Monday, November 17, 2008

Joey TPA New York Graffiti Since 1972

Hi Joe thanks for taking time out to chat with us today about the early days of NYC graffiti probably best place to start is by telling us what you have written and how you got into graffiti over 30 years ago?

Aww heck, if I told you the truth, you wouldn’t believe it, but here goes, coz I believe in telling it like it is. In 1972, I was truckin’ home in a zig-zag sort of way and saw some girls hanging out in a little clique under some tree on a corner in the bedroom community of New York City, a place called Queens. I was born in Brooklyn and moved to Queens with mom and dad for a better chance. Anyhow, these 4 little girls were all writing in something called a slam-book, a sort of private community diary for the females in our class. They wouldn’t let me read it, but they did let me see how they fixed up the cover with methods they used; sparkles glitter and what especially caught my eye, was the cool cursive and curly-twirly letters they used. I also noted that none of them used their real name. Instead, they had an alias. I guess you can see where I’m going. These 4 bad little girls took out some toy markers and dropped their “tags” on the light-post, mailbox and fire-alarm box right there in broad daylight. I was hooked. Next thing you knew, “PRESTO” was born. Names like “TITAN” and “LIL’ MOUSE” followed, but were eventually replaced with longer standing and more recognizable names like “JOE-188”, “ROCKET-88”, “RC-3”, “JOEY TC” and “JOEY TPA”. All that went down from 1972 to my last days in actual graffiti writing, in or about 1981.

You are also one of the founding members of TPA what is the importance of a crew in graffiti?

It’s has the same importance as it would to any group. Through solidarity came security and fraternity. Socialization and the exchange of energy and thoughts were part of that. You had your guys and they had you. You had homies in all sections of a huge city with over 6 million people in it. Always a place to crash, to eat, to hang, to hide if need be. TPA was huge, with numbers well into 1000+ at its hi-points. VADE TPA was our Daddy. He was the committed and occasionally irascible innovator of the truest kind. VADE put up with no shit, and had your back without question. Funny thing is, I had to take HIS back quite often as you can guess. DEMO TPA was the other 1/3 of this thing called TPA He was definitely the mercurial humor behind us, I used to call him the black Irishman. JOEY TPA was the glue that held it all down with a slice of pizza in his hand at every turn, even in the yards. What an origin -Three very different dudes, but all in line, with mad love for each other and what we did, graffiti in its purest form. Without a good crew, it would have been hard to be successful because we naturally fed off one another. Some people might say we were like a pack of 3 semi-domesticated wolves.

I suppose over the last 30 years you've seen some changes in graffiti, what do you think are the most important and where do you think it's going?

The most noticeable change to me is that graffiti has become globally rampant. It is also further accepted as a legitimate art form. What basically started out as an illegal way to pass time on the Northeastern Atlantic seaboard in the United States has morphed into a profitable business venue for writers all over the world. Another huge change I have seen is the evolution of the materials used and the application and skill methods involved. Between the paint, the pigments now available, the tools like (caps and nozzles and markers), an art that was once considered a “poor kids” pass-time has become an expensive but affordable hobby or potential career.

I know we sponsor a fair few writers here in the UK and it seems most of them have had their houses raided, seems like a big crime these days, you must have had some close scrapes?

You know, I could include this as an answer to your last question. I’ve seen graffiti become more legal and accepted, but I have also seen it become more widely contested and with MUCH stiffer penalties. There’s always going to be grey areas in anything controversial, but I do think that the persecution of certain individuals has been extremely unfair and almost criminal in itself. However, I also accept that some individuals do indeed commit some pretty bad stuff out there that makes it tough on everyone involved, especially those who are rally innocent. You have to surround yourself with the right people and realize you will be judged by your peers and especially more so, by the external onlooker who tends to make a snap-judgment. I personally have had some close scrapes, but without the penalties a writer can suffer today. Personally, I don’t know it’s really worth it nowadays to risk a life-changing stint for the sake of getting up. Back then, graffiti amounted to misdemeanors, today it’s automatically a heavy felony. I think its bull.

Along with the serious side there must be some funny stories that stand out for you?

Hell yes! Part of the lore was the dark humor in it all. I mean really…think about it. Back then, we were surrounded by the fascination of cartoon characters. Cartoons and comics are vehicles of humor. It may have been brash, but it was also a trip to see an 8 meter tall Donald Duck rolling into your home station on your way to work one morning. Imagine someone’s face when the doors to a train welcomed you with an ear-to-ear smiling Yosemite Sam. Getting chased for racking your cans or even out of a lay-up had its own terror, but it was a terror that made you laugh so hard you pissed your pants after all was said and done. (Provided you got away of course)

And again what gave you the most satisfaction?

For me, it was standing on the platform of any subway line in NYC and seeing the TPA CREW consistently roll by, represented by well over 25-50 dedicated writers at any given time, on the insides, the outsides, and all over the system. Every stairwell, every turnstile, every token booth, every station, every goddam train and bus for Chrissakes! In a city like NYC, that’s infinite and that’s why TPA became one of the giants. It all started with 3 kids.

OK so these days I believe that you don’t get involved with the activity but are still involved with graffiti and TPA?

Hehehe. All things come to pass, my man. All things come to pass. Keep in mind, another great change in this thing we call graffiti is that when I was practicing it, we (all of the writers), were young teenagers. Today, most of the writers are grown men. What does that tell you? I involve myself with the promotion and support of legalized graffiti (because the penalties are so stiff and I’m a bit concerned for the welfare of youngsters nowadays), and because I want to see a healthy outlet for up and comers as well as for the oldsters that have art in their veins. The thrill of being covert still applies, I admit, but one has to weigh the scales in their own personal world to decide what’s up.

And what about Street Level 9 what's that and where's it going?

SL-9 is headed in the direction of being a successful manufacturer and provider of casual apparel dedicated to young men and women. SL-9 and TPA actively sponsor deejays like Cocheze who was the traveling dj for KRS-1 as well as up-and-coming skateboarders who want to go pro. We try to maintain a sharp business model to accommodate the mid-range price points to ensure that retailers and their customers alike are happy with a well-made and healthy product. We keep it edgy, but clean. By attending events all over the world, we keep the SL-9 name rolling off people’s lips as well as in their line of vision. We maintain a cool blog at where you can catch up on a slew of different events and news in and out of the graffiti community, but still, all in the mix.

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Anonymous SL-9 said...

Great to see JOEY TPA still getting up, thanks to dope bloggers like the heads over at sturban clothing!

Stay up and stay sprayed!

7:00 pm  

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