian, but Jesus would have made a good Buddhist." –Ray Wylie Hubbard
JABER: I'm in my mid-30s, atheist, and poor. I think all politics are corrupt. I feel that I am a little more aware of my surrounding than the general public is. That is partly because of being a writer. I try to keep my writing like and my regular life separate, but it is hard sometimes.
TOMB76: My character as a writer is completely opposite to what everyone else knows about me. I am over 30, work a very nice office job, attended a Top 10 State University,and get to church as often as I am able. I have dated girls who had no idea I wasa part of anything like this or had any interest in it. Everyone who is involved in this is almost entirely different from the next, as far as I have seen. There may be many similarities between these people, but most of the time writing is the glue that brings (and keeps) them together.
BERZERKER: Painting on stuff has pretty much shaped my whole perspective on life. I always have my eye out for details in things; like "Holy shit, look at that hole in the fence!" I always want to go through to see what's on the other side. I imagine that if it had not been for this art form I would still be heavily involved in sport. I have a day-to-day mentality, I try to live for the moment and do good by it.
SHRUG: White, middle-aged, Slovak, schoolteacher, middle American, dude, un-dude, bleeding heart, green thumb, Dad, unreligious, pre-worm-food-nobody. It's still in a process of becoming this identity thing; anyways, identity is very over-rated & contrary to communication and not so much necessary in order to make a picture. Better be a vessel & conduit. However, everybody these days is a demographer ain't that what they're saying?
How aware are you of
graffiti writers throughout the country? The world? Do you follow or maintain
contact with other graffiti writers? Has the internet played any role in this?
What do you think of the internet graffiti "scene"?
JOKER: The internet has been a great tool for keeping up with what's going on in the world of Graffiti. The level of communication is amazing. I know if I travel to a European country that all I have to do is send out a few emails and someone will put me in contact with someone there. They'll take me painting, show me around, whatever. It's pretty amazing how well connected every writer is to other writers, through the web. I had no idea there was an internet Graffiti "scene"... but if there is, I would imagine it's basically one overwhelmingly full bucket of images, good and bad. The only drawback that I can see from internet, in regards to Graffiti, is the ability for writers to easily bite other writers. Not to sound cliché, but back in the day style was regional. If you were biting someone, it was pretty obvious, immediately. Now, a writer can bite someone and unless it's a well-known writer, they can get away with stealing ideas. It's unfortunate.
OTHER: I have many friends worldwide that paint murals and I meet up with them when I visit their countries and take them out when they visit Canada. The role the internet plays for me is that of a giant directory that everyone can get in touch with anyone with a little searching. I browse through images of street art sometimes but I am not very interested in watching art; it is like watching a hockey game: there are fans and athletes. I would rather be playing than watching.
GWIZ: Flickr man;
Flickr has been good, better than forums. It's how I get day[time] shots of my
panels, connect with writers/benchers, and occasionally meet someone who wants
to paint. It is my primary window into graff and I get to pick what I'm looking
at. I know lots of old school
writers hate on the internet; I mean I hate it for the same reasons: more
idiots running their mouths making empty threats than there are people pushing
style. But that's the internet.
You can't always fixate on the negative.
TG: I can think of several dozen artists who paint or mark freights and whose work I admire, mostly in North America. I am in touch with several other moniker artists and a few aerosol artists. The internet has been extremely useful in helping me make contact with other artists. It has helped me find others with similar interests, and has provided exposure to others' works that has inspired me. It has really opened my eyes to the world of aerosol graff (especially on freights), and also to the modern hobo/freight-hopping scene.
JABER: I am very aware. I used to tour the states with bands, linking up with writers in every city. I hate the internet and I love it. It's probably not good to be online too much, if you are involved with illegal activity; but if you are just into art and traveling, it's great. If you are into trying to get pictures of your stuff that you don't have, it's great. If you want to sell stuff, it's been pretty good for me. But it gets wack when you have to listen to children that haven't done a fraction of the work you have done in the graffiti game critique your style. That's lame to me, but a huge part of the internet.
TOMB76: I am blessed to have created good relationships with many writers from all over this country, a few in Canada, and even met a few from Europe. Some I have met by being in the right place at the right time and other I have met through other writers. Often the internet is brought up but there is no internet scene, unless I am completely out of touch. Individuals bragging in forums are no different then people bragging in other forums, it will get you nowhere. No lasting legacy has ever been created in the internet. The internet is good to communicate with people you may never meet. I am happy to say I have good people in my corner, whose faces I will never see. It is just a medium for communication, but so is writing.
BERZERKER: I have a few friends that share this same hobby; I keep in touch with them from time to time through email but other than that I am notinvolved in the internet graffiti scene whatsoever. I like to browse around the web to see what's going on out there and I think it's a great tool to see stuff around the globe that I most likely would not have otherwise.
