This article was posted by Dirty Dozen Crew 4 years, 6 months, 4 days, 5 hours, 24 minutes ago.

Finely Crafted.

KEO and DASH167 of the FC TC-5 X-MEN conglomerate are amongst the last practitioners of a traditional craft. You heard right… not a fine-art, not a “street-art”, a CRAFT.  Like Ship-Builders, or Old World Cabinet-Makers, style and technique is handed down from Master to Apprentice. Dues must be paid; rules and by-laws must be observed. Form necessarily follows Function.

Now, modern “Fine-art” has no rules.  You can pee in a hat, or saw a chicken in half, and display it in the MOMA. Not so with Writing. Writing must function first as communication, as letter forms. There is advanced geometry involved.

You see, I could spill ten gallons of yellow paint on the ocean and tell you it’s “art”, but if I try and tell you that it’s a ship… well, climb aboard and good luck making it across the Gulf Stream.

“Wait a muddascuntin’minute here” You interrupt, “ain’t we just talking about GRAFFITI?!!? ”  Well, yes… except “GRAFFITI” is a broad term, applied to everything from Gang Symbols to stenciled daffodils, to “Petey ‘N’ Bertha 4Ever”... from “Jefferson Starship Rules” to swastikas spray-painted on tombstones, from “Vote Bush in 2014” to a peace sign scratched in a window with a rock.  Now, while some of that may have a certain aesthetic beauty, it is as different from New York style writing as… I don’t know, as different as apples and nylon support hose? As cats and intellectual property? Whatever, the motivation is different, the ideology is different, the dedication and passion, the techniques and traditions, foundation, philosophy, methodology… all different. Call it whatever you want, but know this: there are THOUSANDS of people making graffiti around the world but only a handful of Writers practicing this craft.

The 12oz crew got an opportunity to document two of New York’s premier letter stylists doing what they do best. No stencils, no latex acrylic roller bucket paint, just nuff nuff spray cans and a rickety ol’ wooden ladder… no three dimensional lighting effects, no photo-realistic background muralism, and no talking orangutangs… just raw-dog 1986 style.  It’s about the letters.

01. Why do you write?

KEO: I started out just to belong to something, to have something I was good at. You know? I wasn’t the best ball player, or the best dancer, or the toughest kid on the block, or popular with the girls, but I had some artistic talent and I figured this was something I could do. Everyone says they do it for the fame, but I was never really motivated by that. I still don’t care about being the best known writer; I just want to be the best writer. I just want to burn, I’m very competitive. I always painted different names and didn’t even care if anyone knew it was me or not. The pieces that influenced me when I was a kid, I never knew who painted them, dudes had mad aliases, I just knew they were fresh. I guess I’m like that in my life as well, I’ve done lots of well known graphic work, I’ve even ghost written albums and worked on best selling books, I just don’t attach my name to it. Those who know know. I like that.

DASH167: From a graff perspective, I still write because I feel a responsibility, in fact, an urgency, to preserve and defend the true aesthetic of this culture from the epidemic of Kitsch that has infected our ranks and is taking over the scene on a global level.

From a social perspective, I do it because writing on walls is the last uncensored form of social discourse. In a society where we are drowned in utopian propaganda, and public space is controlled, people need to see that somebody other than the government and the corporations has something to say, that real people are going to lengths to communicate.

02. When did you start?

KEO: Wow. I have been writing as long as I could write. I guess I started hitting my neighborhood and school yards around 1976, but I say I started in 1979 because that was the year I first hit trains. Back then if you weren’t on the lines, you were just a neighborhood toy. Street bombing didn’t really count then. I wrote from ‘79 to ‘86. I was never a king or anything, but I was in the mix. I quit in ‘86 and didn’t come back til ’96.

DASH167: I got into graff in the Fall of ‘82 and started tagging up around the way later that year. That was the beginning of 7th grade, which was my first year attending public school. By ‘83 I had started drawing in black books and I tried my first pieces in the summer of ‘84.

