Tag: "graffiti"

Futura 2000 | Expansions 2012

Trashfilter: So, are you still in your studio in Brooklyn? Last time I came to see you, you had that nice place over in Brooklyn… You had this amazing coffee table of military memorabilia that you’d compiled into a 3D montage…

Futura: The Stash studio! All gone… all gone. All archived and in storage! I transitioned from there and I’ve just got a new studio and place to work in the city: it’s just a painting studio. Not an office or anything any more, as I can do all that from home. That old neighbourhood in Brooklyn has really changed since you were last there. Everyone is living out there now and it became this ‘escape Manhattan’ destination – it’s on fire, in terms of traffic and people and shops. Totally transformed from what it was.

Would you say that a lot of things have drastically changed since that period? I’ve watched the whole ‘street art’ movement rear its head since then. I’ve witnessed multiple bad dealings with various galleries, watched people jump onto what they consider to be graffiti, had valuable pieces stolen from exhibitions, cringed at shoddy stenciled pieces all pushing the same imagery… And, worst of all, I’ve watched veterans and who I consider to be genuine and worthy writers and artists get totally overlooked. Finally, it seems to be settling down now that the bubble has burst for some of the less-deserving chancers out there. And, to me, it’s good to see people like KAWS still at the top of the tree.

So, when we first met that was in the offices near Carnaby Street (the original Unorthodox Styles/U-Dox offices) – and that was pre the whole streetwear/lifestyle/culture market explosion. All the sneakers/clothing/whatever thing took over and got totally overexposed for a while.

Now it’s a good time for me to slip back in somehow. And these guys here – at Galerie Jérôme de Noirmont – seem very committed. This year is going to mark a real transition for me to start anew. I have this new studio in New York, I have this show here in Paris and these guys who are new investors in my work and my future. I’ve seen what’s going on and it’s awesome but all of what’s happening in the ‘street art’ spectrum can only help me in the end. I don’t want to be critical of it even if there are some people who I can’t help being critical of, if you know what I mean! Normally, I just try to embrace the whole thing so it can continue and some other people can get some opportunities off it too.

And, hey Brian (KAWS) gets paid!

Yeah, but to me he was always a graffiti writer first. When I met and interviewed him for Spinemagazine in 2004, I was fully aware of his solid letter styles, billboard batterings and pioneering bus stop advertisement adventures. He went out and did all of that off his own back and he’s a talented individual. And, you know what? He was the nicest and most humble guy I could have wanted to chat with. If I had the money, I’d buy his work all day long, not just because I like it but because I respect what he does.

Exactly: Brian is an amazing artist. He was clever enough to push certain elements of his work and iconography and make it totally work for him.

But I’d say that you did that even before he did with what you were doing with your own figures and icons. When we last spoke, you mentioned that you were moving away from painting your Pointmen figures because you didn’t want to get typecast for that very small part of your artistic arsenal…

I still am leaning away from that. Perhaps for personal requests or signings, but less so for the exhibition work.

Yeah – I’d noticed that in this exhibition there were no real characters in your new pieces, other than some of the atom icons.

That’s right: there’s nothing. And that’s the thing… It’s really hard too because it seems to be something that somebody wants. But the people here were very open for me to do what I wanted to do. I can still see things like that coming up again in the future, but where I am now, it’s not something that I particularly want to put out there in public right now.

My operation in Japan with Futura Laboratories… After everything that happened in Fukushima, I felt so bad that I just wanted to put my business in retreat for a minute. I didn’t want my staff guys out there feeling pressured about MY thing when they’re all dealing with that. How insignificant was my stuff in comparison, y’know? It’s good to put things in perspective and realise that my thing doesn’t really matter right now, so chill for a minute and take care of your lives. My operation over there has been really good and made sure I was able to put a few dollars in my pocket, but things are going to have to change slightly. Over the past decade I wasn’t really out there trying to do this (painting). I found other ways to make loot in the meantime.

Trashfilter: A lot of the more recent ‘street art’ exhibitions were never that interested in what had happened 15-20 years previously. I knew that you, amongst a very small group of other writers out there today, had been exhibiting since the early ’80s or exploring other avenues, such as working with Agnes B who helped launch you in France…

Futura: Big time. I mean, she’s not a collector: she is what I would term an investor. There are people out there who collect to invest – and I mean that in a positive way towards the artists – but they’re not just there to buy work. They’re there to help you to continue to create stuff.

That’s complimentary to you, isn’t it?

Oh, it is. And Agnes B been one of the biggest patriots of my work. And this is one example of how France has been really good to me. Paris has always been big for me. Many of the French writers and the New Yorkers who transplanted here in the late ’80s have found some opportunities through her.

At the moment, I’m thinking I might bring Futura Laboratories to an end. Because my idea was that I’m a small brand in a small town: I’m not trying to export to the world, even in good times before the recession hit, because of the duty charges, importation fees, the mark-up… y’know. It’s a hassle to sell this shit anywhere other than in Japan. it was never something like, ‘I’m gonna make lots of money of it’ – it’s more like a vanity project. "I got a little company, I make nice stuff…". The stuff is well made, but it’s all smaller items. But people get resentful sometimes if they can’t get access to this stuff. And maybe it’s not the right time to have that out there.

My son lived in Japan for 4 years – he speaks Japanese – and I was thinking of bringing him in, like ‘You could be that guy’. And my daughter is 21 and she can ride my coattails for a year or two and get a little experience, some opportunities and maybe a couple of trips. But my son doesn’t need me to take care of him the way I feel I want to take care of my daughter.

He’s established himself, as a creative person, in his own right.

Exactly. He was staying with people in my Japanese circle for a while….

He was staying with Hommyo from Atmos, right? I remember meeting up with Hommyo a while back and he had mentioned it then.

That’s right. He moved to Tokyo and worked with Hommyo, yeah. And how things worked out in the end, he was a good guy and was very generous. I haven’t seen him in a minute, probably since the Recon shops were still there..

That’s a good point to come to: you and Stash and the crew basically turned that small pocket of city in Manhattan into something pretty cool. Rivington, Eldridge… all those streets became places to go for a lot us visiting NYC. You guys and spots like Alife on Orchard pushed the boundaries that had been set by Soho.

Yeah, that was kinda funny how that all worked out. But, to be honest, the whole retail thing wasn’t really MY thing. And in the end I just wanted to bail. I could end up finding a company and just doing a licensing deal perhaps, because whether I like it or not, people do see a lot of what I do as a brand in itself. And that’s why the internet, in the end, is a big culprit in all of this. It’s awesome, but at the same time think about how the world has changed as a result of it. Without the web, none of this shit gets seen. Think about the way artwork is perceived now. I mean, honestly, without the web, who’s gonna even see this stuff? Who’s really gonna ever walk by a physical space in wherever these days and see anything? How many individuals are actually gonna see anything in real life now? Previous to what we do now, it was all word-of-mouth. Anything from, say, ’95 to the present… the last twenty years… it’s all digital or online. People tweeting three hundred times a day. It’s way out of control. Way out of control.

