Yo Skeme! Total pleasure to interview you here, we would like to thank you for taking the time to talk to us and let Australia know what's popping in the world of SKEME. For those that have been living on another planet for the past 3 or 4 decades or for the true writer who carries graffiti in his heart. Tell us about yourself and your crews.Thanks for the opportunity to say wassup to the writers down under...man that sounds like a dope crew name...WDU "Writers Down Under".... I'm SKEME, NYC Graff writer, 80-82. Back in the days I wrote for TMT TNT TDS INDS 3YB TED and TC but I'm a die hard member of The Magnificent Team...big ups to TEAN and KADE, VP and Pres respectively. I bombed the insides and outs of the 1, 2, 3, 5, A, CC, and D lines and also hit the 4, E, F, and M lines as well as a few buses. Photograph courtesy of Henry Chalfant. Photograph courtesy of Henry Chalfant.
So, basically nothing that moved inner city was safe, huh? What line was your favourite line to run on? Was there a specific one you wanted to showcase your panels on?Well the showcase lines were the 2s and 5s and the Broadway 1 line, so that's where I put my attention...I hit the Broadway 1s from many different spots, but the best was the 3 yard by my house because the 3s and 1s were continually interchanged, and if you ain’t up on the 2s and 5s...you ain’t up. These lines were coveted because they ran outside for photo ops and they were IRTs, meaning they were flat and perfect for piecing. Plus following in the lines of tradition, these are the lines all my mentors got up on, gotta keep tradition alive. Also the 2s, 5s and 3s ran all the way to Brooklyn, so that’s how we (Harlem and Bronx writers) sent our kites to the BK. Lastly, these were the trains I rode in my everyday travels...got to see my shit runnin!!! Photograph courtesy of Henry Chalfant. Photograph courtesy of Henry Chalfant.
What are your thoughts on the fame you acquired during your early exploits? Do the constant accolades ever get old?Well I joined the army when I was 17 and was away for almost 30 years so believe it or not, it’s still new and fresh to me. I know what you mean by fame but I try to stay humble and grounded. I think it’s important to stay accessible to the youth and new writers because those that come after us are what keep it (Graff) alive. As far as fame, I don’t think in those terms or as an elitist because that's not how I was treated. When I met established writers like Phase 2, Kase 2, Part 1, Chain 3, Kool 131, Smily 149, Mackie, T-Kid 170, Tean 5, Kade 198, and Daze, they were all approachable and cool people to kick it with. Even when I was a TOY nobody treated me like shit... but that's not to say that I wasn't told I was a TOY and that I needed to improve... because I was. Photograph courtesy of Henry Chalfant.
That is cool. I have also painted with some big names that were just so down to earth, no egos or anything, although they would call a spade a spade.Everyone I mentioned earlier was exactly like that... if your joint was fresh... you get thumbs up, not fresh... you get the gas face!! But you're rarely told overtly that your stuff is up to par.... you know you're in there when one of the greats gets on a car with you! Photograph courtesy of Henry Chalfant.
Ooh! But then there are the other wankers! The full of shit people you wish you'd never met or had to deal with. From books, videos and stories here and there, NYC was as tough as hell. With such fierce rivalry going on, how hard was it to keep it together and avoid that beef?
I'm assuming wanker is like dick head???
Yes.Yeah there were some of those too. Although I am not and never have been a beef type of person, beef was really unavoidable, and much of it was inherited from generation to generation. I had a few scraps, but that's definitely not how I define my contribution to the craft...if you become a member of crew A, and they have beef with crew B, guess what? You got beef with crew B.... That's just how it was. It wasn't that hard to keep together, I had good friends, good partners, good crews...good times! Beef does sometime lead to regrets, like for instance there was so called beef with CIA crew, but the fact is I really respected DONDI's work and wanted to piece with him...God bless the dead, its an opportunity missed for some shit I cant even remember the reason. Photograph courtesy of Henry Chalfant. Photograph courtesy of Henry Chalfant.
I tend to call it the young and dumb period in our lives. Now that we are grown up and mature we look back and can only shake our heads, but we all know beef goes hand in hand with Graff at times. Down under, apart from the usual writer vs. writer rivalry, we have a certain clash of generations. Old schoolers think the next and upcoming generation have or show no respect, while the younger generation are tired of inactive old schoolers trying to claim this and that. What are your thoughts? Is this happening in NY?Mmmmmm??? Castle short... as I adeptly avoid that question, lol. I'll save that for another time and place, No comment, except the only thing I'd admonish both sides to remember is that the term Old Skool is time and era relevant... meaning today's stud is tomorrow's old fart. So 30 years from now, the Old Skoolers will be in diapers and the new skoolers will be the Old Skool! That's the way it goes. Photograph courtesy of Henry Chalfant.
