Uncapped: The Great Debate of Street Art vs. Graffiti [INTERVIEW]

Posted on: May 16th, 2018 at 5:05 am by

Photo Courtesy of Fresh Paint

Prolific all city bomber, RD:

Would street art exist if graffiti never existed?

There has always been different forms of graffiti. Back in the days, the guys that did the wild style burners hated the guys like me that wrote all over the insides of trains with markers because we made the places hot for the guys that did the burners.  Don’t get me wrong, there was plenty of writers that did it all. But there was a separation like in music; you have ROCK & DISCO.

Street graffiti bombing would not have existed if subway graffiti never happened because most of the early graffiti after the train era was from subway writers that took it to the streets as I did.

Street art very well might have existed. I’ve seen shit painted on train tracks as a child that was just paintings. I’ve explored so many different tunnels and areas of graffiti throughout my life, like the Metro North tracks under Grand Central station. There were cool drawings that were painted with a tar-like substance. Real cool shit like architects’ drawings of churches.

Who’s to blame for the cultural shift? 

I blame MONEY.

Will it shift back to the days of the train era and all city bombing?

No, it’s impossible to do graffiti at the level it was done when I was growing up. There was thousands of writers back then, it was as popular as baseball to the youth of NYC.

Today’s writers start much too late and they do way too little and they retire way too fast…today it’s about write your shit in a few spots, take tons of pictures and open up a gallery show or a t-shirt company.

So much wack shit out there.

Can you do both? Can you bomb box trucks, but still sell canvases, sculptures and prints?

I guess so. Graffiti is about marketing and advertisement. Today the better a sales person you are, the better a graffiti writer you are.

Photo Courtesy of BL

Graffiti writer BL.ONE:

Would street art exist if graffiti never existed?

And graffiti wouldn’t exist without the Aztecs. Who cares what came first, the point of “Graffiti” was always to get out there and get your name up, which was “illegal” of course. Being a graffiti writer I look at this different, but delicately. What writers had to go through to “earn respect” or “get props” wasn’t some pretty street mural. There was so much danger that your average person couldn’t comprehend. So let’s see, we were too young to buy paint, so we had to rack (steal) them and be very creative about doing so. So now we’re risking going to jail just for the paint to write the graffiti. Then we have to risk our life, and freedom breaking into a train yard and possibly getting electrocuted or hit by a train, or chased by police and work bums (yard workers), or even getting into beef (fight) with other writers, just to get your name out there for people to see? What about running on highways dodging cars, or bombing these streets ducking the police? You had to put it all on the line to be a graffiti writer in the ’80s and ’90s. Let me tell you it wasn’t easy.

Nowadays people confuse Graffiti and Street Art, just like they confuse Hip Hop and Rap. We’re different animals that hunt for our prey, we don’t eat food that’s just handed to us. We write for the adrenaline rush of getting chased or even caught, just to pop our tag in a spot that will attract attention and get people talking. “How did he get up there?” or “I see that everywhere, who is that?” That’s all gone now, we have a few animals left that are almost extinct. Only graffiti writers can keep graffiti alive.

Who’s to blame for the cultural shift?

Social media ruined everything real in our world. The common perspective of what’s cool or popular has changed drastically. The day of how many “likes” did one get has taken over. But, it’s no secret that commercialism has totally stolen our culture of music and art, and used to their benefit because they see the response it gets from people so they see profits. The sound, the style, the way we market our urban brands has set trends in this culture. So they sell it right back to us, and we buy it. That’s so sad, we have the power in unity to shut these brands down, but you’re to busy scrolling on Instagram or Facebook to make up your own mind. Again, social media ruined everything real in our world.

It’s an insult to us graffiti writers when you Google “most famous graffiti writer,” and Banksy comes up first in the search. According to whom? I have a serious problem with that. To the graffiti community, he is not a graffiti writer, he’s a street artist that uses stencils to make his displays, and that’s fine, I don’t have a problem with Banksy. It’s the people labeling this stuff that need to be clear and understand the difference between Graffiti and Street Art. I totally respect some of these artists, they have unbelievable talent. But no risk, no reward in our game.

Will it shift back to the days of the train era and all city bombing?