The advent of the web was good for me personally. I was able to make a transition from working in print to digital and then help start up U-Dox, Spinemagazine and Crooked with the guys back in London. And when I get frustrated with aspects of digital life, I have to remember that it’s been good to me, overall. I wouldn’t be here now probably if it wasn’t for that. And when we first came out to New York in 2000 or 2001 to meet you guys, it was a blind trip. We had no real idea what to expect, no guides to follow and no email connections, because that info wasn’t out there! We walked into the shops with printed portfolios and business cards and spoke to everyone. You probably wouldn’t do that now! But when you and I met, you were already pushing things digitally, far beyond what anyone else was really doing. You were a very early advocate of the internet and as a result had one of the most interesting websites out there.

Sure. I was trying to express myself through that new medium. And, in a way, I think that’s what I still do today. But I’m not doing it like other people. I have a completely different approach to it.

It hasn’t changed though.

Right. Like, the calendar on my site, Timothy – my son – designed. And that’s been good for the last five years and interesting with its daily photo… And every year my son’s like, ‘C’mon dad – let’s change it!’. But there’s no need. When you set something up well and it is what it is, you shouldn’t really fuck with it. Just let it run. All it needs is a new photo every day.

My Flickr account is much more ‘real’. The photo calendar on my website is more generic because what happens is that every day it just looks for a file that correlates with the code. Like tomorrow, it’ll be looking for 01_10 and the accompanying TXT caption file for that day. And the calendar format works off your clock on your computer. If you change your clock to 1990, there’d be nothing there. It’s really elegant but it’s also really smart. It knows what day it is, because it’s running off your computer. It’s all preloaded and no-one actually knows when the accompanying image is actually from. When I do put in a real ‘proof of life’ photo, such as holding a newspaper with today’s date or a ticket or something, those are always gems to put in and a couple of those go in every month. If I’m in New York and there are people over in New Zealand who are almost a day ahead, what about those guys? They’ve got to have an image to see! So that’s why it’s all taken care of behind the scenes.

That’s very considerate of you!

I think my web presence has always been considerate. I’ve got a lot of stuff on there, so enjoy yourself!

Trashfilter: When I look at the last decade of street art, things occasionally got a bit too commercially-minded for a minute, I think.

Futura: When that whole blogosphere thing was happening with all the websites and all these ‘guest’ people were being invited to write for them, I didn’t want it to be like ‘Yo, I’m Futura and this is the product I’m making and this is what I’m selling’. It was never about that.

But I don’t think that it ever came across like that though. Even when you were working with people like Zoo York or whoever, it wasn’t like you’d just stuck a few characters on it and bounced…

Oh, yeah, I mean there’s like 20 companies that I would’ve worked with during that period. And now I don’t want to be part of that any more. I was too nice with all my stuff and with every ‘friend’.

Those days are over and I don’t want to be that guy any more. I just want to take care of my family – my immediate, blood related family. Everybody in my immediate world right now, I wanna hook up. All that other stuff is still exactly the same as it’s always been: just promo and hype stuff. I don’t want to do that any more. I don’t even want to do my own thing any more! I just want to give it a break for a while: I’ll retreat to my studio, invest in some materials and bang out a lot of stuff so I can make a really nice selection from the result of that. I want to see how that goes for a couple of years, without all this other external shit going on. I’m gonna take more control: I’m gonna be 57! I need to take charge now. I’m not a ‘boss man’, but in my own internal quiet way, that’s how I am now.

No more Mr. Nice Guy, even though no-one will know that.

Trashfilter: When was your last exhibition?

Futura: Probably the ‘Pirate Utopias’ show with Jose Parla in London, back in 2007. There was this thing I did in L.A. maybe three or four years ago as a pop-up show and there have have been group shows, but not a one-man show.

I remember coming up to ‘Pirate Utopias’ to see you and asking the gallery owner if you were around and it was like, ‘Who the fuck are you?’. I appreciate that they’re busy and they probably have a hundred other people doing exactly the same thing, but it was a bit of a kick as well. I might have caught them on a bad day, but it seemed totally different to how some of the older spots and galleries handled their business.

A lot of those connections were spill-off from friendships and stuff, but they weren’t that real. I wasn’t totally psyched on that relationship either. The movement ‘crashed’, everything got downsized and that old studio with Stash in Brooklyn was lost and I’ve kinda been solo for a while now. Now, the fat is getting trimmed. I understand that there are always going to be some hangers-on around, but the noisier ones have been pushed aside for a minute. There’s no hate, no animosity, no bitterness with anyone: it’s all water under the sand and that boat sailed months ago. There’d be no point feeling like that: it’s negative energy. All the old stuff was just weighing everything down, that’s all. Consumerism is still hype, but everyone got everything they needed. This whole lifestyle that everyone was running on, I think they all got a rude awakening. There’s a better way to manage your shit.

Right. And cream rises to the top. The good stuff stands out now.

Exactly. Without some struggle, where’s that extra drive going to come from? It’s important that we did go through that, because mad people have been weeded out along the way. I see everything right now as really positive. My personal direction now, I’m really excited about.

Do you get asked a lot of the same questions by people who come to interview you? I’ve spoken with you for a number of things in the past, but you’re one person who I don’t get tired of talking to, even if the situation dictates that I need to go over a few ‘standard’ questions to get the feature done.

There was that one interview you did (for Spinemagazine), that was kinda like the whole mid-life thing, but it was pretty full-on! A lot of bases were covered there. In your own personal archive, you’ve got some scope and context as you’ve spoken to me a bunch of times in different situations.

Now it’s more like people asking why I haven’t been in the galleries or asking if I’m still painting. It’s like you said before – ‘did you hear of me in the ’80s? I kinda did that back then and got spit out and stepped upon.’ When the whole ’90s thing happened and we transitioned into the clothing thing and doing t-shirts, it was another way to exist without having to depend on being ‘just’ a painter. Whether that was diversifying what I did or was just a way to see if I could multi-task, I’m not sure. But now I’ve got the support of this gallery, I’m actually able to move forwards in creating work and not worrying about trying to find somewhere to paint or anything, which was the case.

Now it’s just on me to produce.

Trashfilter: Do you remember this piece? For many of us in the UK, it’s regarded as one of the first real graffiti pieces to be done here.

Futura: Oh wow! Absolutely!

I remember it was at Westbourne Park or Ladbroke Grove, with a writer named Skam who took me there. This would’ve been around the time of touring with The Clash.

The Doomsday Papers | Mysterious Al at StolenSpace

The Doomsday Papers - Mysterious Al at Stolen Space

When I was working in the centre of town, I’d usually check out most exhibition launches, regardless of the artist. Free drinks, the same crowd of familiar faces and occasionally some interesting artwork to see as well. These days I’m far more selective with my free time. Traveling for an hour into London to see an exhibition is less appealing unless I’m a true fan of the artist’s work. So when I got an email from Mysterious Al asking if I’d like a sneak preview of his solo show, ‘The Doomsday Papers’ at the Stolen Space gallery, it was an easy decision.

