INTERVIEW TAKEN FROM LSD MAGAZINE
Issue Two – Booting off the Doors – 2009
What is the 5 Pointz?
The 5 Pointz is a 200,000 square foot warehouse in Queens, New York, basically an entire city block. It was originally set up in 1993 as the Phun Phactory as a legit space for artists to come and drop pieces, but when it closed and fell into disrepair, I negotiated with the landlord to take the place over and reopened it as an outdoor exhibit space called the 5 Pointz – The Institute of Higher Burnin. 5 Pointz represents the coming together of the 5 New York boroughs and until a few months ago, we had about 90 resident artists who rented studio space in the building and we used the outside as a controlled canvas for local and international artists to come, drop pieces and contribute to the overall story. The building is 5 industrial stories high, and as you can see, we pretty much managed to cover the whole exterior in aerosol.
What’s your story, how did you get into aerosol.
I’ve been writing for over 20 years now. When I was young I’d always been into art but didn’t really know anything about graffiti. I flipped through some of the graffiti books that were around at the time, started doing black books and putting some sketches and some characters together, began meeting people who’d explain it to me a little deeper and give me some insights into the art, and then I really started to notice it properly. Then one day, I saw this smurf painted up on a wall, and, being there, looking at that, seeing how it had been done, really inspired me and awoke me to the realization that this was what I wanted to be doing. So I started tagging in my neighborhood, moved into tagging different neighborhoods and I was rolling.
Why did you go from the streets to a legit warehouse – what possibilities did the space open up and what’s the vibe like?
Well straight away, you can really put together some amazing, well thought out pieces, work up an intricately designed, elaborate background, and really concentrate on detail. You can come back to your piece, even a day or 2 later, think about it, perfect it, bring in new twists. Think about it, on the streets, throwing up illegally, you’ve got that window of opportunity and then you are DONE. You know, you’re permanently looking over your shoulder making sure you don’t get rolled on by the police, or even other writers who might be rivals or whatever. So 5 Pointz – it’s a relaxed creative atmosphere. We used to have permanent artists with their own space until very recently, and there’s a regular community of people, young and old, who come and hang out and keep the space alive and buzzing. We get DJ’s coming in, MC’s, artists visiting from all over the world to leave their mark and swap ideas, and it’s a vibrant, creative, expressive environment. In any one day you’ll have graffiti artists doing walls, kids sketching out their black books, a DJ dropping beats and breakdancers are doing their thing on the floor. It’s totally community based and completely non violent. Really talented kids and teenagers can find their voice here and hang out, be cool, be safe – we’ve got 2 young talents who live in Westchester and STILL come in 3 times a week and a very talented graffiti and tattoo artist called Sey who’s in a wheelchair and he comes over from as far as Pennsylvania every couple of weeks. There’s a lot of stories behind that place, a lot of people that come – it’s a great, positive environment.
As a visiting artist, how do you qualify to drop a piece?
Well that’s the thing…everybody has the right to drop a piece. From when I began, I wanted everyone to start out with that equal right. Now if you’re not that good, or if you’re what they call a ‘toy’, then your piece will last, well, a limited amount of time! But if you’re a lot more talented it can really stay up for a long time, a year even maybe, whatever. But don’t forget – you could be the most talented graffiti artist in the entire world, shit hot famous or whatever….but if you come and do your piece, but don’t really put the effort in, don’t do a background, then you’re piece just ain’t going to last as long as it would have. It goes on the performance – you pull out all the effort, really work hard, then it’ll be up for a good long while! We had these German artists a while back who had made it their goal to come and do a piece on the building and when they came I said to them, forget the piece, why not do a real production, sure, it’ll take a little more time, you’ll have to stay longer, but you’ve come all this way, if you put that extra effort in, your work will be up that much longer too. I also target specific artists who’s work I’m into and I respect. But with a lot of the artists, you put a little nudge on them and they’re even excelling themselves – and with all this wall space, all this art, it gives the 5 Pointz a real museum quality. That’s what we’re really going for now, with the artists gone from the inside, my goal is to reforge the 5 Pointz as a graffiti art museum
Do you end up with more collaborations than on the street?
Well the problem with that is, that space in the 5 Pointz is kind of like real estate. You know, you as an artist have managed to get that space for your piece, it’s going to be your one piece in the 5 Pointz, so it’s personal.
