By Roger Gastman

So, what started it for you?

Actually, seeing gang graffiti on the walls, like the Apaches and Black Spades, and Latino motorcycle stuff and Black motorcycle gang stuff. In '69, once my parents started letting me go to the ball games myself, I just started scribbling with little dry markers in "69. By "70, I had graduated to little cans of Testor's paint. I manipulated my dad into buying them, pretending I was going to spray paint my models, model boats and planes. Also, my grandma would take me to the ball games in Yankee Stadium in the Bronx. I"d see the 4 train go by and see AJ161, top to bottoms, top to bottoms, and was like, wow, I really want to do that. I"ve got these photos of me from that time, in my choir outfit, confirmation robe, my little smile- you can almost see the halo over my head. That was all about getting to go to church just so I could go bombing. I would either spray my way to church or back. My parents would give me 50 cents to take the bus. I would just take the bus either way,and spend the other 25 cents on pizza or something, and just spray along. And also you got to meet girls. So between spray painting and the girls, going to choir was my big excuse.

Were these girls supposed to be there for choir?

Yeah, we just did it to meet each other and engage in that pre-pubescent feeling-up stuff.

You show me yours, I"ll show you mine?

Well, I don't know, I grew up kind of strange. We didn't have to show each other shit, we knew what to do. The girls always knew what they wanted the guys to do.

Did graffiti help you get girls?

Definitely not. It helped me get into a lot of fights. A lot of us make Jokes, like, damn, being a graf dude you only attract dudes, you attract like one gal per 100 dudes. But my ex-wife, she would go through the tunnels with me. Now she's a corporate executive for a bank. I have photos of the things she helped me with. I used to take people who were not part of the graf culture, just to show them how weird we were.

QUIK In 1983

So you graduated high school, and went to college in DC?

Yeah that was 1976, I wanted to be a forest ranger. Growing up in New York, I spent a lot of time in nature, and even at the end of the 60's a lot of my mentors were hippies. I had a respect for nature. I had done a lot of hiking and canoeing, and nature was really important to me, and it bothered me that mankind was fucking it up. I had a friend of mine, a graf dude, who said he went canoeing, took his chain saw and chopped down a tree. The place he told me he went to was a place I used to go as a kid, and I thought that was horrible, that they go on weekend adventures and chop down trees where I used to go and chill, make campfires, have sex, and just be groovy. I wanted to protect nature from that Neanderthal attitude. But at American University, it was more Environmental Science than forestry. I was too much of a pot head, and I was not into science. I realized that if I was a forest ranger, I'd be the only Black forest ranger in the northeast, and all the other guys were rednecks, just like mounted police. I started doing more painting in class and tagging around the city. I kept going back to New York, tagging and bombing, because college on that level was not interesting. I eventually got kicked off campus when I threw a console TV out of a 5th floor window. It made a huge crashing noise!I heard you partied with the pimps and hookers a lot. I was big time down with hanging out with prostitutes on street corners from New York. We used to hang around with the pimps, strictly the super fly stuff. There was just something about that seedy underworld, and looking at those characters. Just the pimps, there was something about their naive Southern ways, coming to New York with their big brims and big cars. In DC, the pimps weren't as friendly, but I used to hang out with the girls. You know, you would watch their back, smoke a joint with them, run and get them a soda. Then you got your freebie at the end of the night, or you got your discount. I didn't mind that.

What's your favorite story from hanging out with the pimps and hookers?

During the blackout of '77, a buddy and I had just bought a bag of black cheeba in Spanish Harlem, and we were cruising down Park Avenue. We went and hung out on Delancey Street. There was this pool hall right on the corner. By then we had graduated to the honor of being able to step inside and sit down. You could never talk to the pimps unless they spoke to you.

So the pimps got along with each other?

Not all the time. We never saw any fights, but they would pull knives on each other and threaten one another. It was more that we were privileged to watch them or to go get them a beer. We could talk to their girls if they talked to us or if we wanted a service. If we wanted to speak to the girls conversationally, we had to do it outside.

How old were you then?

18, but we had been hanging out for years so they kinda' got to know us. The strange thing was I always looked like a Neil Young dude, whereas my best friend looked super Black and wore the uptown Grandmaster Flash Lees and black pocket t-shirt. So it was just a trip, that we were odd dudes from Queens, and were accepted by that culture. But I realized that it was my craving for the old blues, the Sugar Shack thing that I never experienced that drew me to that crowd..

