Uncapped: Back to the Train Yards with the Legendary DUSTER UA
My fellow readers! It’s been a long time, I shouldn’t have left you without a dope rhyme to step to. We are BACK. It’s summer, the walls are primed, the paint’s been purchased, and we are doing big things with our Uncapped re-up. Head to Lovecraft on Avenue B tomorrow; we’re having a show!
One of the artists in the show is the Bronx’s very own, DUSTER UA.
BOWERY BOOGIE: Welcome to Uncapped, my bro! For the people who don’t know you, please introduce yourself. Who are you and where are you from?
DUSTER UA: Hello and how you doing? Well, my friends now just call me Dusty, short for Duster or Dust. I am from the Castle Hill section of the Bronx.
BB: Duster, everyone knows you are UA: United Artists. When was UA founded and who were the early members?
D: Not sure when UA was founded. It started on the West Side and somehow made its way to the East Side of the Bronx and SEEN was in it with a few others. Back then I wasn’t even trying to be in no clique. I just wanted to paint trains. Just seemed to me that SEEN just kept showing up at the same time as me so it just came to be.
Never heard much from any other writers tripping or even seeing it [UA] up anywhere.
BB: SEEN. The “godfather of graffiti.” How did he receive that title instead of you, since you were both doing exactly the same thing at the same time?
D: I dunno. Me and Rich kind of went our separate ways. Not really much of a relationship ever since the train days were gone. It was kind of weird. It’s like this: imagine a bunch of surfers riding waves for years together and then one day, no more waves. What do you do? Sit on the beach and stare at the water? So I headed West and SEEN went to Paris. The godfather of graffiti…he can call himself whatever he wants. I wouldn’t want to piss off all those other egos if I was him, but correct me if i’m wrong; “they” call him the godfather … he does not call himself that? Who they are, I don’t know…
BB: Yes, “they” as in various publications that have interviewed him. Some biographies on the internet. A couple of books. I cannot say where the title came from. A+ plus metaphor (the waves) there, sir though I am sorry to hear that.
D: Don’t need to be sorry about the SEEN thing, we are polar opposites. I knew a long time ago, I was going to cut homie loose. Let’s just say I feel so much better not having someone I should trust, but can’t, around. You understand?
BB: Say no more. Back to you. How did you get your name?
D: How I got my name was drugs (angel dust) seemed like a cool thing combined with the car duster (Plymouth Duster). I first borrowed the letters, then just started to add to it. History in the making.
BB: Did you own a Duster?
D: No, I never did own one.
BB: Shame. What was the motivation to start writing and what is the motivation to still do?
D: I grew up a stone’s throw away from the 6 line and got to watch the trains every day, so me being an artist and growing up with a few in the family I just thought it would be fun [to paint on trains]. Train yards were not far, and I just knew I’d do a better job than what was already being put up [on the trains]. Then you grow up and bills need to be paid. Train yards were being attacked at all ends by anyone who could find a can of paint thanks to Style Wars. Everyone thought there was tons of money doing graffiti.
I left for California and found some freight trains, but it wasn’t the same so I started tattooing on Hollywood Blvd., and was pretty much busy doing that for years. Next I started growing marijuana for medical use only and now I’m back in New York to try and get that going here, but with style. I love painting, still do. I paint a few local spots we keep for the homies on walls.
Train thing is done.
BB: So bombing trains, to permanent skin decoration to growing bud? Talk about a road less traveled! Good for you. By the way, do you recall about 6 years ago you tattooed the forearms of a girl named Rebel Knowledge (wink).
D: Yes, you did catch me when I did just get back to New York, and got a tattoo from me before you knew who I was! St. Mark’s will never be what it was once, just had to give it one last try. I’m still tattooing up here in my studio in the Bronx, where it all began for me……dusty
BB: Two tattoos! Don’t even get me started on St. Mark’s, but feel free to read the history of it that we wrote a while back and for good measure here’s a Duster on the Lower East Side in the ’80s.
BB: Has the face of graffiti change during the years?
D: It’s much wider brush now…what I mean is that now it’s not just lettering, it could be a painting of wild horse on a under pass wall done in spray paint or chalk. Either way that person is a soul brother or sister taking the time out to put art somewhere, without permission or with some local city shit head to telling me where and what I should or should not paint. Some of us like to paint at night without a big crowd watching in weird places where no one goes. Maybe its a funny way of just keeping the story of Tom Sawyer alive in all of us…
BB: Mark Twain. There are so many ways to interpret keeping Tom Sawyer alive in all of you, but before we get too deep let’s just say it’s your way of not following the rules. Ever. Don’t expect to see Duster live painting graff or whitewashing a fence for that matter any time soon. It seems that these days your style has a bigger impact than in the hey day of graff? Do you agree or was the height of your career, if you will, the train days? Tell us about those days.
D: Exactly. I would say it has a bigger impact now only because of the internet, but back then in was just a New York thing until Style Wars came out and the book: Subway Art. The days before when great paint stores were still fresh, the cops didn’t trip as much, because you kind of brighten the place up with some color, so they didn’t mind it as much, then came along jealous toys with the can of silver and just started going over. I spent years checking fools from coming into the yards, so that’s when I knew the party was over. It was a blast, and I’m so glad I was there when it did have meaning.
BB: You’ve mentioned Style Wars kind of ruining graff for you a couple times. What do you think about Henry Chalfant and Martha Cooper? Did their pioneering photography commercialize or exploit the world of graffiti in your opinion? I believe without them the history of graffiti in NYC would be folklore, but as I said, it seems documentation of the community, in general, destroyed it for you…
D: I remember the time I was running around by St. Mark’s and Henry [Chalfant] saw me. By this time we had known each other for awhile, and he said “Hey, I’m on my way to meet this man, Jack Stewart, another photographer, want to come along and see a slide show?” When I met Jack he gave me and Henry a private show of the photos he took many years before Henry or Martha…after sitting there watching slide after slide I realized there was a whole generation of writers I missed out on and thanks to someone with a camera to record all of this.
As far as exploiting us? Let’s just say it wasn’t easy for them. First you try and run around NYC taking photos of a moving target that got other moving targets moving in front of what your photographing! Then the lighting. I remember Henry jumping into the 6 yard jumping over the third rail with us and all this before a book deal! You know how hard that was? No publisher wanted to touch the subject. I give them credit, and a big thank you, because I really suck at taking photos! Can’t be good at everything and the movement really was destroyed all ready by some toys won’t mention names, but with a few cans of silver and no respect. That’s what destroyed it.