When Trashfilter last caught up with Mysterious Al, he was preparing to collate his work in order to get a show together – and it’s obvious that he’s been very busy. Put any preconceptions aside: whilst there’s enough of Al’s older established (and much-loved) style here, the work in ‘The Doomsday Papers’ is a totally new level. Beautiful screened pieces with spraypaint and collage details are well positioned alongside some new wooden maquette pieces, with a subtle theme of masks and monsters running throughout everything.

The Doomsday Papers - Mysterious Al at Stolen Space

The first thing you’ll notice is the painted shed in the middle of the gallery – more on that in our interview with Al below – but as you walk around the space, you’ll see a sacrificial altar overlooked by Bela Lugosi-eque renditions of Amy Winehouse and Kate Moss, a huge photography-based main piece and a collection of Mayan mask prints that would make a modern-day headhunter proud.

Eager to interrupt Al while he was putting the finishing touches on the exhibition, I grabbed him for a few words about his exhibition.

At the end of the feature we did back in 2010, you mentioned that you were planning your first solo show… and now here it is!

I know! When we spoke about it, it was really just a plan: nothing had been set in stone. So I’m just really lucky that the gallery let me do it and that I had enough ideas to produce all of this work. And I’ve actually got too much work! I’ve never been in that position before.

So, which pieces did you work on first for the show? Are all of these new pieces?

Yeah – all of them are new. I was looking at masks and collage work, which really gave me a new lease of life. For so long I’d been going down the commercial route – and I loved it – but for ages I’d draw something and just couldn’t turn it into a finished thing. I didn’t want to just copy what I’d been doing on the computer: that didn’t work. But by doing this, I’ve stripped it back and got into doing things a little more abstract. Collage is just good fun. It’s immediate, you don’t get bored doing it and I’m really into it at the moment.

The Doomsday Papers - Mysterious Al at Stolen Space

What inspired you to look at masks as a visual theme?

Actually, I should say, there’s none of this bullshit about ‘Oh, it’s something to hide behind’: I just really like the aesthetic of a mask. That’s all it is. I went to the Horniman Museum in Forest Hill: they’ve got a collection of witch doctor masks and it’s the coolest thing in the world. If someone came to see a witch doctor to get treated for toothache, the doctor would make a mask for toothache and do a ritual with it. And then that mask would go into a box until another person came in with toothache. And over time they’d make all these different masks and trade them with each other. And I just really like the idea of this. Some of these masks are so stylistically current, they look like they could have been made this year. These got me interested in Mayan art – tongues sticking out and that kind of thing – which I really like the symmetry of.

Over the years, we’ve all seen people doing things with wrestling masks and that kind of thing, but these are very different.

I want to take things even further, which is why I’ve started doing things out of wood as well. I don’t want to start making actual masks, but this seemed like a good next step to try out.

The Doomsday Papers - Mysterious Al at Stolen Space

These pieces are all really bright and bold, which works really well as a contrast to some of the darker pieces we’ve seen from you over the past few years: layered paint onto top of black and white photography etc.

Yeah, over the years, a lot of my work has ended up being really muted – I really like desaturated colours and things like that. I think that works fine for digital work, where you can really make the dark areas bold, but for painting I find it makes them look really muddy and boring. Going into this Mayan theme, it’s given me the perfect excuse to try using some colours that I’ve never really used before. I was finding myself going to Chrome & Black and buying lime green paint and sky blue stuff: things I’d never really used that much before. It feels quite liberating.

The Doomsday Papers - Mysterious Al at Stolen Space

Did you plan the pieces beforehand or did it naturally evolve into what’s on the walls now?

When it had to be a show, it had to be more concise: it had to be a bit of a story. This is my first solo show, so I did really have to think about what I was doing. I did a few things that are a bit more commercial or accessible, like the Amy Winehouse pieces, but the overall theme or theory behind everything here is different kinds of monsters. Different monsters in history all brought together. Influenced by Mayans, influenced by mythical monsters – werewolf, forest men, yetis – and monsters from the past and present like Dracula, the Phantom of the Opera, Kate Moss, Amy Winehouse…

It’s really nice to see a loose evolution in your pieces here. I can see where you’ve continued what you were working on when we last spoke. So, let’s talk about the scary-looking altar…

You know when you think of bad religion and Satanism and things like that? People always think of pentagrams and stuff like that. What I think is more interesting is English occult and Wicca and witchcraft. Weird shit made out of bits of stick and stuff. When I lived in Cornwall, we’d always find these sacred stones. We’d go out for walks on a Sunday and we’d always find these weird creepy things when we were out: piles of stones with burn marks on them – proper ‘Blair Witch’ type things, but before that was even around. Just evidence that something had happened there the night before. I didn’t find it necessarily sinister, but it always interested me.

The Doomsday Papers - Mysterious Al at Stolen Space

I started thinking about sacrificial things and offerings and that kind of thing. Not so much in a morbid or evil way: when I was in Thailand, people would leave things out. Little deities and stuff. There’d be a crumpled postcard of a God or something… and then a can of Coke and a bag of crisps next to it.

And the paint-covered shed in the middle of the exhibition?

This… this is my studio. This is where I make my work.

So, hang on, this is where you made some of the work for the show?

No, no, no. This IS my studio: we moved it into the gallery!

Wow! How long is the show on for?

The show is open from the 4th March through to the 27th March.

It’s a big thing for me, it’s my first show, I’m really pleased with how everything looks and I just want to get back on people’s radars a bit. I’d been going down the commercial route for so long that I really missed doing the pure art stuff. I’m going to carry on with this momentum of work and I’ve got some more ideas with the wooden pieces. StolenSpace are looking after me now and I’m hoping to get involved with some of their other group shows and exhibit through some of their sister galleries and just see where it takes me really.

The Doomsday Papers - Mysterious Al at Stolen Space

Too often you go to a show and there’s some lovely work, but it all looks a bit random or disjointed. This show is really cohesive, without being boring. You can get as deep and wanky as you like when you write about gallery shows, but at the end of the day you can narrow it down to this: all of the work here looks fucking amazing. I’d put any of these pieces up on my wall at home. And that’s probably the highest praise I can give.

Go and see the show, pray at his altar and try to pick up one of Al’s pieces before they’re gone.

– Exhibition and gallery details

Mysterious Al presents ‘The Doomsday Papers’
4th March – 27th March 2011

StolenSpace Gallery
Dray Walk, The Old Truman Brewery
91 Brick Lane
London E1 6QL
United Kingdom

Tuesday – Sunday
11:00am – 7:00pm

P: +44 (0) 207 247 2684

Will I Go To Hell For This | graffiti book

The past couple of years have seen a rise in graf publications and instead of things being awash with mediocrity, they’re getting better and better. In fact, I stopped buying graf books a few years back when I got tired of the same old photos turning up in everything. But while there’s still enough stencil-based horseshit and clueless idiots publishing nonsense (I’m looking at certain people in particular here, but we’ll address that subject another time), there is a steady stream of good quality print coming from the right people. This book, fresh from Denmark, is specifically about the Copenhagen S-train scene from 1984 up to 2009. And with 264 pages and over 600 photos, it’s pretty comprehensive.

