12ozProphet Exclusive Interview: Flint… For Those Who Dare
This article was posted by Senior Editor 1 year, 3 months, 3 weeks, 7 hours, 44 minutes ago.
When Flint began writing, the message that followed his name was as important as the signature itself. Inspired by advertising culture of the 60’s Flint saw each slogan as an opportunity to imbue his name with added attitude and flair. Throughout the 70s Flint ran with some of the greats from the pantheon of graffiti history including Tracy 168 and LSD Om, with whom he founded the crew The Rebels. Everywhere Flint went, not only did he keep a marker with him, but he carried his camera as well, granting him the ultimate insider access.
Digging through Flint’s photo archives we came across gems that transcended the niche of graffiti culture to capture a broader picture of rebellious youth during a volatile era. It was only natural that Flint would be the subject of our latest collaboration, taking the opportunity to tell his story and share his photographs with our community. Flint joined us at the 12ozProphet studio to let us know what it was like at the dawn of the graffiti movement.
Coming of age in the 1960’s before graffiti had become an omnipresent force in society, both on the street and in popular culture like it has today, what motivated you to start writing your name?
Believe it or not “Kilroy was here.” I had a class in 4th grade, social studies which I loved, and that’s what we talked about. Even in the text book there was a full page on Kilroy. Even the President at the time and Winston Churchill wanted to know who Kilroy was. The guy used to write on all the boxes and bombs that got shipped to all the Army bases. He used to just tag it Kilroy was here. And that was really graffiti. That was probably the first thing that got me thinking along those lines.
But you have to know my history up until that point. I was sort of a loaner, not many friends and I had a speech impediment. So you got a kid who is mostly by himself, then he discovers comic books and seeing these guys with super powers and secret identities looking so cool. Then I discovered the movies, James Bond movies, where this guy had a secret identity. Nobody knew his name. He had a code name. Also very cool. Always got the girl, did exactly what he wanted. Broke all the laws. So I thought this is very cool. And little by little I took on a secret identity myself.
My name is not really Flint, but that’s all people know my by. It’s on my credit cards, it’s on everything. I don’t even use my real name anymore. If people call me Robert, I don’t even answer because I don’t think they’re talking to me. All these little things happened because of the culture of the 60s, there was a TV commercial for El Marko, which was a magic marker they were trying to sell. And they used Zoro in the advertisement and instead of using a sword he used the marker. So, a few things like that started me off. I used to write sayings and then I started tagging them Flint, and then the saying. I wanted people to see it, and wonder about it, and be like what is this? Who is this? They don’t know what to make of it. Because this was really before graffiti.
So if you’ve got someone like Joe 182, you’re pretty sure it’s a kid and his block. But what I did, nobody really knew what to make of it. So that’s sort of why I’m in the fringe of graffiti. Then graffiti became aerosol artists and graffiti really took off in a different way. But I was in the forefront using a marker, and that’s what I’m known for.
How old were you when you started writing your name, and about what year was that?
I was about 9 years old because I was in the 4th grade when I started. In 1966 I went cross country with my folks. My mother worked in the school system and my father was very well cultured and educated, so he was able to take the summer off. And we always took trips. But in 66 when we went cross country, I just wrote my name, and saying everywhere. Picnic tables, trees, mostly simple stuff “Flint”, “Flint was Here”, and sayings like “The Time has Come”. But nobody knew that I was writing. I didn’t tell anyone that I was Flint. That came a lot later. When I went to intermediate school, which was in Bedford-Stuyvesant/Crown Heights and things got pretty hot over there with the neighborhood. When I grew up in the 60s there was a lot going on. There was the Black Panthers, the hippies. Woodstock. I was just a kid and was just reading about this. But I wanted to be a part of what was going on. By writing I sort of became part of it.
In your work the sayings predated the signature. Why were you writing phrases first before attaching a name to them?
I put that out there first because I couldn’t think of the right name. I liked James Bond and Flint came out and it was a spoof of James Bond. I wasn’t really that big a fan of it, but Flint was nice and short and simple.
Was there every any conflict with the other writer Flint?