So how did this pubic hair collection start?

I guess with the first girl. I got home and there was that thing between my teeth. I guess I have that gap in my teeth, and you know how it is. You wake up the next morning and you got hair in between your teeth. If it was a good one, well, I would just save it. I got a couple, all colors, all flavors. I've slowed the collection part, but I got some fine memories.

Did your mom ever find out what happened in the back of the car?

Well, we're Americans, so that's where you do most of your business anyway. I think my parents figured out what was going on with this car fixation on the weekends, other than bombing. I went out with my ex-wife for years. We would go to movies, and the car was the date, it was your hotel room. You get a big car, do it in the car, park at a golf course. Then after I took care of my business it was time to go bombing. Time to meet the fellas.

So what happened after you decided you didn't want to be a forest ranger?

I went back to New York to go to Pratt Institute. Art school of course hated me, but what was cool about Pratt was there were PHASE2 tags all over the place. Of course I bombed that school and they wanted to throw me out. Every time I would do my work, they would give me a failing grade. If they said to do a 9x11 self-portrait, I would bring in something huge, in 9x11 proportions. They said if I took that to an ad agency I wouldn't get the job, so they would fail me. I thought art school was a crock of shit, because I was pulling out whole cars top to bottom every evening, then coming home an doing my homework. I would look at the people next to me and think their work looked real good and they were gonna make lots of money on Madison Avenue, but there was something about what I was doing that they'd never get. I knew that people were going to know my type of work, to know this type- I would not be anonymous, and I was just determined. I quit art school and started working at IBM to make lots of money to fuel my addictions for sex, drugs, cars, and rock and roll. I got sick of IBM because I realized that after 20 years I'd have a car and a house three times as big as my dad's, but there wasn't anywhere to go with it.

What did you do then?

I went back to art school. By then, we had hit the papers, with FUTURA, ALI, and ZEPHYR. The same fucking art teachers would ask me to do the same homework, and do it 9x11. I'd bring these giant paintings in, and they'd be like, "Hey, graffiti is hip. You're our resident graffiti artist," and I'd get an A. Whereas a few years before, they had failed me. I was like, fuck this, and once again I left. Luckily, FUTURA forced me to meet a gallery dealer at a DONDI opening. FUTURA said "Hey, that dude over there, he's actually buying graff paintings and I know you got paintings, so go meet him." I look over, and there were dudes like AONE, KOOR, LADY PINK, all these type of people jumping up an down around the guy. I didn't bother to go meet the guy, and later in the evening FUTURA said "hey, did you go meet him?" I said no, and he literally dragged me across the room and made me shake the guy's hand. He said, "A lot of people talk about you, do you have paintings?" He made an appointment to see my work in my house. The guy came and he bought a couple of paintings. Then it started again in Holland in 1983. We started doing shows and I ended up over there. In the 80's I flew across the Atlantic like ten times in one year, to do exhibitions and sell my work. The work I sold in New York and America, 90% of the time, went back to Europe for collections. Then I realized that America is 275 years old, and Europe has a history of thousands of years supporting people who are painters, artists and sculptors. So its part of the European culture to maintain creative people.

The European people were supportive, paying your bills?

Sometimes I made a lot of money and then sometimes it would die out. Such is the life of an artist. I think the interesting thing for me is that I'm 40, and my work has had three renaissances. Most artists don't get recognition until they are 40. So I had a really blessed life that way. I've seen a lot of stuff. I've been a lot of places just from that strange talent that goes from my brain to my right hand. I would say the European community of guys who wanted to bomb supported us the best. You know, gallery owners, they are businessmen. They sell the work to clients. Of course, that earns us money, but the love and respect we got was from the people themselves, just like back in New York. Ending up in Holland as opposed to Paris, Germany, or England, you know the Dutch people are warm and open and I think far more loving and compassionate and realistic about creativity. So perhaps, had we been picked up by someone else or some other gallery mechanism, I don't think it would have gone as far as it did, because the Dutch people really love graffiti artists as well as Keith Haring.

So you're still happy over there now?