The red S-trains hold the same amount of appeal to the Danish writers as the Tubes do to the UK writers and the Subway does to the NYC writers. The trains just look good with paint on them: cherry red flat panels do wonders as a background. And it helps that the Danish writers have bucketloads of style to cover it with.

The title of the book, ‘Will I Go To Hell For This’, comes from an end-to-end painted by Rens back in 1993 who also contributes the cover logo and page-long foreword that starts with:

Graffiti is like a hard drug: it bypasses your common sense.

I went cold turkey a while back (and I was shit anyway), but reading through the quotes that accompany the photos in here brought back some of those passionate feelings. The use of the quotes alongside many of the photos is a particularly nice touch, as you get to read about some of the background stories behind the pieces.

Enough talk: what are the photos like inside? Pretty damn impressive. If you ever picked up ‘Magic Moments’ mag (perhaps via Cept 148 who used to distribute them in the UK), then you’ll be well-prepared for the onslaught of good runner shots, yard activity flicks and general excellence. There’s a lot of good stuff to look at and you won’t be finished with this book for a while. Pictures of iconic events (such as the infamous ‘Eyes’ wholecar from ’85) sit next to modern-day destruction (insides, bombing and paint throwing), while the common theme of great train panels runs right through. I’m a sucker for Kegr’s pieces, so seeing pages of MOAS panels made my day.

I also liked the Mode2 panel in there from ’86 – it’s always good to vintage-era TCA letters on steel – and the inclusion of foreign visitors is a nice touch without detracting from the Danish writers.

It’s a big heavy book and it’s been done really well. There are rumours of a second volume being published, in which case you can put me down for a copy. It’s not cheap (around €40), but when you see the book in the flesh, you’ll probably want a copy for yourself.

Check out the official site here: www.willigotohellforthis.com.

Hurtyoubad x Topsafe tees

Hurtyoubad is as good as the internet gets. Amusing graffiti-related postings, a dusting of dark humour and an injection of toxic opinion means that it should definitely be stuck into your RSS feed immediately. In places, it’s reminiscent of the Spine Dungeon that Mysterious Al curated for us back in the early 2000s.

On any given day, you might find a few ‘borrowed’ (ie. stolen) graf flicks, some amusing images and perhaps a few xenophobic rants. All part of a day’s work for the HYB team. Not being led by the aim to please PR teams – or anyone in fact – has heaped a little bit of legendary status from those in the know. And they coined the now-popular term for wheat-pasting stencil bastards, ‘art fag’, first.

When I heard that they were releasing a limited set of t-shirts in conjunction with the good guys at Topsafe, I knew they’d be good. And they are. None of your standard multicoloured screenprinted vomit means that the styles get to speak for themselves. You’ve got a Robert Crum-esque technical illustration from Horfe contrasting with the simple raw style of Egs’s lettering and then Finsta’s comic book style going up against Hefs’s buckled brass section characters. I’ve opted for the Siege 52 design for myself, simply because it says that it ‘hates my blog’. Can’t argue with that.

Horfe and Hefs

Finsta and Egs


Against standard Trashfilter protocol, I’m gonna copy-and-paste a bit from the press release that accompanied the announcement, to give a little background to the project:

The line features artwork from an international lineup of artists; Horfé from Paris, Egs from Helsinki, Finsta from Stockholm and Hefs and Siege from London. Using the Hurtyoubad name as a common theme the artists have lent their well established aesthetics to the tees.

When my tee arrives, I’ll update this post with some more pictures. In the meantime, I suggest you join the Hurtyoubad Facebook page and have a look at the other photos from the shoot they did for the tees: very nice indeed!

They’re available in three sizes – M, L and XL – and are £25 each, plus a bit extra for postage. At the time of writing they’re selling fast, so get over to the Hurtyoubad store right now: http://hurtyoubad.bigcartel.com.

Go on: right now.

— update —

The tee arrived – and not only is it as good in the flesh, but it’s got a glow-in-the-dark printed neck label. I’ve noticed a lot of the sizes are selling out, so best get in quick.

Mysterious Al | artist and illustrator

TF: This is probably a good opening point to get out of the way: you have never claimed that what you do is graffiti, whereas a lot of the people who’ve profited well from selling artwork over the past few years have labeled themselves that way. What are your own personal distinctions between true graffiti and the guys who are doing street art?

Al: Oh dude, Where do I start? Although I’ve always been massively interested in graffiti and draw a lot of my working process from its methods, I’m about as far away from a graffiti writer as you can get. Real graffiti artists are infinitely more hardcore than me and hold down crazy skill in intensely hot situations and spots. I occasionally paint walls and sometimes they’re illegal, but for me it’s all about the social aspect of this… Painting with friends, doing a good spot, then going for a beer… That’s what I like. I don’t see the point in street artists that aren’t up everywhere fronting like they’re hardcore. Everyone can see through that shit straight away and its embarrassing.

I totally agree with you – and I think that’s why your work has stood the test of time compared to lots of the fly-by-night guys who have made some quick money and then disappeared when people realised they weren’t what they were claiming to be.

What’s your current perspective on the street art scene in London at the moment? Is there anyone you think is doing something particularly exciting or different?

Everybody does things for their own reasons, and that’s fantastic. Personally though, street art in London bores me to tears. I’ve been almost completely out of the loop with what’s going on here since the wheat-paste invasion of 2006. It got so bad that I actually started seeing stencils on wheat-pasted posters on the street! I mean, what’s that all about? Really? What also confuses me is everybody trying to make witty jokes or have satirical remarks in their work. Stencils of children juggling grenades and all that shit… There’s one artist doing that style well enough for everybody, so I’m more interested in people creating art for art’s sake.

I feel that you were really one of the people who pioneered the street-level art scene. Back in 1999/2000 or so, when we first got in touch, your work and the things you were doing with your website really stood out to me. No-one else was doing that. Did you realise you were onto something new then?

I think what’s really worth bearing in mind is that when we all started that stuff, nobody had coined the phrase ‘Street Art’ yet. There were lots of amazing artists, illustrators and graff writers to draw influence from, but Street Art as we know it didn’t exist. I trained as a Fine Art painter (ridiculous, right?) but became more into drawing and creating stuff more spontaneous than ‘proper’ painting.

I was looking at American artists like Futura, Phil Frost, Barry McGee, Andy Howell and UK guys like Will Barras, Mr Jago and Kid Acne. For artists like myself, Chimp and D*Face, making work on the street just seemed like a logical progression from the work we were making at college or in our studios… We had no agenda, which made us very different from the kids who are doing this today.

To me, what you guys were doing back then was more akin to what Cost and Revs were doing in NYC in the early ’90s. As a genre of art, it certainly wasn’t as socially acceptable as it is now: because of the saturation, the general public don’t look twice at most things they pass in the street today. Which brings me onto another topic: Finders Keepers. Putting in time creating artwork and then having pop-up open-air events where people could grab their favourite pieces for free… For 2003, that was ahead of its time.

