1971 to 1984 was the Golden Age of New York graffiti. Three NY writers, Blade, Lee and Seen are considered around the world as the Kings of Graffiti. Seen, aka Richard Mirando, holds a reputation as the Godfather of graffiti due to his significant role in the influential ‘Style Wars’ documentary.
Early 1980s: Graffiti grows up. The reason for this is the underground film “Wild Style!” (1982), which is a classic today. We meet his maker Charlie Ahearn and Lee, the lead actor of the film. And what a German TV station with “Wild Style!” Fab5Freddy, hip-hop pioneer and sprayer, explains. 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.
Bronx, 1973: Here’s a new subculture that was soon to spread like wildfire across New York:
graffiti. In the first episode we meet the TATS CRU and Writer of the first hour like Lee and Futura2000 and Skeme. The three pioneers talk about the beginnings of style writing and the influence of the film “Wild Style!” on her artistic work. 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, where the graffiti virus infected Europe from the 1980s onwards.
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
Spray Daily joined forces with the Museum of the City of New York to give you an inside look at their groundbreaking exhibition entitled “City as Canvas: Graffiti Art from the Martin Wong Collection.” Martin Wong, a New York City graffiti art collector and community stronghold whose life was claimed by AIDS in 1999, gifted his extensive collection of 1970s- and 1980s-era paintings, photography, black books, personal mementos and more created by legends including (but by no means limited to) Lee Quiñones, LADY PINK, Cey Adams, Keith Haring and Martha Cooper to the museum in 1994.
Twenty years later, Sean Corcoran, MCNY’s Curator of Prints and Photographs, dreamed up and curated the exhibition – which only includes a fraction of Wong’s graffiti treasure trove – to display the collection for the first time.
Though the exhibition was a long time coming, featured artist Lee Quiñones told Spray Daily that “the gestation period is appropriate at this point,” and celebrated it as an opportunity to introduce the world to graffiti as being a “wholly collectible fine art.”
If you’ll be in New York City between now and September 1st officially been extended through Labor Day. But, if you can’t make it (or, if you’re curiosity’s just been sparked), check out our video for an exclusive peek at the exhibition, its backstory and why honouring the work of graffiti’s forefathers (and mothers) is so vitally necessary to bringing the art form into the future.
If you would like to see more of the exhibition there is also a 260-page book with the same name that was released on the opening. Read more about the book and check the preview at Amazon.com: City As Canvas book.