Woodstock Gets Bombed
When I wrote, a few weeks ago, about the launch of the New York City Graffiti Art Show at the Varga Gallery on Tinker Street, I used the headline “Woodstock Goes Hip-Hop.” Turned out though, when I got to meet the artists in person at Saturday’s closing discussion/talk/paintout, that these particular people pre-dated hip-hop by a few years. The likes of LSD-Om, Revolt, and Flint… date their tagging days back to the very early 1970s, and hearing some of them talk about the rites, rules and regulations of their pioneering art form was fascinating. The most interesting talker was surely Crunch, who didn’t actually contribute to the exhibit but attended the closing to meet up with his old peeps given that he lives in our area now; once he joined the panel, he gleefully owned up to the pure criminality of his teenage art and lifestyle (e.g. he never paid for a single supply, stole the keys for the various trains lines from sleeping security guards at the depots, and frequently fought it out with rival graf crews) and yet insisted that they maintained a firm set of ethics throughout (no graffiti on private property, no churches, houses, cars; only park benches, subway trains and other public stuff that was “so ugly” it would benefit from the art).
Equally enthusiastic was KR. One, who exudes a likeably gruff Queens street persona that I doubt has changed much since the mid-70s when, at school at PS1 on Long Island City in the mornings, he’d proudly watch the trains he’d bombed the previous night roll past his home room. Examining the (commissioned) art he’d just contributed to the exterior walls of the Tinker Street Cinema outside the Varga Gallery, he explained to me how he personally felt that the association of graffiti art with the hip-hop generation was a misnomer, and that the original artists were born from the 1960s counter-culture, more likely to be listening to 1970s rock’n’roll and in fact served as inspiration for the kids from Harlem and the Bronx who turned graffiti into one of the four elements of hip-hop.
Journalist Steve Hager, who with fellow writer Carlo McCormick co-chaired a brief talk prior to the artists themselves, described how it felt to land in New York City from the mid-west in the late 1970s. “I thought Walt Disney had hired all these incredible artists to decorate the trains for us,” he said, admitting to extreme disappointment once he realized that not only was the art illegal but that the city was at war with the artists themselves! Hager held up a large framed photograph of a beautifully-bombed train to remind us just how detailed and creative some of this graffiti art could be – and also, inadvertently, of the essentially ephemeral nature of it all. “Did the City keep any of this art?” the elderly woman next to me asked, with the naivety that comes from living in Woodstock. “Hell no,” I replied, “they painted back over it all as soon as they could.”
In time, I imagine, the Tinker Street Cinema will also paint over its (commissioned) graffiti. For now, though, Woodstock has a welcome alternative to the endless tie-dye t-shirts and Bob Dylan posters that otherwise adorn Tinker Street. Props to all the artists who came to the town and changed the scenery.
See more Graffiti art, both from 1970s New York and from the present day, at www.graffiti.org