Finders Keepers was the brainchild of PMH, who discussed it with D*face and myself over one of our many, many nights of drinking. We’d all been doing bits and pieces on the streets at this time and a lot of other artists had started coming up, so PMH came up with an idea for an illegal street-art exhibition. Looking back on everything I’m amazed how far we got with absolutely no planning whatsoever. We invited a load of artists we knew by email to come meet us in a boozer in East London, then went on a mad drunken mission of scouring the streets looking for… Well, rubbish, basically. Old boxes, oil drums, broken computers, fridges… We collected all this shit, took it home, decorated it, then met up again a few days later to ‘exhibit’ it.

We’d emailed everyone we knew and got people to spread the word to their friends and colleagues. ‘Free Art show, location TBC’. That was on the Tuesday, or something. We really had no idea how this was gonna go down, but we found a suitable disused shop-front on a Paul St, a quiet street in east London. We mailed the artists and the public at the same time early Friday afternoon, and by 5pm people started appearing and climbing all over the place hanging work and partying. The emails must have spread like crazy because we must have had 300+ people at our first event. They bought booze, sound systems and we had an illegal street arty in the middle of Shoreditch. All the work was given away at the end. It was a massive success.

Over the next few summers we ended up doing several more of these events across Europe, and I still occasionally see some of the artworks doing the rounds on eBay for ridiculous money. How we managed to do this before Twitter or any social networking sites existed still amazes me.

How long did Finders Keepers run for?

I think we did events for two or three years, but really nothing for me ever came close to the first event. Its success was completely unexpected.

I feel that everything kinda blew up in terms of street art and people making a decent living from it around 2007, 2008… and slowly as more and more people started trying to do the same thing, it got over saturated. Maybe I should name names, but some of the absolute horseshit that was being priced for auctions was ridiculous. I’m sorry, but seeing a stencilled print selling for 50 times the price of an original Futura or Seen piece… that’s ludicrous to me. What are your feelings on that kinda thing happening?

The thing is, a lot of people who are into the work of the older masters of the scene aren’t the same people who actually BUY art. There really was a lot of stuff doing the rounds that didn’t really do it for me either. But I think that goes back to this agenda thing I mentioned earlier. I’m much happier to see artists making art that they’re passionate about rather than trying to tick boxes. That’s why I really like artists who show a real natural progression in their work and don’t just turn on their heels and paint a picture of the queen wearing a balaclava with a rocket up her ass.

How do you find it balancing your passion for creating artwork with the job of having to make money to survive? Do you find you have to compromise yourself much when you’re working for a client?

I’ve been very, very lucky to have worked on some amazing jobs with some really great brands. In that respect, I’d never put my name to something that I wasn’t happy with. As with all creative collaborations there will always be a little bit of compromise with things that can’t be done. Adidas wouldn’t allow me to put an inverted crucifix on my Superskates, and some of the original characters I did for a Yahoo! campaign were deemed unsuitable – But I never sign anything off until I’m 100% happy with it.

Like everybody else I have to earn a living. To me, ‘selling out’ is when you’re handing over your shit for a giant pay-cheque and losing control of it. Doing jobs that I like in my style and getting paid for it is amazing, but I also do soooooo many mundane ‘bread-and-butter’ graphics jobs that are completely separate from my character stuff… I just don’t tell anybody about them.

Are there any agencies or individuals who’ve really helped you out along the way? Any particularly fun projects?

Oh man, So many people and clients have hooked me up. Yourself and Russ at Spinemagazine for giving me my first job after University. You didn’t actually have a job for me to do so I sat on a bin drawing and essentially running a softcore porn site. That really gave me a chance to get on with my shit and I am so completely grateful to you both. The guys at POKE! agency really looked after me and hired me for some great illustration gigs whilst I was starting out as a freelancer, so I owe them a hell of a lot, too. My boy Tristan Eaton in NYC is always involving me in his incredible projects with THUNDERDOG and gives sound transatlantic advice when I freak out about shit, so big him up, also. And finally my family at Goodhood, Word to Mother, D*face and everybody around me that helps each other out on a daily basis.

It’s all about keeping good company and having people around that inspire and are reliable.

What made you want to make the neon sign? At that time, I hadn’t seen anything like that. I remember you going through hell trying to keep the thing working!

There’s a scene in Wong Kar-Wai’s ‘Chung King Express’ where one of the main characters girlfriend leaves him. He turns to drink and narrates: "After she left, I talked to the bottles". I always loved that scene and found such poetry in those words, so my bottles were directly influenced by them, the stark neon feel of Hong Kong, drinking and having girl problems.

Your work for Volvo was one of the few times I noticeably turned my head to see what had gone past when those ads were on the buses. Break down how that project went for you.

The Volvo campaign was one of those jobs that just snowballed. One of the directors of the commercial had seen my work and contacted me through Nelly Duff gallery, who acted as my agent. I got asked to go and spend three days painting a 210ft wall in Bilbao, and took Solo One and Matt Sewell along to help me. Solo is an unbelievable painter. So fast and ridiculously on point. He really held it down when we got hit with an unexpected colour change the day before we started!

The whole experience was great – we stayed in a stoosh hotel and everyone was into what we were doing and really looked after us. I really had no idea in what capacity the ad was going to be used, but the shot of my work became quite a focal point and was used everywhere. My mum got really excited and phoned me every time she saw it on a bus, which was great at first but got annoying after the third day.

Your project with adidas obviously received a lot of attention. How did that project come about – and what was it like working with the US design team there?

Well, to me a shoe is one of those seminal projects that really means you’re getting your shit straight, so it was an absolute honour to work with adidas on those.

I was working with ex-CT design-mogul C-Law, so it was very useful to have a friend on the inside. He hasn’t really spoken to me since the project though, so I think I annoyed him. Adidas were incredible and let me do some very cool things like glow-in-the-dark and all-over-print linings. I have a habit of trying to sneak inverted crucifixes into as much of my commercial work as possible, and one of them actually made it to the very last stage of production before somebody spotted it. I had to do the footbed graphics again which made C-Law pretty angry.

Your Eastpak bags also caught a lot of attention. I saw a lot of people with the backpacks.

I was approached by Eastpak many years ago to make all-over prints for their various rucksacks and apparel. Eastpak weren’t quite as open-minded as adidas were so there were A LOT of design changes. Towards the end I actually ended up losing it a bit with the colourways, so did the most disgusting orange / red / black design as some sort of defiant pisstake. I thought Eastpak were joking when they signed it off, but they clearly know what they’re doing as it turned out to be a massive success. I even spotted one on the O.C. which means that technically I’m in with that Mischa Barton.

I remember flicking through an issue of Sidewalk magazine and seeing your Enuff graphics – and thinking how well your artwork suited skate decks as a canvas. A lot of artists seem to have their existing work reappropriated for that platform, but your style really works on that dimension.

