Dero TFA Interview with Montana Colors – Tales From The Underground
For starters, give us a little background about yourself and your history in graffiti.
For those who don’t know, my given name is Blue, Mr. Blue, to some and in the graff world, DERO. I was born in Manhattan. In the early part of my career, Manhattan, was my stomping grounds, but I resided in the Bronx and started writing graffiti locally around 1980. I am the proud father of four children and have been in the graffiti game for over thirty years.
From the beginning of 1985 until 1988, I believe, there cannot be much of a dispute that I had more pieces on the #2 and #5 subway lines than anyone else during that time period. From 1988 until 1996, an ugliness began to transpire, due to the incredible amount of beefs and money which had now entered the graffiti world. The scene was no longer the same. Therefore, I quit writing and did not return until 2012 , due to popular demand… LOL… which is outlined below. I am a member of TFA, TFP, TC5, TBI, FC, TOA, MBT, TCS and am an affiliate of several other crews which I do not put up due to their already established superstar status.
How did you get into graffiti?
Before I get started, I would like to thank Montana for their interest in me and the resulting interview. My beginnings into graffiti are not very simple. When I first took notice of graffiti, I was hanging out in Harlem with my cousin, Al and was overtaken by an old Mitch77 train. Al then told me that he went to school with a very famous graffiti artist and that his sister, my cousin, Gina, also went out with a graffiti artist. At this time, my interests were really peaked. Soon thereafter, I met my cousin Gina’s boyfriend, Jimmy, a super cool cat who wrote Hast. He was a member of TBI and was a close friend of UA2 and the legendary Baby168 TVS. Jimmy then started showing me and my cousin, Al, drawings on paper from UA2 and we were mesmerized. Shortly thereafter, my cousin Al somehow obtained a black book from the legendary Dez TFA. From that point on, I knew this was all I wanted to do.
From the beginning you had your own personal style, but we want to know who were your inspirations?
Well, first of all, the initial viewing of that Mitch77 train was what set me in motion. My cousin’s boyfriend, Hast, who brought us the drawings from UA2 and spoke highly of Baby168, made me seek out more of his artwork. But, without question, my final inspiration would be my man, Dezzy Dez. Now known to the rest of the world as Dj Kay Slay..
What are you looking for in your style, what is most important?
As far as I’m concerned, style should be something that we, as artists, should be defined by. It should have a certain definitive flow in which the style comes together. For instance, when an artist reaches a certain plateau, there should be no question as to their style. I believe the most important element of style would probably be the cleanliness in which it is displayed and, most importantly, the letter structure. I always look for the effort put forth and the detail in which a so-called style master or any up and coming artist puts into his pieces. That, I feel, is what determines what kind of individual the artist is. For example, some individuals will put forth maximum effort each and every time, while other individuals will just give up and look to move on to their next piece. So, for me, the determining factor is maximum effort every time. This, in the long run, defines the difference between a true style master and the rest of the pack.
You were out of the scene for so many years, what made you come back?
Truth be told, I had no desire whatsoever to come back into the art form that I pretty much gave my whole life to. However, a fire and a sadness burned inside my heart for all those years, so I’m going to give you the true story. I was going to the bank in my neighborhood for my Mom and ran into an old friend, who I had known for many years. He also is a famous graffiti artist, who is known to the world as Nicer, Tats Cru.
We started talking and he told me to come by his office and say what’s up to the fellas, Bio and BG183. At that time, I told him I had no desire and if I had time I would pass through. A day or so later, I got out of work early, I called Nicer and he asked me to pass by. He then told me to meet him and the fellas on Drake Avenue, in the Hunts Point section of the Bronx. I was very hesitant as I knew they were painting there with others and I didn’t want to rehash the old graff stuff. Something inside just told me to go, so I did. Upon arrival, there were a dozen or so new artists, unknown to me, putting up awesome pieces on the Drake Avenue wall in the Bronx. Bio, another long time friend, told them all who I was and they all came back to meet me. I was overtaken by the love and great conversation these individuals had for me. At that moment, I could feel the adrenaline rushing through my body and knew it would be a short time before I got back into action. I could not for the life of me, ever imagine, that the paint they used and their artistic abilities would have been so advanced. I was overwhelmed.
On that day, I met a really great bunch of individuals. The group included: Dmote, Jick, Vizie, Jurne, Enue and Kash. These young men embraced and inspired me in a way that I didn’t think possible. When I saw their eye melting color palette and and their diverse funky individual styles, I knew this was what I wanted to do again. Two days later, Nicer and Bio kidnapped me, threw me in a truck and the rest, at the time of this writing, is history. Thank you, Tats Cru!
Which things do you miss from the past? Which things do you like from the present?
