Early 80s: New York sprayers such as Dondi, Futura2000 and Crash and Daze make their first exhibitions in Amsterdam, where there is already a graffiti scene. There we meet Mickey, who tells us about the beginnings of writing culture in Amsterdam. In ten episodes, the documentary series traces the rise of the graffiti movement: from New York in the 1970s to Amsterdam and Paris to Munich, from where the graffiti virus infected Europe from the 1980s onwards. The next episode is from 20.11. on ARTE Creative.
In 1981, there were so many talented writers hitting the subway system in New York: Seen, Zephyr, Dondi, Lee, Blade, T-kid, Revolt, Kel, Min, Bil-Rock. The list was endless as was the amount of damage they did to the subway system. Ironically, the Vandal Squad knew the names and numbers of most of the major players; however, the one name they didn’t have was the man they wanted most: Chris 217.
Chris 217 grew up on the upper west side of Manhattan and dabbled in writing in the mid-70s by hitting the 1 Line with the name Devlin. He did a lot of motion tagging and began to make a name for himself. He recently recalled that he “used to take the train downtown to the South Ferry with Ali’s little brother Michael and hit it while it made the turn uptown. During that period I was really getting into bands and wanted to be a roadie, I was a hard worker and drifted away from the writing scene. I came back with the name Chris 217 in late-1978.”
For a few years, Chris was the hardest workingman in graffiti, hitting the trains and streets with his quickly scrawled tag; however, that was the problem. Graffiti had become a finesse game; writers like Zephyr and Jester had made the tag a work of art. Chris didn’t even try for style, his philosophy harkened back to that of Taki 183: If it took more then three seconds it wasn’t worth doing—and he was right. If you rode a number 1 train in 1980, you’d find 50 different stylized tags by different writers that all blurred in to one. Then you’d see a Chris 217 tag, and that’s the one you’d remember. It wasn’t always about style, it was about volume as well.
“I’d get to the 1 tunnel around 2:00 A.M., right after the sweepers were done and then I’d follow them from a few cars back. I always carriedthree or four uni-wides and four cans of ink as well as other markers and paint. I also carried Flo-cleanser, which allowed me to erase the names of my competitors and replace them with thick uni tags. I believed in excess, meaning, if I’m trying to catch your eye, I can do that by writing my name 20 times in the same train; nobody else would waste ink like that except Ban 2, he was a great bomber. I’d go through all the trains and head home in a few hours, and then I’d do it again the next day. That went on for about two years. If I didn’t hit the tunnel then I’d hit the streets, trying to get a new neighborhood each time.”
The Vandal Squad was particularly irritated with Chris’ work because for a while it was in everyone’s face. The general public couldn’t read the wild style pieces floating by and so they didn’t know who to vent about. Chris 217 became the easy target, and it wasn’t just coming from the Vandal Squad. 1980 had become a crucial year for graffiti to be taken seriously as an art form. There were some writers who felt that Chris could be killing the impending payoff from the gallery world. Everyone had an opinion, including Chris: “I had nothing against the guys going into the gallery scene, good for them, but the idea that some writers could stop other writers from hitting the insides was ridiculous.”
As Chris 217 started to hit other lines, he became an enigma. Who was this guy? Even the biggest writers had to acknowledge that he was up, and writers, by their nature, are curious beings. How had Chris done so much damage without hanging out with other writers? He was in the tunnel almost every night but no one would see him. In 1981, Chris had become larger then life and it seemed like he’d never quit, at least until Cupid took over. A few years later he met his future wife and by the mid-80s his writing career was over. A beautiful young blonde from Pennsylvania had done what the Vandal Squad couldn’t. Original post from: www.1981.nyc
Last week the Museum Of The City Of New York open the exhibition City As A Canvas: Graffiti Art from the Martin Wong collection, a documentation of the New York graffiti movement in the 80’s. The exhibition includes over 150 works on canvas, paper and photo documentation. Martin Wong donated his collection to the Museum of the City of New York in 1994, five years before his death from AIDS-related complications. The exhibition includes artists like Dondi, Lady Pink, Blade, Lee Quiñones, Zephyr, Futura 2000 and Keith Haring. The exhibition last until the 24th of August 2014.
If you can’t visit the exhibition The New York Times wrote a review:
“The closest you get to graffiti’s living spirit here is in the artists’ black, hardcover sketchbooks. In them you see the writers Blade, Daze, Crash, Sharp and others developing their signature styles and practicing their graphic skills. There’s more freshness and joyful discovery in these books than almost any of the show’s finished works.” Ken Johnson, New York Times.
There is also a great preview of the exhibition available at StreetArtNews.net.