Enuff have been an absolutely amazing client – they literally let me do whatever I want. My first series with them had crazy fluro colours and the second glow in the dark! How cool is that? I’m currently working on my third set of decks with them and these ones are gonna be the best yet. The most super-hardcore time-consuming illustrations I’ve ever done. I almost regret starting them because drawing them makes my eyes hurt… You’ll see what I mean when they drop!

What are you working on at the moment? What are your plans for the rest of 2010 and beyond? Anything exciting on the horizon?

Man, this is already shaping up to be a big year. I’m involved in design and art direction for a couple of music acts and am working closely with them on artwork for their packaging and visuals for their live shows… I can’t mention them here but trust me, if you go to any festivals this year you won’t miss them.

This year I’m also preparing to give my artwork a BIG push. I’ve been quietly observing from the sidelines for a while, and am now working on a new body of work based around the Maesoamerican calendar and 2012 doomsday predictions! Expect a solo show towards the end of the year…

London Burners book (Prestel) | graffiti book by Jete Swami

Another day, another new graf book. Can anyone else recall when there were only a handful of books on the subject? ‘Subway Art’, ‘Spraycan Art’… a few obscurities from the ’70s and early ’80s… and a small selection of foreign language books. That was about all my library consisted of, at least until the early ’90s. In the past couple of years there have been some substantial publications, at last moving back to the hardcore graf subject as opposed to art gallery catalogues and stencil guides. There’s been some serious horseshit put onto the bookshelves in the past 10 years, so it’s nice to see a return to quality again.

And, on the topic of quality, we’ve got ‘London Burners’ here. I only found out about this book when Amazon threw it up as a suggestion based on my previous purchases. With so much crap out there, my interest in graf books has waned slightly over the past few years, but this one seemed to stand out above the torrent of street art nonsense that was presented to me. The cover alone – daytime full-colour Tube panels – had me nudging towards the virtual shopping basket.

The publisher’s blurb on the back cover sells the book as a ‘photographic project’, which is true to a certain extent. But whilst the photos are pretty consistently good throughout, it’s the graf inside that will have you drooling. No wall pieces, no pages wasted on crew poses or paraphernalia: it’s almost 100% pure London train action. Plenty of action shots are included, but the bulk of the imagery inside consists of pure train panels. Steel, steel, steel throughout.

It’s a fairly concentrated representation of the London graf community – one main crew dominates the majority of the content – but that’s no bad thing, as the pieces on the whole are top notch and haven’t been plastered in other books or magazines. The text in the book is minimal, preferring to have a few pages of missions, chases and opinions rather than in-depth interviews or profiles – but what’s included is cool to read.

Another worthy addition to your bookshelves, ‘London Burners’ will sit nicely between Crack & Shine and London Handstyles as the spotlight on homegrown graf continues to shine. At around £12 from various online places, you’re much better off spending the money on this book rather than a £15 ‘graffiti magazine’.

Now, where’s Skore’s book got to?

Style Wars | hip-hop & graffiti documentary

Filming began in 1981, following on from director Henry Chalfant’s

documentation of the early New York hip-hop and graffiti scene (best

demonstrated in his and Martha Cooper’s ‘Subway Art’ book – something we’ll return to later on Trashfilter). Chalfant linked up with Tony Silver and between them they filmed and collated over 30 hours of raw footage. The formative era of b-boying, with Rock Steady and the Dynamic Rockers is captured, but it’s the interviews with the graf writers that makes this so essential to me.

If you’ve ever picked up a can of paint or a marker, you owe it to yourself to study the film in full. The now-legendary clips of Skeme and his mother, the exploits of Seen and Duster, the wars with Cap and the MPC crew, Min One and Iz laying it down… It’s still just as invigorating to watch now as it was back in the ‘80s.

Documentaries come and go over the years and there have certainly been some fantastic efforts when it comes to documenting hip-hop culture. But nothing has knocked ‘Style Wars’ from its well-deserved pedestal.

Henry Chalfant and Tony Silver were forward-thinking enough to start

cataloguing and recording the pioneering days of a worldwide phenomenom that will outlive all of us today. As an open-eyed 8 year old, I couldn’t

necessarily relate to what I was seeing on the screen at the time, but I knew I wanted to find out more. Channel 4’s infamous screening one Christmas in the UK was carefully dubbed and shared until an official VHS release of ‘Style Wars’ appeared in the early 1990s. I made do with that copy until the

excellent reissue on DVD courtesy of Plexifilm in 2003. And now there are rumours of an HD version being created if funding can be found.

The excellent Style Wars website, designed and built by the legendary Mare 139 (who also features prominently in the film) was the first graffiti-themed website I’d seen where the design was as carefully considered as the content: the pieces and photos look great on there.

Tony Silver sadly passed away in 2008, but his name will live with future generations through his work on Style Wars. Henry Chalfant is still very much around, often attending exhibitions and shows, proving that he’s very much ingrained within the threads of hip-hop. His photographic partner Martha Cooper is also still shooting and writing, as her own ‘Hip Hop Files’ book will attest.

I had the opportunity to see some of Henry’s original prints (and sit down to a big screen showing of ‘Style Wars’) when in Paris for the ‘Born In The Streets’ exhibition. Judging by the crowd, the

magnetism won’t ever end.

Make sure you take some time to watch the film, whether you’re fully immersed in hip-hop or just have

the yearning to see a well-made and intelligent portrayal of one of the most exciting subcultures to have ever emerged.

Keep The Faith magazine

Over the years, a lot of printed UK graffiti mags and fanzines have come and gone. If I look at my own collection of mags from the past few years – from early issues of Graphotism and London’s Burning, on to projects such as the recent Not Guilty fanzine and the always-good Wordplay – it’s clear that there has always been a high standard of self-published works in the UK. Looking at online photo collections is great, but I appreciate the effort that goes into printed matter.

So when I heard that Keep The Faith was on its way, I felt it was a good chance to catch up with the editor and get his take on the disappearing (and underappreciated) world of UK graf magazines.

All City Writers | graffiti book

Newly published books on the topic of graffiti seem to be getting released weekly. I remember when hunting out unseen graf books would involve visiting poncy art book stores and then being coaxed into dropping £40 on some obscure German-language photo book. The old Zwemmer book shop on Charing Cross Road in London was a prime location for these, but hardly the most appropriate place to hang out unless you liked being with stuffy art types. We’ll do a proper write-up on some of our favourite graf books down the line.

The peak of the ‘street art’ interest in 2007/2008 had every fake writer producing watered-down and uneducated shit (seriously, has anyone seen the ‘Urban Cookbook’? I’ll be addressing that particular crock of shit in my graf books feature), so it was often hard to see through the haze of nonsense to find the good books.