Will Rock and Roll ever come back to what it was? NO. Will Hip Hop ever go back to what it once was? NO. So trust me when I tell you, trains will never look the way they did in those days because this new era of graffiti writers which I refer to as “Girl Scouts” are out here painting flowers in Bushwick, wearing flip flops and drinking a Kale and Carrot juice blend. #GTFOH

I still wake up everyday and drive around smoking a blunt looking for new JA tags, or LOOSE rooftops, or SAINT block busters, any signs of new graffiti life. I will pull my car over on the side of the road and get out and dance the day I see the highways bombed again, or the trains just abused inside and out. I still have hope, but for now I pump Joell Ortiz and reminisce about DG NWC being the last of the real New York bombers. And big up the @1Up_crew_official from Berlin. They’re out here keeping that real graffiti alive in the world.

Can you do both? Can you bomb box trucks, but still sell canvases, sculptures and prints?

If you can go out and display your name in anyway, anywhere, and actually make money selling your art then props to you. It seems like COST and OBEY do a pretty good job making money off of doing what they love. A graffiti writers attitude is I can do whatever I want and you can’t stop me. When I was a kid I didn’t have selling art on my mind when I was bombing trains or highways, I was about just killing it with tags and throw ups in dangerous places. Nowadays artists have a plan to do street art and get their name out there to sell merchandise. But it seems that if you get arrested writing graffiti then it just makes you more famous when it hits the press or social media.

Photo Courtesy of Amuze

Uncapped interview alumnus, AMUZE:

Would street art exist if graffiti never existed?

Well a subject like this can go even further back in history…if there was no cave paintings would Egyptian art exist? Anything and everything artistic starts off from something that was inspired by an artist seeing something to spark the creative idea to create a rendition of ones own form of art. I believe street art would exist if graffiti never existed because it’s all one’s self-expression whether it’s a portrait of some sort or a landscape. Street art will probably always be more popular because not everyone is skilled in bending letters and creating color schemes as graffiti artists do…let alone be able to actually read it. Nowadays it seems like street art and graffiti had become more popular than ever. Funny how the graffiti aspect of it would be something that would be looked at as trash 20-25 years ago, is now the city’s new attraction with some artists getting paid to virtually produce art effortlessly…I love IT.

Who’s to blame for the cultural shift?

It’s really hard to say who is to blame for the culture shift…it seems like anyone now that has a significantly expensive piece of property in the gentrified areas wants to get in on the new wave of art that has been popping up all over parts of the city that was once rundown and burnt-out lot. With crazy rents, with new buildings coming to rise with some art splashed on the exterior; to me it doesn’t change anything honestly. Does it look nice? Absolutely, but instead of it being a building I would have purchased a bag of hydroponics from in the ’90s it’s now become an expensive high rise or building complex that most people from the area can’t afford to live in. Gentrification is a great thing, but the pros and cons of it can make some people most certainly love or hate the idea of it all. There has not been much gentrification in my neck of the woods in Jamaica, Queens and I am totally fine with it. Only thing that’s changed here is the ironwork been painted on the J line and some stations have been rebuilt.

Will it shift back to the days of the train era and all city bombing?

No way. There are some guys out there who I still love to watch put in real graffiti work doing highways and trains constantly. The reason graff was at such a high point in the ’70s-’90s was the city was so out of control. Unfortunately with the terror attacks on our city on 9/11 everything had changed DRAMATICALLY with beefed up security everywhere. Police presence all over the place and video cameras on the rise every 10 feet you walk. Technology is a huge reason has, I feel, put illegal graffiti in a head lock. Video cameras will not ever stop the real hardcore writers out there…writers getting pinched and snitching on each other also don’t help the cause of the city becoming like it used to be. I don’t believe the city will ever go back to them days.

Can you do both? Can you bomb box trucks, but still sell canvases, sculptures and prints?

Most writers that go into the gallery scene need to have a body of work that is recognized in order to be able to sell their own said (canvases, sculptures and prints). I would say in order to be successful in that aspect of selling pieces of art you need to be known on some level. Most of my friends that have had extreme success doing so have already established recognition in doing illegal spots or huge permission productions. No one is going to be interested in reaching in their pocket or purse to make a purchase of art if it’s not something that CAN’T be displayed in there house or apartment with some sort of satisfaction of having in a way “bragging rights” of there piece of art out when some one else comes over to have a drink or watch the game. For example, when someone comes by and they see my CAP canvas that most people don’t own or ever had the pleasure of meeting such a legend- it is nice to brag about the piece hanging on the wall so yes, writers have to continue to do their thing on all levels to be able to sell their stuff. I have purchased plenty of pieces over the years and I gotta say as a graffiti and art lover alike it is satisfying owning something that will never get buffed or painted over and will continue to live forever.

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