One of the things we've been hearing a lot of this Banksytober is some variation of "Yeah he's OK and all but if wasn't for guys like this NYC graffiti legend and that NYC graffiti legend, there wouldn't even BE a Banksy. People should show some respect to the writers who invented this shit, right here in New York!"
Well, then, here's your chance.
Every Saturday from now through November 23, the Red Bull Studio on West 18th opens its doors for Write of Passage, a sprawling exhibition on the history of NYC graffiti, focussing mainly on the golden age from the early 1970s through the mid 1980s. Including tags, stickers, and throw ups from the likes of Dondi White, NE, Cost, Zephyr, Chris Pape (aka Freedom), Easy, Mare 139, Haze, Alan Bortman, Futura, Moses 147, Claudia Claw Money and dozens more, the show offers fans of today's street art a nice little survey course of the medium's roots, and for those of us getting on in years, there's enough pure nostalgia here to deliver actual chills.
Write of Passage is curated by Mass Appeal and Sacha Jenkins, who has been a promoter, archivist and sometime practitioner of the art form—what he calls the "language of the street"—for several decades now. There are tons of cool things to look at here, but of special note would be Dondi White's "King Ad-Rock" piece, loaned by Adam Horovitz for the show; the cabinet of classic writers' tools, like Flo-Master ink containers, (stolen) subway door keys, and plenty of spray; and the wall of vintage 80s graffiti stickers.
There are also several installations within the exhibition, including a tattoo parlor from writer-turned-tattooist Mr. Kaves, and an actual-size "subway car " canvas, bombed here in the studio by real-life rival crews The Magnificent Team (TMT) and The Cool 5 (TC5).
Last night's preview party for the show was packed with writers both current and classic. Everybody was getting amped on Red Bull (of course) and the old school hip hop was cranked up loud. Much of the night felt like a reunion of sorts, with people tagging up each other's books, writing on the walls of the "construction site" installation, any beefs checked at the door.
On a personal note, it was great to meet Dondi's brother Michael, and a thrill to chat for a bit with Lee Quinones, aka LEE. Learning graffiti's language on the trains and streets in the late 1970s—and contributing to the conversation even in the smallest way—was an important rite of a passage back then for a certain segment of NYC teenagers, as I guess it is still to this day. Write of Passage does a nice job of plugging into that old energy, even in the decidedly non-gritty surroundings of the Red Bull Academy.
You can see Write of Passage every Saturday from 1:00 to 5:00 p.m. from now through November 23. Red Bull Studio is at 218 West 18th Street, between 7th and 8th Avenues.