I first heard of ‘All City Writers’ in the summer of 2009: it had a cool styling to the press release and website, and the claims sounded a bit too good to be true. I mentally scribbled it down as one to watch for if I ever saw it on the shelves (I’m not blindly buying any art/design/graf books ever again, after being disappointed with my Amazon orders so frequently). I wasn’t sure when it’d be out, so I was pleasantly surprised to have found it when we went to the Cartier graf exhibition in Paris: it stood out on their table of publications for sale, so I grabbed a copy. I say ‘grabbed’, but the realism is that I struggled to pick it up, as this thing is a beast! With 410 pages and a good inch-and-a-half thick with a hardbacked cover, it’s not something to take off the coffee table without a forklift truck. That said, leaving it there for posing points is a total waste, because this thing is packed with features, interviews and knowledge that you’ll want to read. It’s been a while since I’ve seen a graffiti book with so much interesting text.

The angle is mainly European, but that’s not to say there aren’t lots of US contributions. The first half of the book is the story of writing in Europe, showing how the influences of NYC spread across the oceans and infected a whole continent. The second half of the book focuses specifically on Italy, documenting the rise and growth of the scene there. That might turn some of you off, but trust me when I say this isn’t throwaway content by any means. The images and stories are incredible and it’s clear that the six years spent putting this book together were well spent.

One of my favourite sections was the comprehensive story about T.C.A. (The Chrome Angelz) and how they developed from Zaki Dee’s Trailblazers into one of the world’s most highly regarded crews after their subsequent ‘Spraycan Art’ exposure. Thought Mode 2 and Bando and the guys didn’t hammer the trains upon their European travels? Think again…

Drax, Elk, Coma and Don contributed some great content on the London scene, which was enough reason to buy the book anyway. Real history from the people who created it and not some kid who’s been taking flicks of his best mate’s stenciling career.

There’s a great timeline in the opening chapter that puts the European graffiti movement in parallel with the NYC scene – and plenty of interesting stories about the European writers making their first trips to try their hands at painting the NYC subway system. There’s nice features with various graf magazine editors (including a breakdown of what went down with the guys at Xplicit Grafx when the Parisian crackdown took place a few years back) and a lot of images from some of the best fanzines that have been part of the scene.

For the £30 or whatever it’s retailing at, this is one of few books that’s worth the money. At the time of writing, I’ve had this three weeks and I still haven’t finished reading it. Available from most of your usual online book vendors – and you can check out the official website here.

‘Né Dans La Rue’ Fondation Cartier graffiti exhibition, Paris

“This exhibition traces the origins of the graffiti movement while offering a panorama of the diversity of contemporary writing”. A Cartier-backed history of graffiti? With the right people involved? Really?

Casting my ill-conceived preconceptions about fashion houses trying to connect with youth culture aside, once I’d seen the photos from this exhibition begin to appear online, I knew I wanted to go and see it for myself. The days of wanting to go and see graffiti in gallery spaces have long gone for me, but the opportunity to go and see some genuine artifacts from the pioneering days of New York’s graf scene was too good to resist. A quick Friday night hop on the Eurostar (courtesy of my good lady) gave us a full Saturday morning to spend checking the exhibition out.

Approaching the exhibition space from Raspail Metro station, it’s pretty clear you’re in the right area: the front of the building is surrounded in wooden hoardings covered in graffiti. Whilst that’s all well and good, it was the ‘graffiti taxonomy’ (see Evan Roth’s site for some great background shots) on the glass facade that stood out. Individual letters from a wide range of different writers in Paris, showcasing the diversity of tag styles in the same geographic region. It reminded me a little of Rammellzee and Phase Two’s explorations into letterforms, but without the scary costumes and complicated technospeak.

Once you’ve paid your €6.50 and go into the grounds, you’re confronted with a massive chrome dub (courtesy of Amaze) and a walk around the back of the glass showroom reveals a hut with Seen throw-ups, a Shepard Fairey wall and a couple of other bits. All good, so far…

Upon entering the exhibition hall, a friendly-but-firm voice told me ‘no photographs please’. I think my speechless expression said enough: you can’t claim to be presenting graffiti in its truest form without allowing complete freedom to let people document it themselves. Luckily, it wasn’t very difficult to take a few low-key pictures as we walked around – the staff were busy monitoring a class of schoolchildren, so it was pretty easy to get a few point-n-shoot shots. But this was one severe black mark to the organisers, especially considering I’d held out from buying the exhibition catalogue in the UK (Magma sell it for a fiver less) so that I could buy it from the ‘official’ vendor.

The ground floor has a selection of large freestanding walls, with art from a variety of different writers and artists on there. A couple of things stood out (such as the Jon One sculpture-framed piece and the Delta wall), but it was clear the downstairs section was where the real treats were being kept. In the first room, there was a cool handstyle animation on loop (by Evan Roth and Katsu), facing a wall with two nice Part One pieces on. Seen’s recreated ‘Hand Of Doom’ piece filled another wall, but the true gold came in the form of two exhibition cases with original sketches and blackbook pieces in them. Dondi and Tracy 168’s sketches looked as good in the flesh as they did in the books. Seen’s original sketch and photos of the ‘Hand Of Doom’ wholecar was pretty exciting to see, having looked at that piece again and again in ‘Subway Art’ over the past 20 years. Henry Chalfant’s contribution was great to see: a wall of photographic prints, featuring both well-known subway panels and a couple I hadn’t seen before. There was also a large presentation case with a transit worker’s uniform (as worn by Seen when painting trains) and a door with lots of classic NYC writers’ tags scrawled on.

Walking past a cool/weird Blade piece (a list of writers who’d died, bordered by mirrored walls and tags), the next room had a large projection of ‘Style Wars’/’Wild Style’-era footage, surrounded by some vintage canvas works by Futura, Quik and Lee. The highlights of this room were the Lady Pink/Lee denim jacket and the ‘Aboveground’ gallery poster, following on from the MTA’s anti-graffiti campaign. Walking out of this room takes you down a tag-battered catacomb and back into the main room. Exhibition over? Not quite.

As I pushed my way past over-zealous kids on the stairway, I went up onto the first floor bookshop, where I was quite literally blown away. I had to stop in my tracks to take in the comprehensive selection of graffiti books. They had easily over 100 different books there, ranging from just-released tomes through to various exhibition catalogues and classic publications. I’d only intended to purchase the official guide to the exhibition (which I still did), but also ended up with the Blade monograph, a signed copy of the ‘Seen City’ catalogue from his 2007 show – and the recently-released ‘All City Writers’ book. I also found ‘Stations Of The Elevated’ on DVD, which was an unexpected surprise. Posters were reasonably priced at €6 and everything was properly browsable before purchase. The best collection of graffiti literature I’ve seen in one place, for certain. With our arms weighed down with books, we left and went to see what Colette was saying, en-route back to Gare du Nord.

This is by no means the comprehensive history of graffiti that it promises, and some of the modern pieces are a little questionable in terms of relevance, but it was fully worth visiting. We thought we’d snuck in to see it before the planned closing date (which was originally set to be November 29th 2009), but they’ve just extended the duration until January 10th 2010, so plan a weekend to Paris before it finishes and have a look for yourself.

Fondation Cartier pour l’art contemporain. 261, Boulevard Raspail, Paris 75014
More information: http://fondation.cartier.com

Crack & Shine

To finally have this book in my hands after months of waiting for it to come out is a great feeling. I’d seen various preview images from the project over the few weeks before release, which just fueled my impatience further, and after seeing the launch exhibition I knew that it was probably going to live up to my expectations.