03. Who are your mentors?

KEO: I have been fortunate to have so many teachers throughout the years. I guess the first real writers to school me were my older brother’s friends from I.S.293 like STRIKE R.T.W. and a kid named KANSUR. After that it was SAKE T.P.C.  G.N.D and SET3 in like 1978. Later when I got to high school in 1980, it was CES157 T.N.T., back in Brooklyn JAMES T.O.P., SOE X-MEN from Queens and dudes like that. Mostly I just bit a little of everything that I liked and put it together. I still learn from people all the time, even younger cats teach me things. Every time I paint with a DOC or a PART or Chain3, whoever, I’m studying.

DASH167: My cousin and original partner, SECRET, who got me into writing and taught me how to do letters and characters. WEST, who gave me the foundation of the FC style when I got down with the crew, and has taught me countless other things over the years. DOZE also gave me style and elaborated on the esoteric knowledge of the ancients. MARE 139 introduced me to a number of abstract lettering concepts and philosophies.

04. Who have you mentored?

KEO: I have shown a lot of people style, influenced a bunch of writers. I really only taught a handful, some of whom have gone on to be much better than me. WEST is a great example, I got him started in 1980, gave him his first letters and everything, he went on to be King of B’way. He also went on to teach me a lot!  REAS is another guy, I’d like to think I influenced him a little, and he went on to do pretty well for himself.  But with most of my boys, we were always learning together, influencing each other.

DASH167: I have schooled a few writers, but most notable are TEAL, VIEW2, and CRUDE OIL (R.I.P). I’m proud of them, because I gave them style, but they took it to another level and became masters in their own right.

05. Who influences you stylistically, and why?

KEO: If I had to pick one guy whose style had the greatest impact on me, it would be DONDI. I used to try to get him to teach me stuff, back at the Fun Gallery and Washington Sq. Park, but he only ever wanted to talk about bicycles. But I bit more off that dude than a little bit. Early on, a lot of dudes in my neighborhood influenced me like ROTO, SCAR56, DEAL NSA, and SAM NSA. I also really dug the older stuff, SLAVE, HURST, HATE168, all the DEATH SQ. dudes CHAIN, PART, KOOL131, PESO, NOC. KASE2, DOZE TC-5. I‘m influenced by a lot of dudes, if only to inspire me to try and burn them.

DASH167: WEST, POKE, DOZE, TACK, WEB, SKEME. Their styles were among my early points of reference, and the work they did 25 or more years ago still burns today. SERVE and ZAME keep me motivated because they continue raising the bar.

06. What crews do you write for, and why?

KEO: GND, X-MEN, FC, BYI, TOP, TC-5. (and I list them in the order that I got down) I’m down with a lot of other crews, but those are all like my family. If I never hit a train with you, thumped out some beef with you, if you haven’t been to my house or I’ve been to yours, or if your kid don’t call me Uncle Keo, then a crew is just three extra letters to waste paint on. Basically, if you’re not someone I would call when the shit hit the fan and the guns come out, it’s not really crew. 

DASH167: I write for FC, first and foremost, then IBM, FBA, COD, TC5 and ROC. I’m down with other crews, but these guys are family to me.

07. What is the function of a crew?

KEO: Initially, it was about safety in numbers. If you got caught in the yard dolo, you might have to run your paint. But it evolves into a stylistic unity as well. You could have different strengths within the crew, one guy’s the outline master, another is the character man, another guy is a genius at racking paint. Together you are able to be better than the sum of the parts. Nowadays, for me it’s more about camaraderie, tradition, and keeping style alive, passing it on to the newer members of the crew.

DASH167: To establish a unified front. There is power in numbers, as a group it’s easier to build up a name, enforce the unwritten code of the street and protect each other in times of trouble. I think that now most crews are more concerned with preserving their legacy and passing their style and history to the younger members who will carry the torch into the future.

