The co-creator of the new volume The History of American Graffiti, Caleb Neelon, talks about the approach he and Roger Gastman brought to their ambitious project.
Text by Caleb Neelon
Photography Courtesy of Temple University Libraries
The History of American Graffiti book began with an interest and a need, I think. Lots of people have wanted to write a history of graffiti. Lots more have wanted someone else to write one, so they could read it. Because Roger and I had done a bunch of books before, people started asking us if we wanted to try a comprehensive history of American graffiti, and the conversations became serious around five years ago.
An avid collector for over 10 years, Slyle 133 shares the highs and lows of his addiction with vintage spray paint.
I seem to get this question all the time, and usually, it’s followed by “Why? What drives you?”… ‘Cause I know what drives me. The collecting bug bit me early on, from old issues of TV Guide to baseball cards and, now, aerosol paint cans. It’s preserving a piece of history, disposable history. Originally, like most can collectors, I was looking for that one color to fill the void. I was in search of a Jungle Green, Avocado, Hot Pink or any of the other off-the-wall colors. I started at a point in time when there was no Belton, Montana — or, as I like to call it, “Yuppie” paint. I was on a hunt, determined to add a small bit of flavor to what I did.
Over the past few years, I have seen a lot of things change. Collecting paint to use is almost a thing of the past, and it seems now that some use their paint as a status symbol. Cans no longer go to the “crate” but up on a shelf, a trophy of some sort, a prized collectible. I’ve had people ask me, “What can I get for this?” and “Is there a price guide?” If this is why you collect, then just give up now. This is no way to make a living.
I rep WH, STV. I guarantee any true graff head has heard of either one of these two crews. No bragging, just speaking some real shit. Especially if you’re from any ‘hood in Miami, you really, really, really know I’m speaking some real shit.
I’ll be the first to admit, there’s nothin’ pretty boy about my shit. I’m not the one to sit in front of a legal wall all day doin’ a piece. Nothin’ wrong with that, but that’s just not me. There’s no thrill in it for me. Instead, I’m the one in the streets late night, standing over a baser as I rock throw-ups on shutters in a crack-infested Miami hood. And at the same time the one who rocks illegal shit on hundred-thousand-dollar storefronts on South Beach. I’m the one who loves to bomb. I live to bomb. And being locked up kills me. When I bomb I feel this rush, this high that doesn’t compare to anything in this world. Ain’t nothing like bombin’ all night, getting chased, getting away and then wake and bake early in the morning and drive by all the shit you slaughtered the night before as it’s lit up by the bright sunshine. There’s nothing like that feeling. Or sitting at a red light and one of your trucks or freights surprise you outta nowhere, as it passes right in front of your eyes. You true bombers can relate to this. You feel this. You’re the same ones who know what it feels like to have two cans tucked in your waistline at two in the morning. The sound of paint whippin’ outta the can is music to your ears. Your favorite song, that you know every word to. You’re the ones who know about that sweet aroma of flat blacks and silvers as you destroy everything in sight. Or the scent of multiple colors as you take out some Santa Fes, Union Pacifics or Wisconsin Centrals. Then go home and blow rainbow boogers out your nose. Damn, I miss that shit.
From dodging rabid racoons to hiding from hoods with heavy artillery, Con BA NSF shares some of his many bizarre stories.
I was with Super, High, and Mover in a yard on the East Side of Baltimore. We had just walked into the spot and we’re making our way down the tracks and I noticed some movement. These shadows were cast under the train towards us because of the way the yard lights were shining across this open section of the yard with an access road. I signaled everybody to chill a second and we crept up toward a coupler to look over and we see a guy standing there with a submachine gun. Beyond him were two cars that were backed up to each other, trunk to trunk, in the middle of the yard with about six guys moving around the open trunks. A few of those guys were carrying guns as well. We stumbled right into a pretty serious deal going down: either a big drug transaction or they were unloading some bodies out of the cars to throw into the coals! We didn’t stick around for a second to find out. I remember holding my breath praying that none of my cans would rattle and inched the fuck out as fast as we could.
After leaving 5-0 in the dust, Twigs TGE learned the hard way never to take a non-writer on a mission.
Illustration by Twigs TGE YME.
Spring of 2001. A small town in the Pacific Northwest. My friend and I went to a flophouse that we would party at from time to time. We sat around and smoked some weed with these two acquaintances of ours. As we were smoking, we were talking about painting a spot we had seen. The two people we were kicking it with said that they wanted to go and try their hands at painting.
Not using our heads, we invite them to join us, gathered our paint and hopped in my Mazda MX6, aka the “Warrant Ducker” because I was always riding dirty. On the way to the spot, I vividly remember listening to the Big Pun song “Beware,” which I have since decided was a sign. The spot we decided to paint was off of a busy country road. There was a field across the street from the spot. We decided to park up the road in an access road to the field that was hidden behind some trees. We grabbed our paint and locked up the car and walked over towards the spot. On arrival we started to paint. Looking back on it we never talked about what to do if anyone saw us or if the cops showed up. Big mistake.
As he pushed the envelope with his letters, Jurne YME TGE realized that his thoughts on color were evolving, too.
I’ve never considered myself a “color scheme” guy. I’m actually red-green colorblind, which means that colors might look right to me, but I don’t know how they appear to other people. I’m sure that affects my color usage, but it’s difficult to know exactly how.
In recent years, my thinking about color use has changed a lot. A few years ago I probably would have told you that color choices weren’t important as long as the letter styles were on point. It’s odd to realize now that I once made a distinction between colors and letters, and thought of color as a separate aspect of graffiti, and not really a part of the “style” department.
Tagging the staircase walls with Mini-Wides and Pilots, Kool 131 started writing in 1974 on 131st and Amsterdam Streets.
Interview By Boots 119
So Broadway was your home line, right?
Kool 131: Yeah, I could see Broadway from my window in Manhattanville projects, facing the Jersey shoreline and George Washington Bridge on the Hudson.
Peace and Blessings to all my true graffiti heads in general and Philadelphia graff heads in particular. This is Lord Razz LAW1, the graffiti boss of bosses’ boss. This column was created to shed light on Philadelphia’s graffiti history, culture, pioneers future and present day accomplishments as seen, understood and interpreted by me, honorable Lord Razz Law 1.