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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.)

One side of a handball court covered with Keith Haring's "Crack is Wack."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."

Another side of Keith Harin's "Crack is Wack."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.

Espo's pack of gum near the Port Authority

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."

Tags by Revs and Cost on the High Line.

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.)

"The Allen Boys," a work by Lee from 1982 on the Lower East Side.

"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. 

Two pieces by Zephyr and Smith in Williamsburg, Brooklyn.

Zephyr, who painted the left side of the piece pictured above, got his start painting subway cars in the 1970s.

"He's also held in high esteem for his early work and can be seen in Style Wars and Wild Style," Lorimer said.

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.

Street art in Brooklyn by Pink.

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.

All photographs courtesy of Luna Park.

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Comments [10]

pittsburgh entertainment news

If you ever have the chance to visit Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania I would recommend that you stay in one of the hotels on the south bank of the Monongahela River located in a place called "Station Square". The views of the incredible Pittsburgh skyline rising up above the brown Monongahela River with its bridges and barges is amazing to say the least. There are all kinds of shops, stores and restaurants in Station Square and a clean, convenient subway / trolley (known locally as the "T") that provides easy access to the bustling downtown area known as the Golden triangle.

Jan. 20 2013 02:01 PM
JOHN RUSSO.............

GREAT WORK........................BUT YOU NEED TO FOCUS ON THE VERY EARLY GRAFF KING,S OF NYC...........WE ARE NOT GOING TO LIVE FOR EVER.................FOCUS,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,MRCOMETTHEIMMORTALONE.COM............PEACE.................2012...............

Dec. 11 2011 09:55 PM
Joe from New York

Eyesores. Every bit of it.

Oct. 25 2011 09:40 AM
Shadeed Ahmad from New York City

There is some wonderful graffiti in New York City that is art of mesmerizing urban vigor, in its often transcendent and crude-beauty.

Oct. 09 2011 08:01 AM
MICO from http://micoaslatinpride.com

To name this tour "A Tour of NYC's Coolest and Oldest Graffiti", is as inaccurate as calling "Writin' " "graffiti."

First of all, it should be called "A Tour of Manhattan Graffiti Spots." This way it doesn't give the impression that NYC does not include Brooklyn and The Bronx. Also, to call these spots the "Oldest" is misleading.

Sep. 22 2011 09:07 PM
a d

I love that espo piece and have seen it almost everyday for the better part of the last four years. I'm not sure if this is still there or not, but he did a piece on a riot gate downtown which you can't really tell if you're standing next to it. if you cross the street and look at it, you can see it's all negative space he paints over, and not his actual tag. he also did a similar negative piece right off of the jersey side heading into the holland tunnel (coming off of the turnpike, basically), but that has since been buffed.

Sep. 19 2011 05:15 PM

@Jax Loving the color in this shot: http://www.flickr.com/photos/27074236@N03/2638333473/in/photostream

Sep. 15 2011 09:00 AM
Jax from Jackson Heights, Queens

Queens has the best ,graffiti,
http://www.flickr.com/photos/27074236@N03/page4/

Sep. 14 2011 06:09 PM

@Julia Thanks for the details on Crack is Wack! I'm looking forward to checking out the Tony Dapolito Rec Center piece as well...Also, have corrected the year he panted the mural.

Sep. 13 2011 11:56 AM
Julia Gruen from New York City

Haring left PA in 1978. In 1986, 8 years after his arrival in NYC, Haring illegally painted the Crack is Wack mural, without city permission. He was ordered to paint it over, which he did. Haring's friend and then-Parks Commissioner Henry Stern quickly arranged the necessary permits, and Haring repainted the 2-sided mural with the city's authorization.

The Haring Foundation has touched up the mural repeatedly over the past 25 years, at its own cost. Due to extreme deterioration, the mural was finally repainted in full in 2007.

Another public Haring mural dating from 1987 is at the Tony Dapolito Recreation Center:
http://www.google.com/imgres?q=carmine+st+pool+haring&um=1&hl=en&rlz=1G1GGLQ_ENUS306&biw=1592&bih=603&tbm=isch&tbnid=6m9AHiuxcW_xrM:&imgrefurl=http://ny.curbed.com/archives/2011/07/21/heat_relief.php&docid=Rhp7yghSLpUaFM&w=153&h=120&ei=KW1vTu_JBubC0AGs0pTxCQ&zoom=1&iact=rc&dur=394&page=2&tbnh=96&tbnw=122&start=23&ndsp=22&ved=1t:429,r:9,s:23&tx=48&ty=65

Haring died in Feb 1990 at the age of 31

Sep. 13 2011 10:48 AM

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