In a sense I'm happy. I went over there with the intention of beginning to control or take back my artwork from dealers who were manipulating it for huge profits. I felt like I wasn't making so much, guys like NOC are dying, living on the street with drugs, guys like MINONE never even got their props. These guys selling the work are living in fat houses and mansions and it was out of control. So I went back to sort of control my work. There had been a large exhibition of graffiti work in the Netherlands. At the same time, there was a very big show in Germany. I stuck around to watch and see what would happen with my work. What I did not realize was how long it would take. It took about six years to do. I went there with the intention of working, but I needed to make money, which was difficult. I wouldn't say I was starving, but it was difficult. It took that long to be able to control that work. Living without the paranoia of New York and America, I find it a far better environment for me to paint in, to become the type of painter I try to be. .

Your paintings are graffiti-influenced?

I'd say they are all graffiti-inspired. My painter part of me is just being QUIK, but l like to do other things. I paint a lot about the racism in America. I think that's why I'm one of Holland's favorite neo-graffiti artists. Dutch humor is really dark, and I think they see that within my work there is a lot of humor, but it's dark. I've just found that I have a far better audience for my work in Holland. And the women are a lot prettier.

Do you have some groupies?

I might have one or two.

Do women throw themselves at you at art shows?

That has happened.

Fresh 20 year olds?

That has happened.

Do you turn them down?

Even that has happened. There is only so much a man can handle. I love my ex-wife. I have a daughter. I think I've gotten more pussy than people have socks. But it's not about that anymore. Although you've always gotta keep your options open.

Do you still paint?

Not since my near-catastrophic accident.

What accident?

I was fleeing a very pimp-like art situation. I was just fed up. I didn't really have the energy to drive home, but I had been out bombing, and I had a couple beers under my belt, and I simply fell asleep at 4:30 AM. What it all adds up to is I'm just too old to bomb.

Do you still have the urge?

Constantly. I still watch the train yards. Sometimes the thrill is gone. The last time I did a full-out bomb, I was with SACH and IZ. We were in our early 30's, it takes a lot out of you. They wore out before I did. But I did sleep very well that night. It did feel strange that I've done this 10,000 times, because what's 10,001? The times of 300 throw-ups a night, that's over for us guys.

What's your fondest memory?

So many, the high of going bombing with JESTER, looking at beautiful whole cars done by other guys. Dogging other people's graf. The memory of going over a fresh BLADE - COMET whole car. They had done a complete car, and I completely covered it. Just little things like that.

You said you hung out with a lot of white trash guys?

I go way back, the Uncle John days. Guys like me we were toys, so we would hold the paint for them. They would cut the fence, go in, spray paint, then they would finish and we were allowed to go in. They went home, they didn't watch our backs. We would find whatever little spaces were left to hit. That's how I learned a lot about going through the yards. I guess it was post-60's, and even my father dug the fact that graffiti was uniting races and religions so as long as everybody was getting down to go bombing. It wasn't such a Black vs. White thing as most American culture was. That's why we felt comfortable underground. My father really dug that we got together to do graf. My dad would give me gas money to go bombing.

How does your family think that you went from illegal graffiti artist to where you are now?

They have been somewhat receptive to the fact that I've had some sort of artistic career. Unfortunately for them, it took place in Holland. They did see my art blossom and take off. When I first quit IBM they were upset. My family had some old traditional values. A lot of my family went to all-Black colleges, and I was like, no, this is my life. I want to be a forest ranger and rock to Jimi Hendrix and Black Sabbath and that won't be happening at Morgan or the other Black colleges. I got a lot of flack for that. In a sense, they didn't support my dream. Now I got a daughter who is half-ass proud of me, my ex-wife is half-ass proud of me, and they are the two most important people to me.

What about wild situations that graf has put you in ?

Lots of mild situations like rafting down to Delaware. Maybe going into the mountains in California with HAZE, while deer are jumping out of the woods. There are so many I can't explain it all. There was a hotel on Delancey, and I remember I had been in every single one of those hotel rooms at some point in time. I remember meeting my first pussy that looked like ten packs of bubble gum chewed up and spit out. I don't have a hair from that one.

Anything else?

Stay away from my daughter, all you motherfuckers, if you know what's good for you.


Next Week:
Domeshots & Fat Laces Vol 28: ZEPHYR

The Dynamic Hamza 21®

Hip Hop since 1982.

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