I miss the trains from the past, without question, which for me will always remain the greatest adrenaline rush! As for the present, I really enjoy the international camaraderie.
About the paint (brands are not necessary), the past and the present:
The paint from my time was mostly high pressure and you had to be fast with skills to be able to master it. It was not an overnight process. Today, most of the paint seems to be low pressure and there are all types of specialized caps. All of which I feel makes it a much easier transition. Not to say that today’s artists that use the modern paints don’t possess skills because they most certainly do; however, there is no way they would have been able to pull off the special effects the same way using Old School brands such as Krylon, Rustoleum and Red Devil. I can not speak for all of the artists of my time but I can honestly say I’m impressed with all of the new techniques. I love the evolution of graff from my time through the present.
Writers that you are looking at these days:
This is a really tough question! There are too many egos and too much bravado. I’m going to decline to answer, even though I would like to. So instead, a big shout out to all of the incredible and inspiring female artists and bombers worldwide. Do your thing ladies! This is something I’m really happy to see…
Please tell us an anecdote of your writer life:
Here is a story about how my graff career almost came to a standstill. It was probably about late 85 or early 86, a period when I was fairly established on the trains.
It was brought to my attention that PJAY, UA had started going over some of my pieces. A day or so after this discovery, I saw PJAY on the East Tremont Station on the 2’s and 5’s. This was the notorious hangout spot for taking pictures of the trains. I was with Wane at the time and advised him to stay back as I was fully aware that this could turn ugly. PJAY, who was already a legendary writer, was crushing the 2’s and 5s with throw-ups. This was not a good situation for me. The last thing I needed was a war. Having way too much to lose and almost nothing to gain, I found it strange that he only went over a couple of my pieces. It was, however, more than enough to raise my antenna. What I couldn’t figure out was why he was ragging me! As I approached him, I had a pipe cleverly hidden under my sleeve just in case something went down. It was a known fact that PJAY was not one to be taken lightly. Our eyes met and I could see the look on his face… like he knew something was up. There was no way he could deny who he was. I asked, “Are you PJAY?” Without hesitation he admitted who he was. At this point in the conversation, I told him I was DERO and asked him why he was going over my pieces. I had no problem with him and stood clueless as to why such a well-known writer as himself would want to go over any of my work. He quickly responded that he did not care how many pieces I did or how many PJAY throw-ups I went over as long as I covered up his throw-ups completely, leaving no trace of his name. Now, this may sound strange to the uninformed masses who may not be aware that the outlaw art we practice comes with a rulebook. For instance, if you are going to do pieces, burners, etc., and in the process go over a well-established writer or artist, it is common courtesy that you should completely cover their name so it is not looked at as a sign of disrespect.
To my knowledge, I had never left any of PJAY’s throw-ups sticking out and thought he was trying to play me for a fool. Low and behold, as we were on the train station, mid-conversation, one of my train cars pulled up with half of his throw-up sticking out of the side of my piece. At that point, my jaw dropped and my mind went blank. He had me dead to rights. Quickly, I realized that if I didn’t fix this problem it would only continue. The wheels in my head quickly started to turn. Looking at PJAY, I told him this would never happen again. For some reason, I had a feeling that he genuinely felt that our conflict was resolved. To my knowledge, PJAY, was a man of his word. Honestly, this was the most troublesome situation I had ever encountered. As we concluded our conversation and shook hands, I revealed the pipe and dropped it from my possession, as if to say everything is cool. A few seconds later another train approached, and two really suspicious characters get off the train and come to talk to PJAY. Now, wishing I still had that pipe, I noticed they look back at PJAY, he shakes his head and they leave. What a nervous moment! Now I’m no punk but at that time I was about 5’10” 150 lbs I had just dropped a pipe and each of them had me by 50-100 pounds easy. This would not have been good. As the train pulls away, on the very last car, yet another DERO piece with a PJAY throw-up sticking out pass by. He quickly glanced at it, smiled and looked at me, as if to say…it didn’t only happen once. Shaking my head in disbelief, I put my hand on my forehead and told him if he ever wanted to do a piece, I would be honored to do one with him as well. He then walks up to me and tells me who the two guys were. They were 3C and DRIFT two notorious henchmen.
Boy, was I happy this was settled. As months became years, PJAY became a good friend, who would later end up helping me in a time of need. So as you can see, if this situation had gone badly, there is no telling what my legacy would have been. My forward progress might have ground to a halt right there and I could have lost countless pieces in an ensuing war before I had a chance to reach my peak. Thankfully, it all worked out ok.
Finally, I walked back down the stairs told Wane everything is cool and from there on I never had any more bumps in the road and the rest as they say is history…