Interview

Video of the How I Started Interview

Did being Dominican have an influence on or impact your life?

Yeah, being Dominican, being a minority did impact my life. I’ve noticed an emptiness in the neighborhood where I grew up, an emptiness of culture: there are no books stores or museums or galleries. It’s not a self-supportive neighborhood and I had to work twice as hard. That all made me hungry, sort of angry, and I’m a very expressive person so I expressed myself in the only way I could: painting on trains. It was a source of, self-gratification; people loved what I was doing, loved what I was painting. I sometimes think I had the perfect environment to be a graffiti writer: relationship with my parents, temptations, the streets, being oppressed, no opportunities… all of those were the molds to making me.

How did your parents feel about you doing graffiti?

They were scared more for the consequences than for what I was doing. I’m Dominican, so they wanted me to get a real job. I told them I did, I have a real job, I’m a painter. They would see what I was doing, and after a while they realized that this was me. You know. This was me. It was out of their hands, I didn’t want to be someone who works on Wall Street – that wasn’t me. I was a person that expressed myself, and that was by doing poetry in the streets. They felt pride later and understood the reasons why it was all happening.

In 1972 Mayor Lindsay waged the first war against graffiti in New York. Were you concerned with the high element of risk involved?

No, I was not too concerned with the risk. ‘Was it art? Is it bad what I’m doing?’ I didn’t really question myself in that way because I felt that what I was doing was art, so I was just expressing myself, as any artist would do. I didn’t see it as an act of vandalism, I saw it as important. But I had to leave New York before they crucified me. I’m having the last laugh now though:before they wanted to erase me, now people are paying to have my work: crime pays. (laughing)
 
What’s 156 All Starz?

156th and Broadway, a crew of kids. I come from a generation of artists from the 80s, when NY was out of control, with drugs everywhere, and I was one of the consequences of that environment. I was responding to that environment. When I was in my 20s I was on drugs, I was painting on trains at night. I created a style of putting my name on trains that was very in your face and all over the place, like ‘I’m going to give you more…the most.’ I was at war with myself and with my environment. I wanted to make a statement. And 156 was a group, we all had the same problems, so we’d say hey lets get together and paint trains tonight. We would do whole productions. Plan it out. Paint figures. Do three trains back to back – it was like a moving art gallery for all of New York to see. It wasn’t exactly a movement of artists, it was more like an association: everyone put down to make things happen.

Jonone in the 80s
This article written by Jonone describes the New York writers' scene in the mid-1980s. Here he takes a look at how he got started in graffiti and recalls meeting Kyle and other prominent groups of that time.

I met Kyle in '84 in a social center down-town. I used to like to chill there cause I would meet old Savage Nomads (gang members) that were coming out of prison, and trying to get their act together. Reagan was president of the USA and Koch was mayor. There where empty crack bottles everywhere. Like a winter snow fall in December. Old English and blunts. 42nd St. Play Land, Coney Island, Ghost yard, the ' One Tunnel '. Kyle and I would hang out in this social center, drawing and talking about our favorite subject: bombing. I told Kyle one day: ' what about us doing a train together... on the ones? '. I told him that I knew that tunnel inside out and there was going to be no beef. Now Kyle could draw his ass off. He never went to art school. He was a natural born killer, capable of drawing anything. What set him apart was the fact that he could paint with depths using his imagination. The rough edges gave the pieces character. And the way he coul d coordinate colors in t o intricate pieces made him a power house. Above all he was a trooper. When toys would run cause they would see a work bum or a cop, Kyle and I would just change lanes, and smoke a blunt, drink a quart and just wait...

Kyle was ready to do battle, to pick up the sword and chop heads off, getting inspiration from Ninja Turtles to sexy robots. Roach Motels, and especially and most important: from the writers we had around us, cause they where important in stimulating and inspiring us. That is the most powerful message and force: you give when you paint on trains. Now I look back 14 years later. What we did not know at the time was that we were closing the chapter to a glorious and historical train line. That we wuz the sons of the original pioneers and were writing the last chapter on the iron horse. Just like the cowboys did to the Indians, the MTA was winning the war. We knew our history. Our aim was to express something as powerful as had been done before by the old masters of this art form. Our ultimate goal was to do 10 whole cars like Lee had done. We only succeeded in doing 3 and a half. The night we went for 10 whole cars, we got raided bad. That day the c ops were waiting for us. When Kyle and I started our run on the one tunnel, the ones was chillz. You could go down there and not run into mad heads. Stan TSF was being put away for shooting a cop. He made it to the front page of the Daily news and the New York Post. And the Ball Busters were dying down. Now for you that do not know the Ball Busters, they wuz a crew that use to live on top of the tunnel on 137th St. Just the mention of their name to certain writers brought fear and terror. Cause if they did not like you and they didn't like anybody, they would jump you. They use to hang out in the tunnel waiting for writers to rob or break their teeth or steal their sneakers or give a beat down and go over their piece. It would be like, you would be in the tunnel, and you would see two B.B. and they would not say nothing to you, just walk past you and stare in your eyes. Five minutes later you would see 30 of them pointing guns and knives at you. So if that was not enough to think twice about going down to the tunnel, there was the vandal squad to worry about.