This one time we went up to the Writers Bench on Atlantic Ave and someone introduced me to him, and immediately he was like “No, your not Flint!” You know I’m not that Flint, and I’m not trying to be that Flint. I saw his pieces and how well done they were, and give him credit. There’s always been a lot of writers using the same name, it’s always going to be there.
True, for example Lee Quinones is so influential and well recognized but before him was Lee 163rd, one of the most prolific taggers and one of the most important graffiti writers in the early years. Both of them are equally legitimate and influential in the history of graffiti.
That’s correct, well said. You know, everyone has their own history of graffiti. I talked to Martha Cooper and asked if she has any photographs of my tags and told me she started taking pictures of tags in ‘84 and that she didn’t. But then I looked in the book Hip Hop Files and she has a photo of Lady Pink in the (High School of) Art and Design bathroom and my tag is there. And it’s great because it shows I went to that school! And I hate to say I’m the first graffiti artist out of that school, but the year I went there, maybe they painted the walls all clean, but I was the first one to tag that school. Then we found out who went to that school. It was Tracy, Pistol, Steve 61, SJK 171. And we all knew who was there. That was probably around 71-72. I graduated in 1975. A lot of people came through that school after me; Shadow, Bomb1, Delta 2000… A lot of great writers.
What significance do you think the High School of Art and Design has on the history of graffiti culture?
Art and Design was a hot bed for writers, it really was. They were pleading with us in the school newspaper by name. “Please, Flint don’t hit the bathroom, please Pistol don’t hit the hallway anymore.” And I actually kept that article. It was a good one, I need to dig that up.
A lot of the earlier graffiti writers don’t actually accept the term ‘graffiti’ and see it as derogatory, how do you feel about it?
To me, in the beginning it was graffiti. It was all markers, no one was using spray paint, that all came after. Marker tags, thats all. When I went cross country it was “John Loves Marry” or “for a blow job call this number.” My stuff was definitely different. And It was graffiti. But now I can see these guys having a problem with that, some of these guys now are great artists. It’s incredible what’s going on these days. But we were never artists, we were writers.
If you watch the TV show Mad Men it’s about the advertisement in those days, and that’s exactly what we were doing, slogans. The other thing that made me take to the streets was Peter Max. Peter Max was commissioned to put masterpieces on the trains and buses. On the panels he put his name. Name based art which is what I do and what graffiti artists do. He was actually the first one. I saw his stuff everywhere and it blew me away. I just thought to myself how cool it was.
When you were coming up in the graffiti culture you had some close alliances with some other prominent players, Tracy 168 and LSD Om for example. Can talk about what influence those guys had on you and what trouble you were getting into together?
Sure… Before we even get into those guys, we have to start with the guys in my neighborhood. I lived two blocks away from Dino Nod who lived in the same building as Scooter. Wicked Gary lived another two blocks in the other direction. Chopper 13 lived across the street, and Chopper 13 was my buddy and got into graffiti because of me. And it was around this time that I started seeing the Ex-Vandals everywhere. And people would come up to me and ask who they were, and I really had no clue. Undertaker Ash, Flowers Dice, all of us, I mean we didn’t know what was going on in the Bronx. Probably the same thing, but in Brooklyn it was wide open. The walls were clear.
How did you connect with Tracy 168?
I’m not really sure but you know Tracy was all over. Chad (LSD Om) told me, he was one of Tracy’s writing partners for a while, you know. So it’s not unusual. Chad, used to go to the Grand Concourse all the time. So they brought me over to 149th Street and that’s where we met Stay High. Now I was so in awe of Stay High, I was actually shaking. Actually I was kind of nervous you know. And he said something like, “Oh, so you got some speed for me?” because he thought I was on drugs, I was shaking that much. That was a long time ago, it was great. It was great! We all go way back. I’m sure everybody has stories about how we met, whoever we met, and I’m lucky I took my camera with me most of the time because I don’t really remember much. People say you knew me back then, I have to go check my camera to see, check my film to see if I do have something with them.