Fair enough! Well said. So then, what are your thoughts about graffiti in galleries today?I know, I know... I told the world that "I didn't start writing to go to Paris" (didn't say Australia though!! hint-hint!! lol) but I believe Graff in galleries is the natural evolution of this art movement. The era of writing on trains, and any other illegal surface for that matter is gone. Many countries and cities have taken tough legal and punitive stances on vandalism, so I believe it’s our (seasoned writers) responsibility to educate the next generation of writers so they don't jeopardize their lives or futures trying to emulate our exploits. "Fame is a hell of a drug!" That having been said, in light of Graffiti being one of the components of Hip Hop and one of the most popular vehicles for self expression, it would behoove these same countries and cities to build more "legal" walls for people to paint on, they could easily be incorporated into new and existing parks. Take New York for example, who the hell plays handball anymore???Graff in its purest and exponential forms is a true art form, and true art deserves recognition, admiration and a spot on the wall next to the works of the masters. Unfortunately there are small pockets of resistance to legitimizing an art movement that spawned out of the ghetto. Photograph courtesy of Henry Chalfant.
Very good points. Down under, our society unfortunately, is generally anti-Graff. We are losing more legal walls than we are getting… But do you think us writers, are our own worst enemies at times? For example, we had war memorials tagged on recently, which featured heavily on the news and media and only served to make our legitimate art culture less accepted by the community at large.Well war memorials definitely fall under the umbrella of off limits spots for writers ... we as a rule generally don't write on Churches, Mosques, or Temples, we shy away from hospitals, and we def try to the respect the dead regardless of religious, social, ethnic, or political affiliation... but here's something to consider... maybe the tags were a set-up by those who rally against Graff to make the movement look bad??? I know I can mimic just about anyone's tag with a little effort. Photograph courtesy of Henry Chalfant. Photograph courtesy of Henry Chalfant.
What has graffiti given you as a person?I've had many passions in my life, the ladies, my kids, the army, but Graff is and always has been an integral part of who I am. Graff shaped me in so many ways I can't list them all. Graff in my days was like a job, I lived, slept and ate Graff. A piece first starts as an idea, the idea is then formulated and put to paper. Next, you gather the materials, then you plan and conduct a risk assessment. Sounds a lot like an army mission right? Well that's what Graff gave me... at an early age I learned important organizational and leadership skills that made me successful in my professional life. On a personal note Graff gave me a legacy to leave my kids...not many kids can say their dad was a well-known Graffiti writer who wrote on trains, trespassed into train yards and stole untold cans of paint and ink. I know it sounds weird because its technically illegal, but I'm proud of it. Photograph courtesy of Henry Chalfant.
Mate, you along with others inspired a generation of writers. I know you guys flipped my head inside out and I have been painting ever since, coz "everyone doodles" right?Yup, EVERYONE doodles, and I'd be willing to bet EVERYONE has written some nasty s%^t on a toilet wall... some of us just take it to the extreme.
The red panel in subway art, the one where you are lying on the 3rd rail is one of my personal favourites too.. That shit is still as badass today as it was in 1982. Mad props!Yeah its one of my favourites too... it was special because it was Kade's (TMT Pres.) birthday and I was on the car with one of my heroes, Chain 3... we finished it in broad daylight. And thanks bro!! Photograph courtesy of Henry Chalfant.
Have you ever checked out the Aussie graffiti scene?Yeah thanks to the miracle of the Internet I've been able to see stuff from around the world. It’s interesting to note that Aussie artists have their own flavor and you can see the difference between them and say... German writers. It appears each culture as it relates to nationality just like in any other art form, has its own interpretation and symbolism and its concept of what is fly and what aint. Photograph courtesy of Henry Chalfant.
Any Aussie writer in particular that may have caught your attention?Yeah there's a few, actually there's a dude I met on Facebook named Shane Tricks out of Melbourne who turned me on to some sites and people but I’d prefer not to name names I don't want to leave anyone out and you cant mention them all you know. Photograph courtesy of Henry Chalfant.
Any plans to visit?None yet, but I'd love to make it over there some day....is that an invite? Photograph courtesy of Henry Chalfant.
We'll definitely see what can be done, mate. We'd love to have you down under. I know a few people who would be lining up for a jam with you, me included. The sharks, crocodiles and snakes all want you to come down under, too. Just joking, man.CRIKEY! Photograph courtesy of Henry Chalfant.
The graff machine has grown worldwide to such an extent that there are much more options available to artists in terms of products. Comparing your experiences in the early days to all you can obtain now, what are your thoughts on these differences and how they've impacted upon the graffiti scene?
Wowww the things available today are crazy, the paints, the markers, the caps, the inks. We had to make due with Rustoleum, Red Devil, and Krylon for the most part.... stock caps for skinnys and niagra starch for fat caps. Even the pressure in the cans was something to contend with. Krylon had dope colors but it was like water almost. So you had to have paint control. The paints today are dope... I used Montana Colors paints on all the new joints I've done since I started painting again, its good paint, tons of crazy colors, covers well, drys fast, and low on the drip factor and best of all its made for Graffiti writers and aerosol artists. So I don't wanna say new guys got it easy... but ... new guys got it easy.Photograph courtesy of Henry Chalfant.
I'd have to agree with you. The innovations are coming thick and fast. New cats got it a lot easier. You went from 'all city', king of the ghost yard, to serving in the US army... What took you in this direction?