I mean writers were still going down there every now and then, like I remember seeing a Seen and Pj whole car which was a big shock cuz they was strictly 6 line kids. Or I remember seeing a Zephyr and Revolt window down that was slamming. Or the Sharp and Roz whole car, with the Woody Wood Pecker. And Case 2 with his mechanical computer style. Headz to this day can't fuck with that! I don't care how clean your outline is, or that your lines are crispy and straight. What it lacks is soul, and Case 2 had too much of it. Or the B-52 bomb that T-Kid T.N.B. threw on that tunnel... Damn I've never seen nothing like that. I mean he brought that 'up in the Bronx where people are Fresh there was one T Kid 'who could pass any test. Flavor to the tunnel, I mean T.N.B., Boozer, Cem 2, Rac 7, Kenn, Bio, BG 183, Mack did work. TNB one of the top crews that ever existed cause so many of the members went on to become rock stars. I remember the Cem 2 silver end to end o r the T-Kid Boozer full cars, they were the shit. I felt history in the making. I would be down there watching T.N.B. paint. Mack would be getting crazy loose and Bio always represented and there he was, T-Kid the legend from the Bronx ...wow! The one that chills with the original Vamp Squad, the one that hung out with Shock 123 or Tracy 168. Tee Kid put some order in it and opened the door for the last wave of killa bees. Yeah Bronx represented on the ones. I went down there one Saturday, and it was empty. I was walking down the lanes putting up tags and throw ups. I noticed somebody doing a piece. I changed lanes to sneak up behind him, so I appeared from behind the shadows and we both glanced at each other. I realized it was Aone, wow! He was wearing a trench coat and brand new sneakers. He had two big bags full of Krylon flavors. He was alone and had no fear! He didn't talk a lot and was just in his own little world, painting these incredible characters with the dopest hands and letters to grace the one line. It was for sur e a Bronx Style coming to Manhattan. I remember seeing that train running and seeing what Aone wrote on the side of his window down: ;quot; Burning the iron horse ;quot;. That came to symbolize in a way what you could expect on the ones. People where always pulling out cars. I remember the first time me and Kyle went down to the tunnel to paint a whole car was a Friday at 11:30 pm. Kyle took that long train ride from Queens and met me at 145th St. He had his colors and I had mine, 40 cans! Back in the days the colors you racked where the colors you had. So if you didn't have a certain color, well you had to do without. And caps, shit! it was only about speed and precision. We got a couple of quarts and copped some bags of weed and some Phillies, so then we jumped the turn style and walked to the end of the station. We walked down the stairs and proceeded to set up camp, took out the beers while they was still cold and stashed half of the paint and took the other half in case of a raid or beef.

We opened some of the doors on the train that was parked, turned on some of the lights and it was on. Kyle took out a flat white and started to draft the car. Drawing these incredible characters and land scapes. I started to get busy on a pannel doing some freestyle. What made Kyle and me click, is that we had two different forms of expressing ourselves. One was a figurative form and another was abstract. The respect we had for each other made it come together. He was painting a panther on one corner of the car. It was a Black Panther and I remember it took him 8 hours to do that corner. Kyle had patience to do things right. He was in no hurry and nobody was chasing us out. By Saturday 8:00 am we was still working on that car. I went upstairs to get some breakfast and some cold Old English (ghetto beer) and just lamped for a few lighting up a blunt and seeing how the train was advancing... catching a nap inside the train. By Saturday 1:00 pm some writer s walked into the tunnel It was some Ball Busters so we had to be on alert. They saw what we were doing and let us be. Never came back. Then West rolled up with his crew. We was like 'yo what's up 'and they went to work right away. By now Kyle started to work on his piece, cracking some fresh colors from the stash. It was Saturday 8:00 pm we just freaked out on that car. Other writers would pass by and say' what are you doing?' By the time they had finished painting their whole car and bombed the tunnel, clocked in their hours and started to get ready to leave.