Uncapped: Terrible T Kid 170 and How ‘Graffiti Saved My Life’
A couple months ago a friend asked me to attend a show for an old-school graffiti artist. I honestly didn’t know who he was/is. Turned out to be T Kid 170 and as luck would have it, he agreed to join our series. Terrible T Kid 170, welcome to Uncapped: Beneath the Paint.
BOWERY BOOGIE: YO! I listened to an interview where you stated graffiti has been around since cavemen drawing their names on walls and pictures about how they killed that buffalo. You are the first person in the series to acknowledge that graffiti is more than vandalism – it’s a legacy that tells a story. Tell me how graffiti impacted your life to bring you the place you are today.
TKID: YO! Today I’m in a good place. I’m respected by most of my peers. Not all, but most. For my accomplishments as a graffiti artist. For staying true to the form and style that true New York graffiti is.
BB: So we’re skipping how it impacted your life? That’s cool, I will just ask you again later. Are you happy with your life and what people associate your name with? And the “YO” is your signature greeting?
TKID: I’m as happy as my circumstances allow me to be. True happiness is acceptance of oneself and those close to said person. I am happy for who I am and what I do. I’m a graffiti writer from the old school who accepts the new in order to stay relevant in the here-and-now. That’s how I believe people view me and associate to what I do. Yup. YO!
BB: In a prior conversation, we talked about humility, and then again in another we talked about the status of being a legend. When must a legend face humility? By the way, did you know you have a Wikipedia page?
TKID: Ha! Yeah, I knew. Humility is simply knowing your limitations. “Legend” is a tag the world gave me. And I believe the world. Only cause I did so much work. I stay humble by getting with those who look up to me and painting together. Sharing my experience with them giving back what they give me. Understanding that with out them there is no me.
BB: You believe the world. Ha! Good. You are part Peruvian, correct? The Inca civilization dates back thousands of years and is most recognized for their brilliant and alien architecture of Machu Picchu. Have you been? What was that like staring at your heritage and knowing that this is all so much bigger than you?
TKID: Yes. It awes me, but at the same time, I’m proud to come from such a culture. To represent that culture through my graffiti art.
BB: Are you a brand or just a man with an innate talent for art?
TKID: No I’m not a brand. I’m a time traveler whose art tells a story of what was and what is. A story of chaos, turmoil, disillusion, survival, redemption, absolution, success. That is my innate talent. To tell that story in the graffiti I paint!
BB: No shit, a legit time traveler? The H.G. Wells model or a DeLorean? I have places to go once we finish here. Oh good, you’re laughing. I hear your daughter is an artist as well; if she told you “Dad, I want to piece trains, I want to be like you when you were my age. I want to go out bombing.” Stuff like that – what would you tell her?
TKID: I would ask if she knew what she was doing. I would ask her what is her motivation to do what I did.
I would inform her of the heavy consequences that come with that. I would remind her that she possesses what I never did- a choice.
BB: And what choice is that?
TKID: Going to art school. Not being involved in gangs. I’ve been addicted to drugs, I’ve been shot, I was a Bronx Enchanter and a Renegade of Harlem. Gangs. I did so much shit and it made me who I am. Still, I don’t want any of that for her. I make sure she has a wonderful life.
BB: What does the “Terrible” in your name mean? Is that related to your gang history?
TKID: Yeah. It’s a name my peers added to my name. I brought my experience with gangs into my graffiti life. I robbed people, I stole from places, I beat the shit out of people for no reason really, and I played with alcohol and drugs hard. The gangs taught me how to survive the streets by any means necessary, so I applied those lessons to the graffiti game and that made me a not so nice guy.
BB: What about Vamp Squad?
TKID: The Vamp Squad (TVS) was a crew I started around October, 1980. Was with Mike-lke, Shock 123, 2 L, Include, Take-1, may he rest in peace, his partner Vista-1 then Bilroc and NE aka Min-1 from the RTW crew. Those were the founding members
The crew grew to include Rin-1, Beno, Basic, Boozer and Sik from Staten Island.
So Mike-Ike came up with the name. We were in school and he came running in and said “yo, I just vamped this dude!” We were like what the heck does that mean? He made a gesture like swinging a cape over his face “like a vampire.” Vamping became the word to describe robbing other writers. We went into all the train yards, tunnels and layups (when they park the train on the middle track between stops) and took out everybody! We robbed graffiti writers all over the city. One day, some of the crew robbed an old couple and some girls. I walked away after that. That’s not me. I’m not with that. I was no longer part of the Vamp Squad by ’81.
BB: That’s not you anymore. And the “Kid” no longer applies. Sorry, buddy. Does the word in your name help you feel youthful? Does it remind you of an inner child that never really fades?
TKID: For the ‘Kid’, I have to laugh cause hearing that part of my name no longer applies is a reality that I had to change my perception about. I may not be a kid in youth, but I am a kid to the art world. New and fresh to the art world that has been slowly embracing me.
BB: You mean new to the art world as it is today? Because you are in no way new to graffiti.
So, Uncapped is striving to dig to another level – beneath the truth, the come up, the fame. You have documentaries and books, movies, audio and written interviews. Can you tell me one thing about you, the artist and simply the man that is so below the surface no other interview has captured it?
TKID: Yeah, the art world today. Galleries and street art and graff. Legal walls. Shit like that.
The one thing that I think is below the surface is how devoted I am to my art. The same devotion to my loved ones and friends. How open I am to those who approach me and want to teach me something new. How accepting I am of who I am and what I do. A lot of times people, besides you (laughter) think of me and my gang history or my veteran status and how I used to be. I am different now. I may not be bombing trains, but I am still an artist of the same standing or even better.
BB: Respect. Back to addictions. It seems fairly prevalent in the world of an artist, why is that, you think?
TKID: My experience has been that addiction was a necessary evil to do as much as I did. Obsessing on painting. An idea, a feeling I can’t change. Once I picked up the can I compulsively continued only thinking of the next one. Filling voids (doing drugs) with graffiti. I remember the first time I did a piece on a subway car. I been chasing that feeling ever since that first time. It’s ironic how the art scene introduced me to drugs, but how graffiti took me away from those drugs. It saved my life.
BB: Congratulations! You have earned an award for answering the most in-depth questions with the shortest answers!
Last question. You told me graffiti saved your life. How?
TKID: Because I am still here.
Check him out @tkid170 on the place of pictures. He posts a piece and gets about 80 “likes” in 38 seconds, but I am sure he will still appreciate you following him. (wink)