For clarification, no one really claimed "king" of the Ghost Yard or any yard for that matter, King is a term applied to a (train) line...so its kind of misleading to writers outside of the US when you see me write "Skeme 3 Yard King"... I think American writers understand that I king'd the 3 lines and not the yard itself, although DEZ and I did enjoy a certain exclusivity to it during our bombing period. Additionally the ghost yard was pretty much anybody's party. Some people went or attempted to "Go All City" from the Ghost Yard because it was a maintenance yard and had trains from all lines; personally I think that's cheating. I, like many of my predecessors, bombed in the actual yards and lay-ups of the individual lines. A few of my hitting spots were the 1 Tunnel, Gun Hill lay-up, 4 yard, A train tunnel lay-up, CC and D yard, E and F layup, East Harlem lay-ups, Baychester, Esplanade, and of course the Ghost yard. I literally lived within 40 feet of the 3 yard...hell I spent so much time in the 3 yard it felt like my second home. I also lived directly across from the 146th street bus barn which I hit a few times but it didn't have enough escape routes to suit me. As far as the joining the army goes, if the cameras would have kept rolling for about two more days like reality TV, you would have seen my mother tellin me to get out! and rightfully so!!! lol.Photograph courtesy of Henry Chalfant. Photograph courtesy of Henry Chalfant.
Mums will be mums! I do remember in Styles Wars, yours was none too impressed with Graff, period. Did she ever get her head around how significant the contribution her son made to the Graff culture, was? That some 20 -30 years later you would still be remembered for your exploits in that era?
Yeah I think so. Mom recently asked me to take her to a show (which I did and she liked it!!!) at Gallery 69 in NY that I had a piece of work in... she surprised me...I thought that was great!!!Photograph courtesy of Henry Chalfant. Photograph courtesy of Henry Chalfant.
That's so cool. I pictured her thinking, we were still all just fools running around aimlessly. So, what's your army rank?
I retired as a Command Sergeant Major, the highest enlisted rank attainable.
What unit were you in?
I served with the 2nd, 4th, and 7th Infantry Divisions, and the 82nd Airborne Division, as well as the XVIII Airborne Corps and some other separate units. I have over 100 parachute jumps, adrenaline junkie I guess.Photograph courtesy of Henry Chalfant. Photograph courtesy of Henry Chalfant.
Command Sergeant Major! Airborne?! That's really is some pretty impressive shit, man! I mean, not everyone has what it takes to go that far in the army. If you hadn't joined the Army. Where do you think you would be today?
Jail or dead, my crimes, disrespect, and brazeness were getting out of control. As far as the Army goes.... they really impressive, the real heroes, will never return to be cheered. America's sons and daughters, and some Aussie ones too!Photograph courtesy of Henry Chalfant.
Hooah! To that one. We are proud of our ANZACs (our armed forces) down under too. Did the army stunt your artistic/graff career in any way? Any regrets?
Stunt is probably a good word, I mean I'm sure my art would have elevated and evolved by now had I been painting all this time...but to be honest with you, I like where my art is, I am and have always been a letter purist.., I'm not knocking anyone but I'm not a muralist, I am a Graffiti writer... letters, style, the occasional character... that's it! I have no regrets, it was my honor to serve my country, I made many life long friends, had experiences both personal and professional that the average person can't imagine. Who knows I could be a big gallery draw by now but I'm happy and healthy so I'm good.. plus I ain’t dead yet.
Today the envelope is being pushed hard. Writers are off in all kind of directions doing some really different stuff to what is traditional graffiti and letterforms. What do you think of the evolution of styles found today? Should we even be calling it graffiti?I'd have to answer that in person, some things don't translate well in type, this is one of them, too much room for misinterpretation... I'm just glad Graffiti is still alive and kickin in all the forms it now encompasses. Sometimes it’s the spirit rather than the letter.
Do you miss the train era? Or have you moved on, like most of us, the older we get?
LOL, yeah I miss the train era... it was the best childhood you can ask for... Danger, excitement, friendship, snubbing my nose at authority and gettin' away with it. Those were the days, but its important to note those days are gone, never to return. I haven't completely moved on thanks to Metal Man Ed and his NYC subway car mock-ups.... the first time I painted on one was in 2011 I think, it sent chills up my spine...it ain’t the real thing but its damn close... so thanks Tuff City and MM Ed! But I have moved on in the sense that I don't do any illegal writing... I'm too old to be sitting in central booking for spray painting on a wall.Photograph courtesy of Henry Chalfant.
I agree, I'm just a little too old to have to hit the legs in a chase or get my fat ass over a fence without throwing my back out. lol Ok so, Exhibitions or projects? Black books? A sneaky tag or throw up here or there? Done/doing/working on any?
Yes I'm currently working on several projects and I am painting and drawing getting ready for the spring and summer...be on the lookout for some fresh TMT productions. Some time ago I did an Aussie/Aboriginal themed piece in my black book. I'll include a pic of that as well. Again thanks for the interest and opportunity to reach out, keep bombing, keep dreaming, keep being.Skeme TMT, 3 Yard King