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A Tour of NYC's Coolest and Oldest Graffiti
Tuesday, September 13, 2011
The Richard Hambleton retrospective at Phillips de Pury & Company is only on view through Tuesday. But there's still plenty of historic graffiti around town to cast your eye over.
With the help of graffiti aficionada Katherine Lorimer (who snaps shots of street art as Luna Park), WNYC has created a tour of five of the coolest and oldest pieces of graffiti around town. Scroll down to see our picks and check out a map of the spots here.
Graffiti Stop No. 1: "Crack Is Wack" by Keith Haring at Harlem River Drive and E. 128th St. Keith Haring moved to New York from Pittsburgh in 1978. Eight years later, he created his "Crack Is Wack" piece on two sides of a handball court that sits beside the Harlem River Drive at E. 128th St. He created the piece during a time when HIV/AIDS and the crack epidemic were hitting the city hard. (Haring himself tragically died of AIDS in 1990 at age 31.)
The handball murals, which sit in a (now) official New York City park called the Crack Is Wack Playground, are covered with Haring's iconic crawling, dancing and jumping figures.
"At the time, it was painted illegally," Lorimer said. "But after his rise in the art world and his early death, his estate helped restore the mural in 2007. And it's been essentially kept up ever since."
The "Crack is Wack" murals are some of the few Haring works left in the city that are accessible to the public. (Haring's foundation restored another mural on the corner of Houston St. and the Bowery in 2008, but it has since been painted over.)
Graffiti Stop No. 2: A fresh ESPO-flavored pack of gum at W. 40th St. and Ninth Ave. Philadelphia native Stephen Powers used to be known around town by his tag: ESPO. At the southwest corner of W. 40th St. and Ninth Ave., high up on the wall, you'll find this Easter egg he painted: a neat pack of ESPO-flavored gum.
Powers painted the piece in the early '90s. Since then, he has been making his mark high up on Philly and Syracuse roofs and buildings with his massive signature love letters, which now appear in downtown Brooklyn. He's also painted a series of quotes by ad man David Ogilvy onto the walls of the New York Ogilvy & Mather offices.
"What's interesting to me about ESPO is that he, kind of more than any of his contemporaries, has very successfully walked the fine line between graffiti and advertising," Lorimer said. "'Cause if you think about it, what is graffiti but the ultimate in name-brand recognition?"
Graffiti Stop No. 3: A signature roller piece by REVS and COST on the High Line ESPO used to work with REVS, an extremely mysterious, underground street artist (and ironworker by day) who was notorious for spelling out his tag name in multi-story roller pieces across the city during the '90s. The remnant of one that he did with his partner Adam Cost (tag name: COST) sits high up on a building wall at 23rd St. and Tenth Ave. The REVS COST piece has been buffed, but you can still make out the iconic tags, which are best studied from the High Line.
"Before the High Line was turned into the beautiful manicured park that it is today, it was something of a graffiti playground," said Lorimer. "Which is true of many abandoned and forgotten places across the city."
You can learn more about REVS in the This American Life episode "Cat and Mouse" (listen in at 55:18). Or check out another one of his pieces on the Brooklyn side of the Williamsburg bridge.
"It's a landmark as far as I'm concerned," said Lorimer, who seeks it out on her daily subway commute. "Others might consider it an eyesore, but it makes me happy to see it every day."
Graffiti Stop No. 4: "The Allen Boys Mural" by Lee Quiñones at 201 Allen St. This faded head of a figure wearing a gas mask/fighter pilot helmet is all that's left in the city by one of the legends of the subway art movement: Lee Quiñones. "The Allen Boys Mural" was painted by Quiñones in 1982 with spraypaint on a residential parking lot wall on Allen St. just south of Houston St. (Check out what the piece used to look like in all its glory here.)
"It's interesting because it's one of the very few pieces from the 1980s that has survived at all," Lorimer said. "He [Quiñones] got his start painting trains in the 1970s and has since transitioned to a successful fine arts career. He was one of several artists recently invited by the Museum of Contemporary Arts in Los Angeles to paint a collaborative production mural on the exterior of the building in honor of the recent 'Art in the Streets' exhibit."
Quiñones, whose tag name is Lee, was born in Ponce, Puerto Rico, and grew up on the Lower East Side.
Graffiti Stop No. 5: A collaborative production mural by Zephyr, Smith and Pink at S. 9th St. and Havemeyer St. Hop over to south Williamsburg, Brooklyn to check out a collaborative production mural made in 1994 by Ket, Klass, Zephyr, Smith and Pink. Although only the Zephyr, Smith and Pink pieces remain today, the mural is well worth the trip.
Zephyr, who painted the left side of the piece pictured above, got his start painting subway cars in the 1970s.
The Smith piece can also be seen in the picture above to the right. To the right of Smith's piece is a painting by Pink, shown in the picture below, "which is kinda' cool and swirly and psychedelic and typical of her style," Lorimer said.
Find this mural by going to S. 9th St. and Havemeyer St. Then, look for the long wall with pink and yellow splashes in between the stretch of parks that runs between two housing complexes.
Do you have a favorite piece of graffiti in the city? Please let us know in the comments section below.