So at the time it seemed like you were one of the only people who was actively writing but also actively taking pictures and documenting it. How did that come about?
Well, I always photograph my life, that’s the thing. So, I always try to photograph my life because it’s great to go across the world to photograph, whatever, the condition of man over there. I thought you don’t have to go too far, because what happens here is just as strange and wonderful to somebody not living in Brooklyn. So I always tried to photograph my life. And I always tried to make my life interesting. But, I got into graffiti before I really got into photography because I didn’t have money to buy a camera. I started meeting graffiti artists and I started photographing them more than writing. Like when I photographed Flip and Dime 139, when we went out I did more photography that day than I did writing or tagging. I was just trying to get in the moment to capture other people doing things you know, for the historical value. And it proved right, actually, because those pictures have gone far.
When did you stop writing graffiti and what came after that? And would you say it was influenced by that experience?
Well yeah, I left Art and Design in ‘75. So, between ‘75 and ‘80, I wrote when we got together with people, with Chad, or Tracy, or whoever we used to. It’s always been in my blood, you know, even now. But, I started photographing a drug addict in ‘77, so I was really out of graffiti. I was totally out of graffiti. I had no idea what was going on, until Martinez found me in ‘98, and he sent me to the Hall of Fame to photograph it for him. I was really blown away to see magazines of wildstlyes, and they had these walls where people look like they were airbrushing the faces. I was like, this is art! This is incredible art! This is not the primitive stuff we used to do, you know. So, I mean, you know I don’t mind tagging, I even think about it a little bit. Everything has changed you know. But still I remember how I used to do it, I used to have a newspaper and even if it was a crowded rush hour I would just go right to the corner, make people believe I was reading it, and I’d write my name on the door. Mostly I hit the doors, so then I’d open it, go into the next car, do the whole train you know, every door. I mean of course other writers are a lot bolder than me were like this, “could you move over for a second, okay, just it’s going to drip a little bit.” And they’d do that, I’d be with them, and it’s crazy.
How did you begin working with Hugo Martinez?
I was working at B and H when it was located at 17th Street. I wrote my name with a, I don’t think it was a Uni-Wide, it must have been a Pilot. I wrote “Flint was here,” or some shit and he came in and was like, “What is that? Who is that? Who wrote that?” Cause he could tell, it was a graffiti artist, he could tell by the style, you know. So I explained my story, and he gave me the next show at his gallery on 27nd Street at the Hugo Martinez Gallery. It was so cool! There are good things and bad things you could say about the guy, but I’m not going to get into it.
He’d offer me money to bring some artwork uptown, or bring art to his gallery, you know it was like I was on call. I was on retainer with this guy. I always did stuff for him. I photographed Stay High, when Stay High was working at a car wash. You know this was all stuff that Martinez had me do. I want you to go to such and such a street, you know go to the Hall of Fame in Harlem, I never knew about that. I never knew any of this stuff. But it’s good, a lot came out of it. A lot of shows around the world. You know London, Italy, and of course in Paris there was a very big one.
So where do you see the future for Flint?
Well you know, the reason I am alive is because I still have more stuff to do in my life. That’s really the reason. I mean I’ve been in a lot of trouble like you know, I was a photojournalist taking pictures with my Leica and there have been a lot of opportunities for me to not be here, but I am. So, I still believe in myself. You know I want to get this stuff out before I’m dead.
It’s common to look back at old photos of New York and feel like feel like thinks were more interesting and exciting back when. Do you feel like New York has lost its edge that it’s not the same for photographers anymore?
It depends, who you are. There are photographers out there that are still finding stories. They’re still doing great work. So you can’t say this is a boring time, it just depends on you. What you want to get involved in. So you know, you always gotta go where the action is. It’s kind of dangerous, but that’s what you got to do.
Flint for those who dare.
The Flint for 12ozProphet collaboration includes four t-shirts. Three of the tees are meticulous greyscale reproductions of classic photos from Flint’s archive. The fourth shirt features 12ozProphet’s signature stack logo design flipped in monochrome. Shop the Flint for 12ozProphet t-shirt collection now, exclusively available on our online shop.