Signs of A Changed New York [Banksy was here]


On October 18th 2013, a graffiti writer or “tagger” named STF had his ass handed to him for some phenomenal reason while trying to “cross-out” a Banksy wall piece.  And, what’s interesting is that the takedown of STF wasn’t carried out by other writers or cops, but rather a culmination of NYC civilians admiring street art/graffiti!

When a graffiti vandal vandalizes another graffiti vandal’s artwork, we referred to it as a “cross-out.”  Of course, it was a turf war inspired of ink, paints and aerosols, waged quietly in the darkness of the wild streets of NYC, executed with the utmost precision and evasiveness while trying to elude the watching enemy, the NYPD.  All you needed was about $30 worth of Krylon spray paint, a hoodie (no Skittles here!) and a strong case of insomnia.  Oh, and no train token or Metrocard either, cause you had to keep it real by hopping the turnstyle to make it in.  It was an underground scene, and it usually stayed that way.  These sprayed  cross-out rebuttals would sometimes boil over to an after school mob scene between rival graffiti-writer crews, but as far as I can remember, there was no sort of carnage and blood.  Just a lot of talks, negotiations over wall rights of real estate, and a few casual beat downs and chases.

You were a writer or “tagger”, and you had your “tag” (name), your balls, and your respect.  The cops back then were a bit more adamant towards punishment if you got caught creating a masterpiece, and they were also very fond of brandishing the creative urge to spray paint your balls with your color palette of choice before booking you or letting you go home.  You might have also taken a few body blows too.  The scene was mostly uprooted in or around train stations (I’d say about 80% of the time) or in railway “yards” (where the trains were parked overnight) with those freshly new metal train cars acting as the blank canvases.  The following morning, the spectacle of a fully pinned up “piece” (a painted mural by a graffiti artist) screeched its way onward through the rigors of rush hour as a few distinguished rooftop gawkers in hoodies really knew what time it was with Polaroid in hand…

If you think that I am gonna get into the whole birth of Graffiti and the sixties movement, you are out of your FUCKIN’ MIND.  I will stick to the meat and potatoes that essentially made it notorious around the globe.  And, like Rap (Hip-Hop) music, NYC pretty much led the way and held down the cipher for its accepted success as cultural phenoms.

For Your Viewing Pleasure          (before there was a YouTube)

If you want to catch the best documentary on NYC’s rising street phenomenon, you should see the film Style Wars (1983), or I would recommend picking up a copy to keep perched in your movie library.  I still can’t believe this film is 30 years old… WHEW!  The site calls it a Hip-Hop documentary, but I beg to differ.  It is a pretty hefty immersion into the art and culture of NYC-style graffiti writing, chronicled mostly by a throng of kids sneaking out from their fire escapes.


If you also want the closest thing remotely close to a Hollywood production that somehow manages to maintain the integrity of the graffiti movement, you should get or see the film Wild Style, which came out the same year… [WHEW!  My are we Old Skoolers are getting old…]  Although terribly acted, it should be viewed as more of a documentary or a daftly staged reality show rather than a scripted en-sem-ble of a film.  Kind of like viewed with the same respect and attitude as watching a porno in your dad’s man cave.  It is amazing how they have both become such marketing gems when you visit both official sites!  But the film Wild Style does more of an infusion of early Hip-Hop to graffiti over Style Wars.  But both films are firmly hand in hand in the chronicling of the rise and popularity of NYC graffiti culture as it makes its way into the galleries as a “respected” or rather “accepted” artform.  And, it is also during this phase when the musical style of Hip-Hop brands itself as the bonafide soundtrack for graffiti writing.  Kinda of like “you got your peanut butter in my chocolate…”


When Shit Started to Change

In the early eighties, there occurred a newer breed of street art popping up in many train stations around town, engineered with the same conviction as NYC-styled Graffiti.  It’s impact gave an adrenaline shot to the whole underground street writing scene, and it came in the form of street artist Keith Haring.   Note: There were also other artists of honorable mention worth noting like Kenny Sharf, but Mr. Haring’s work gained the most impact and notoriety because it reversed the public notion of graffiti as vandalism.  Keith Haring’s “graffiti” work added a more milder approach to defacing property.  His white-on-black pieces were more like a flower growing out of a piece of concrete pavement as opposed to the aggressive nature of the colorful graf-writer art, and unlike the latter, he kept his work within the framed boundaries of advertising spaces, which created a type of pseudo legitimacy because his ink never hit bricks or tiles on train station walls. [As pictured below]   And mostly, he didn’t attack trains, but if he did, it was very subtle.