08. What is the foundation of your style?

KEO: It’s really all about proper letter forms. I’m striving to get to the point where, if you removed all the color, all the arrows, connections and embellishment, it would STILL be a burner. Characters and backgrounds and all that is secondary. Not even secondary, that’s what you do if you have extra paint left over! A lot of dudes can dazzle you with embellishment and ornamentation, but if you stripped all that away, you would find out they had put rims, ground effects kit, and candy paint on a busted geo metro. No letters under all them arrows. It’s like trying to build a house from the top down. Picking your curtains without pouring your foundation. Get a level and a plum-bob, Buddy.

DASH167: I can tailor my pieces to reflect the style of the crew I’m representing, but the foundation of my style is a hybrid of FC and IBM style, circa 1985. At that time WEST and POKE were contemporizing letterforms and design elements that had been passed down through generations of style masters.

09. What makes your style unique or original?

KEO: I don’t think I have done much that’s original; I am still trying to master traditional letter forms. Most style was perfected already by 1977. There only so much you can do with ‘em, only so far you can bend a “K” until it turns into an “S”. I guess I did a few little things that were innovative here and there. Like when I combined the Softy style with a Mechanical, hard-edged skeleton busting out. I’ve seen a lot of dudes bite that one.

DASH167: Somebody once commented that my letters looked like they were “doing the wop”. That’s because I use a typographical approach, so the rhythm of my tags, carries over into my pieces. I capitalize on that flow, then push it further by experimenting with line, curve and direction. I’m also concerned with the unseen understructure of my pieces so I’m very particular about white space, juxtaposition and how the letters interact. Sometimes I’m inspired more by Geometry and Physics than I am by actual graffiti. My philosophy is both minimalist and complex, but basically I try to design advanced letterforms without compromising the traditional aesthetic. I think that’s something writers have come to expect of my style.

10. Both of you have worked as commercial/graphic artists, how does this relate to your graffiti writing?

KEO: I want to say it doesn’t relate at all, because I try to keep the two things really separate. One is a vocation, the others an avocation, but then, of course everything I do is informed by graffiti, even if you can’t see it, if I’m doing a totally straight corporate logo. Graff was my university. Also, on the social side of it, most of my boys who work in graphics also write so we wind up working together or referring each other work all the time.

DASH167: Technically, I’ve been manipulating letters and graphics since I was 12, so it was natural to gravitate towards design. In turn, many aspects of visual communication that I’ve employed as a designer, I can also apply directly to graffiti.

11. Where do you see graffiti writing going and how has it changed?

KEO: I don’t know where it’s going, hopefully back on the subway where it belongs. It has changed significantly since the trains got clean. The game is more in the streets where there is less time to really flex style, it has kind of devolved back to the earliest days of single hits and primitive throw-ups. Also the internet has had a huge effect on the game worldwide, graffiti is just too accessible now. You used to have to know someone, to part of an inner circle, now any kid in Knucklebuck Iowa can type “WILDSTYLE LETTER ALPHABET” into google and feel like he is on the right path. But the truth isn’t always on wiki, you know?

DASH167: People are always going to write on walls, the tools and techniques will continue to improve, but STYLE as we know it, is in trouble right now.

12. *Special Bonus* “Freestyle” Question; anything else you want to speak on?

KEO: Yes, I would like to thank the ladies in my life who keep my graffiti drenched brain from cracking up. Furthermore, I would like to say “Woof” and “Wombat”.

DASH167: To be considered good, letters have to function on their own, and a “piece” needs to look correct without all the smoke and mirrors that most writers depend on these days.

© Dirty Dozen Crew & 12ozProphet - Tuesday April 20, 2010

There currently aren't any comments for this entry. Why not be the first..?

Speak Up...

You must be a 12ozProphet member and logged in to participate. Registration is FREE and it only takes a minute, so Sign Up now. As a 12ozProphet member you'll be able to comment, save and vote on content, message other users and get access to many other member-only features.

Click here to Login or click here to Sign Up for an account on 12ozProphet.