Do you paint as much as ever or do you sometimes get consumed by running the place?
I’ve learned through the years. No-one has ever done this before so I’m building it and learning as I go. Nowadays, painting times for artists coming in are weekend daytimes and by appointment only during the week. I used to be open 7 days a week all day, but I had to break it down into set hours, because it really impacted my personal life, my relationships, and just physically. So now, when I want to paint, I’ll do it in the week, but don’t get me wrong, it’s almost impossible for me to do a piece at the 5 Pointz uninterrupted – there’s always something I have to deal with. And it’s stressful at times – no doubt. But if I’m really feeling the painting, I’ll leave home at 6am, in by 7 and I’ve got a good 4/5 hours on my own before everybody else starts to show up.
What’s the current status of the space
We had a real tragedy this year. An exterior staircase collapsed and one of the artists who had a studio space was on her way down the stairs and she fell 40 feet and landed with a pile of rubble on her that it took 16 people to lift off , but she lived….she lived – it was a total miracle. Apart from the personal sadness, had she died, there’s no doubt that it would have been the end of it all. But after the collapse, the building authorities came in and certified the building unsafe and dug up all the violations that had been swept under the rug for years. So we were closed down and all the artists had to leave and the landlord was forced to fix all of these building flaws. In practice, that basically meant everything being concreted over and the legendary outside painted over – even all the high graffiti. The Hall of Fame in Harlem, which is pretty much the biggest in New York apart from us…..that has maybe 30 pieces….The 5 Pointz?…..We had between 300 and 400. The place was like a war zone. But you know, the second we got it back, I went out and hired a crane, and in one month, we threw fresh paint on about 92% of the high exterior. We finally ran out of time on the crane hire, and so there’s still about 20 spaces left to fill, but I’m going to go get it back in a couple of weeks, finish it up and do more. But you know – it’s like a clean slate, new energy…. All the pieces I used to see up there, reminded me of everything old and it was the right time – totally by accident to start anew. And some of the repairs that were forced onto the place opened up access to even more outside wall space – we can push it further than ever before, and I’m going for the Guinness Book of Records for the most covered building. But I tell you – that time repainting the outside once the repairs were done…… I had to drive the crane for every single piece. You’re looking at anywhere between 2 and 5 hours for each piece, so I was stuck in this 3×6 foot bucket for like 15 hours a day for a solid month. That was definitely a test of will, and physically agonizing, not being even able to stand up, or walk a couple of paces to stretch out. And you know, there’s no salary…this is all about the love.
What does the future hold?
The building has a limited amount of time, no doubt. Someone for sure is going to want to come along, see it as prime real estate and want to build apartment blocks. But on the flip side, I’ve been hearing this for years, and right now with the economy being a little funky, I’d say we’ve got that much more time – couple of years maybe? BUT… I know that money talks and I know that paperwork talks but I really want to make a museum out of this. It’s the only thing I have left to really do with the 5 Pointz, the only level left to reach. The walls, the outside….it’’s reached it’s peak and couldn’t really get any better. You know, maybe one wall looked a little better this year, another looked a little better last year, but overall, the system especially from the outside is maxed out and I can’t really expect anything more. So now I want to move my efforts towards the inside. But the time is now – I look at how fast all the studio artists had to leave….the same could happen to all of us at any time. This is the moment
I’ve just signed a contract with a grant writing firm. I went to them with the museum idea and they said that it’s a real possibility, to the extent that they took on the contract pro bono, so if we don’t succeed, they aren’t getting paid. Through my relationship with them, I’ll also get a pro bono lawyer representing the 5 Pointz, and so right there, there’s 2 major pieces to the puzzle. On top of that, I’ve been in meetings with a nameless individual who has come forward and said that he wants to help us, and this person has the power to point us in the right direction for funding. So there are a lot of positive signs – it’s going to take a lot of work and an endless stream of paper and procedure but I firmly believe it’s going to happen. A lot of people tell me I’m crazy – but then a lot of people said exactly the same thing when I told them I was going to cover the building from top to bottom. I know it’s going to happen. You have to be here to feel the magic
INTERVIEW TAKEN FROM LSD MAGAZINE
Issue Two – Booting off the Doors – 2009