He essentially had no tag name, but turned heads with his signature stick-figure art and design, and churned it into millions and millions of dollars in the art world.  Like traditional NYC writers, he posted his art in subway stations all around the city, and inherited a unique reputation among writers and those bullshit wine-sipping art critics, and he was not elusive and kind of like the John Gotti of graffers.  His usual schtick centered around the blank black advert spaces within train stations, and like all the rest, they were eventually replaced with tacky adverts or were cleaned off.  I rarely ever saw a piece of his work succumb to a “cross-out” by a writer.   This is probably most due to his  generous nature to share in the fame with other respected street writers as a form of respect and payback to the NYC graffiti culture by helping them showcase their own work to the art community for $$$$ alongside his.

I remember when I saw him paint the window of the Barnes & Noble at West 8th Street & 6th Avenue (which used to be called B. Dalton Books at the time) during his first official book launch.  I can only imagine how much that painted glass would have been worth under today’s extremes of salvaging street art.  Eventually, he blew the shit out of the art world and branded his immortality and fame after an untimely departure from AIDS.  He was also the first street artist to have his own store located in SoHo, which was essentially a sub-culture souvenir stop.


My buddy and I, graffiti artist writer Micro were also privileged enough to hang with him one afternoon at his SoHo studio.  I’ll never forget that painted couch and other styled artifacts he had lying around.  Very quiet and soft spoken, and clearly in control at the helm with the success of his work.


Where Street Art and Graffiti Collide as One

If you haven’t been witness to the current Banksy scavenger hunt during his month long NYC occupation titled “Better In Than Out”, you should clearly see by now that there are two types of street styles that have evolved: Graffiti Writing (as we old school NYers know it), and Street Art.  Both are essentially from the same Bretheren due to three massive factors: one being that they are viewed as a form of vandalism,  two: the artists earn the respect amongst peers and respect wall space amongst each other in the process, and lastly, three:  the works are composed in clandestine fashion, coupled with the tactics of evasion and elusiveness that raise the level of risk and lead to the possibility of arrest while trying to preserving the identity of the maker.

But, as some sort of fashionable reward, the artform has modestly made its way off the grimy street surfaces to the cleanly brightly lit galleries around the world, and in the process,  have fetched the hooded artists some serious stash.

And Then There’s Banksy…

Banksy is a twist of the tie.  He has always stuck to his roots as a graffiti writer or “tagger”, but has clearly earned his laurels as an incredible street artist who is obviously gathering more respect from a multitude of smart-phoned onlookers rather than graffiti writers. You see, it is all a matter of perspective, but at the end of it all , please consider this important variable: when you have an artist that effectively satirizes corporations, banks, the wealthy/royalty, and politicians, and respectfully reminds us of what matters most in these deranged times of greed and ignorance, should you really erase his work?  Is that artist carrying the voice and opinion of the people?  I guess when you can’t depend on the news media, you need a slate somewhere to be heard!

romani-ite-domumScene from Monty Python’s movie The Life of Brian.  The punchline: The Roman guard spots the grammatical error in the vandal’s work and corrects him in the process.

Like the old saying: “there’s always other fish in the sea.”  In my book, there’s plenty of wall space elsewhere, so the question remains: should writers/vandals stick to the same fundamentals of an artist: be aesthetic and respectful of other people’s work.

Clearly, Banksy is not whack in the least bit, and if you see the first photo, you will get your ass kicked and handed to you by a changed New York!  

banksy_monopoly_setA Banksy Occupy Wall Street street sculpture that echoed the hearts of many New Yorkers during the banking bailout; still has a subtle touch of graffiti on the red hotel


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