A graffiti writer is an ad exec.
As I was growing up in NYC in the 80s and 90s getting up was on my mind. I was by no measure a “king” but I was driven to get known. This was before Instagram or Facebook existed. You couldn’t be an “internet gangster” to be known. You really had to get out there and make stuff happen. Wether you were bombing, piecing, or doing a hybrid of both.
In graffiti, fame is the name of the game
To get known you needed to get seen! This was an era when the trains were going clean, books like Subway art, Spraycan art and the movie Style Wars had already made a big impression. There were some underground graffiti magazines and they were a source of news for the community. Video Graf was just starting to come out and the graffiti movement wasn’t going to stop! It was like a living being that needed a new outlet to breathe.
As the trains become clean, writers had to take to the streets, highways, rooftops, trucks, freight trains and anything else that was a billboard for them to get fame. This is where writers became resourceful and creative to get noticed. New York City was getting hit hard with graffiti at the time. The only sacred spots that had immunity from being targeted by graffiti, sometimes, were houses of worship and private homes.
Now that I am older and have a professional career, people ask me about the graffiti days and how I got my name out there. I equate getting up back in those days as being like an ad executive. I had to come up with a name that was easy for people to remember and had an emotional meaning or hook- “GREED”. Boom, no one else was using it so it was mine!
Then I needed to get it in places where people would see it. High visibility with a lot of traffic. Highways, rooftops or tunnels along train lines, busy city streets, areas where you knew other graffiti writers frequented. These were the prime spots to have my name up. Even if I wasn’t a “King” and didn’t have the boroughs locked down with my “advertisement”, fewer high quality spots with hight traffic were all that I needed. And if I could get my “advertisement” on something that moved through the boroughs, even better! Trucks and commercial vans were the best medium for that. These moving billboards were all that was available after the MTA cleaned up the trains.
When writing you name, use fat caps to catch that nice fat tag making it big and bold! Opaque colors that contrasted with what they were written on were the way to go! Ultra flat black, flat white, and chrome were the best! Paints like Rustoleum, Krylon, engine paint were sure to coat the surface well and stand out.
Design quick and easy bubble letter “throw-ups” and block letters. These were even more noticeable that a fat tag. Fill them in and outline them with contrasting colors so that they can be seen far and wide. Then for an added effect that was super quick and made it separate from all of the other filled in monikers out there, do a contrasting boarder around the throw-up or block letter. You can even do a boarder around it if it wasn’t a fill in and it still may stand out more than the rest! These were one of the biggest investments in a quick amount of time that you could get.
“Greed was doing trucks before they were even cool”
Then I started to do quick pieces, multicolor, on rooftops, trucks, and freight trains. These were a new target of graffiti writers, they caught real attention! These were the next step in the evolution of the graffiti movement since the trains were clean. There were burners up on roof tops along the train lines, on the highways, more and more trucks were running around New York delivering the visual candy to the eyes of many. They took a little more time to paint but it was well worth it. As I went on in the years I started to get permission to paint more and more rooftops and trucks with colorful pieces so I could take my time and put more quality into the artwork.
As graffiti writers in the post train era, we really had to do the job that advertising executives do. We needed to come up with names phrases that would stick. We needed to get them out there to be noticed. We needed to decide on how to deliver the advertisement so that it would be seen, noticed, and talked about. The riskier the spot the more fame one would get.