SHRUG: Only writers who are really long term friends...I guess. Some internet; all the stuff people do I do. I'm typical. I know where to find it. Really the best way is still in person, in reality, on a train, on a wall I guess. I'm not of the generation whose life became an extension of the social media, I grew up the other way around where social and life choices happened first and the mediated part was second if at all.
What do you think of
permission/legal walls? Daytime/chill spots? How important is the risk?
JOKER: I think risk is important, as a way to cut teeth, to learn the ropes. I also think it shapes a writer, separates the men form the boys, as it were. Those who can handle the pressure and thrive on the rush of getting up and over, they're the ones who last. Daytime spots serve their purpose, as well. It's a way to really take your time and push yourself. I think being just a bomber is fine; I think being just a daytime/legal writer is a bit wonky, unless you've spent years bombing and putting in work. There's tons of debate there, though.
OTHER: It bothers me when people call a permission wall made with spray paint "graffiti," it is not; it is just painting a mural. Graffiti is illegal. Spray paint is just a medium, not solely for the purpose of graffiti. Not that I see anything wrong with legal painting, I paint murals; art is how I eat.
GWIZ: I'm not a big fan of the legal walls. I mean getting paid to paint a spot is one thing, but the free walls with every 12-year-old rocking euro paint and biting Revok... they get real lame real fast. Daytime spots are fun—chill, cutty, raw walls are some of the most fun. I like the risk, but I just like to have a plan that limits its pressure—like the perfect heist.
TG: Permission walls are ok as long as they're well done. I enjoy seeing murals, pieces, etc in the ";everyday world";... it helps offset the monotony of the sterile atmosphere and uninspiring design of much of modern society.
All things being equal, I would prefer a no-risk spot. Chill spots, where the only thing I need to worry about is the quality of my work, are my favorites. But risk is inherent in the freight scene. I minimize it by working mostly at night, staying out of sight, being aware of my surroundings, and always having an escape route in mind.
JABER: I like it all, but the permission walls are not that exciting. To be real, it's probably not worth the risk but it all depends on how you treat your illegal risks. I think it varies depending on the person taking the risk.
TOMB76: The risk is everything. Period. End of story. If this were legal, it wouldn't be called graffiti; it would be one more un-influential art that someone would try and sell you.
BERZERKER: I used to thrive on risky business; I got a real rush out of it. Nowadays I prefer a more relaxed environment where I can focus a bit more on cleanliness.
SHRUG: That's studio art and as such is nominally cool. Any spots any time are blessings. Spots are blessings. Graffiti teaches us to have "spots." In a world increasingly unreal & too mediated & pre-scripted and such graffiti will teach one that "having a spot" is one way to actually live in and of the world for a little while. I never feel chill at "chill spots" anyways. All spots are all too real for me to be chill. I'm the Woody Allen of spots.
Can you give us examples of/briefly tell us about some of your work?
This was the first piece I did from my abstract studies. This was after about six months of drawing and working ideas out on paper, before taking them to the wall. At the time, I was working with RAEVYN to bring some new styles to the table, so to speak. RAE had this old book of electrical wiring maps form the early part of the century. Incredible stuff. We saw letters, connections in these maps, and so we started to work with that idea in our letters. I really got into taking that idea and the idea of what the future of Graffiti could be, and ran with it. This was the first painted result of those exercises. Some loved it; most hated it. I think it was painted over in less than a week.
One time I went out onto the lake at night in a thick fog, so thick not even singing a song could permeate it. No shore visible, I had a lit candle on the rowboat and a dog under the seat and the water was black, black like the pupil of an eye. I wish I wasn't so far away from that lake now. I would break a hole through the ice with an axe and dive in. My grandfather lost his wedding ring while building the dock; it is still down there somewhere. I used to scour the lakebed with a diving mask on, kicking up limestone soot looking for that ring each summer.
Buenos Aires is amazing; the city is just crumbling. You can just show up at a wall and start painting; the police smoke and watch you and the neighborhood people bring you food and water. No permission but accepted. [This was] painted with Jaz.
This one was probably my favorite car to paint—simple, big, fun colors and concept. It was painted with my two best friends on a freezing cold night to start a year off.
This one is more recent. I think it's the cleanest representation of what we are trying to do. I wish we had more paint and time that night.
I prefer not to explain the art. I prefer you to look at it and make your own conclusions.
Header photo credits, left to right:
Jaber (Brook Novak); TexGoth (Loadstone); Gwiz (Brian Latta); Shrug (Brian Knowles); Tomb (Billy Craven); Other (Matthew Burns); Joker (the artist); Berzerker (jwc 3o2).