Freshly racked from their website, here’s a brief account of what to expect: Featuring forty of the most exciting and prolific graffiti artists to have lived and painted in London, Crack & Shine is the only London graffiti book ever to be published.

It’s funny to read that: I’d never really thought about whether London had been properly portrayed in a graf book before. Little bits here and there, token features in foreign compendiums and a scattering of magazine cuttings. All had generally been disappointing tributes to one of the rawest and progressive scenes out there. Graphotism tried its best at times, Hold No Hostage was dope, Bomb Alert went a step further, but magazines seemed to be as far as the coverage went.

And that’s where this book steps in. Even the title of the book is spot on, referencing the dominant dub style of many of London’s elite writers. If you weren’t down, you weren’t gonna find out very much and outsiders who tried to muscle in were dealt with in a variety of ways.

In the words of Dreph, “The London graffiti scene was a closed and unforgiving one. Information was guarded.”.

So taking on the task of documenting the history of London’s graffiti scene was clearly never going to be an easy job. For each person you pull out as an enigma, there’s another twenty who deserve just as much exposure. Whilst there have been whispers of another book in the making over the past few years, it was a pleasant surprise to hear that Crack & Shine was more than just rumours and was actually being printed. So I paid my £25 (via their website) and waited for the book to arrive.

First of all, the book isn’t a thrown-together collection of blurred photos and egotistical quotes. If you’re wondering what to expect, maybe flick back through your graf mag archives, pull out issue 9 of Graphotism and remind yourself of the DDS feature. All the good things that were in there – Brixton roof entrances, unseen full-colour panels, yard shots etc. – are all present and correct, but surrounded by loads more things you won’t have seen.

Instead of simply being a nice picture book, there’s great text to accompany everything. Interviews and quotes from people who shaped the way London looks today are given generous amounts of space. So instead of a collection of ‘Q+A’ journalistic nonsense, you have people like Bozo giving a first-hand account of painting Farringdon with Fume, Fuel, Teach and Elk. Or the background behind Zomby and Sham’s Christmas trackwalk up the Northern Line (I was living in Tooting at that point and remember taking flicks of the damage the week after). You’re probably not going to get that kind of personal account anywhere else.

There’s a strong emphasis on Tubes, which gives a harder edge to everything, and the mix of featured artists generally keeps to the core groups that have been out there relentlessly. You get hardcore writers like Zomby, Teach, Diet, Fume, Sub, Siege, Drax, Prime, Sub, Steas, Dodo/LDS, Pic, Grand, Fuel and Elk showcased alongside newer (and equally prominent) groups and individuals such as TPG, ATG, Vamp and Neas. You could sit and point out omissions perhaps, but it won’t make you look very clever.

Sput and Revok’s perspectives as foreign visitors sit a bit awkwardly on first glance, but when you read through their accounts, it’s an interesting angle and something I’d never really thought that much about.

Aside from the excellent collection of graf flicks from the writers themselves, there’s a lot of great portrait and in-situ photography from Will Robson-Scott that adds an extra level of aesthetic to the project. The sharp layout, clean use of typography and other little details (I liked the page titling at the top of each ‘chapter’) make the whole book reek of professionalism.

It feels like a lot of the right people were involved throughout the entire process of making this book, so you don’t feel like you’re putting money into the wrong pockets when you purchase a copy.

Go and grab one of the 2000 copies from the Crack & Shine site before it disappears off the shelves. Easily one of the best graf books I’ve seen to date.

Joseph Rivera ‘Vandal Squad: Inside The NYC Transit Police Department 1984-2004’

I wasn’t initially convinced that buying a copy of this book would be in graffiti’s best interests: putting money into the pockets of someone who did his best to eradicate New York of graf was probably the opposite of what I wanted to do. Once I’d obtained a gratis copy and read through it, I thought I’d give it a quick review so you can make your own mind up on whether it’s for you.

Half of the appeal of writing for me was the accompanying folklore and events that surrounded the act of painting. Hearing that so-and-so got chased out of a particular train yard or another guy escaped police capture by hiding in a rubbish bin was all part of the reason I wanted ‘in’. But hearing these stories from the other side of the law does make for interesting reading, regardless of whether you’re an advocate of graffiti or dead-against it.

Rivera was one of the early members of the NYC Police Department’s Vandal Squad in the 1980s: any criminal activity that took place within the NY Transit system would be investigated by these guys, leading to the arrests of many of graf’s most infamous writers. He worked with the Squad through the ’80s and early ’90s, racking up a tally chart of large proportions. So, instead of a boring account of police procedures, you get a fairly unique insight with stories including plenty of names you’ll recognise: Seen, Revs, Deck, O’Clock, Crack (AKA Fat Joe), Skuf… Endorse it or not, it’s interesting reading.

One of the most interesting aspects of the accounts is that Rivera doesn’t take a disrespectful tone about the writers. Instead of mocking them and making them sound stupid, he often shows an appreciation for their artwork and also lays the story straight on the infamous ratting-out rumours that spread around when high profile writers got busted. In particular, the Cope and Revs sections are pretty revealing – and the fact that Rivera openly admits that some of the most-wanted writers were never apprehended gives you a feeling that most of this isn’t glorified storytelling.

In all, if you ever had an interest in the NYC Subway scene, fancy something a little different to read and want to see some decent photos (including examples from Jamel Shabazz and Peter Sutherland) that you may not have seen before, this is worth picking up.

Data time: it’s published by powerHouse Books, it costs about $30, there are 168 pages and it’s all rounded off with an interesting message from Cope on the back cover.

adidas IRAK Rmx Equipment Sport Runner

There was a fair bit of speculation as to whether these shoes were actually going to get released. We’d seen the sample photos floating around out there, but word got back to us that the whole sub-branding/collaborative was going to be dropped by the Equipment side of adidas. My immediate thought was ‘Dammit’, but I resigned myself to the fact that unless I got lucky, I’d never get to own a pair of these.

Fast-forward a few months to December 27th 2007, and they dropped fairly unnoticed at Alife’s Rivington Club, both in-store and online. My hoarding of Christmas funds ended right there and then: I copped both colourways.

Background information for those who don’t know: IRAK is a New York-based group of graffiti writers. If you haven’t seen the words of the prophets on the walls of streets, get your Google on, watch the film ‘Infamy’ and do some research on EARSNOT.Opinion is divided on these, from what I’ve read. Lots of people think they’re amazing – and an equal amount are disgusted by the IRAK branding on the toe panels. Well, fuck that. IRAK represent getting up and getting over, so to boldly print the name on the front for all to see fits perfectly. Add some great colour-blocking, plenty of great 3M application and a comfortable shoe and you’re set. I’m not 100% sure on this, but the word was that 300 pairs of each colourway were produced. As soon as I can afford it, I’m gonna double up on these ones.

Price? $200. Stockists? www.rivingtonclub.com is your best bet, but apparently Patta had some in as well.