This is a topic very close to my heart. A topic, time and place all very close and dear to me. Art and Design high school and those years I spent there, mostly cutting classes to hang in the lunch room then having to make them all up because my spiteful butt refused to transfer to my zone school, Seward Park, school for determined dropouts as it was warmingly referred to.
I spent 5, count them, 5 really great years in that HS in the one area of NYC that was still considered wealthy. Most other areas went from optimistically crappy to downright shitty all over, but our area was still plush with many doorman buildings, Bloomingdale’s, and a lovely little park I remember called Beer Park among other things.
5 years, I had cut and failed so many classes that I was eligible for 2 years of night school and summer school as well as 1 year of Saturday school and still had a full program to come back to A&D with. And with all that madness, I was painting trains (allegedly) and painting canvasses having openings throughout all this time and I can today say honestly, it was the best time of my life, ever.
I wouldn’t trade a single day, not a moment I spent there that didn’t leave some kind of imprint in my life. Just try to imagine a school full of graffiti artists. Not everyone mind you but in my circle it was hip-hop and graffiti. There were many other circles but graff was my heart. There was so many of us there that it’s hard to remember everyone so if I forget to mention some, please forgive me. I will start with Lady Pink who today is still a close friend, and we both began our subway crusades at the same time together with the help of Lil Seen, TC5 who instructed us where to go! Lil Seen was partners with Doze, IBM, TC5, Rock Steady Crew and was one of the most talented and charismatic artist that to this day I ever met or know.
Lil Seen also gave a name he had (I was the only artist with multiple names) to another budding superstar, Mr. Wiggles who actually gave me my pre name moniker, P.A.R.T.Y. (Public Art Rocks The Yards) and so I could finally have a cool name too. Party Paze. Mr. Wiggles along with Fabel, who I shared many classes with would be the ones to open the door for me to work with Rock Steady and Rhythm Technicians on several videos and live performances with them.
Lady Pink wasn’t the only girl either, you had Lady Heart, and Abby as well and hip hop historian Lisa Leone photographing much of it. Lisa and Mare 139 were un-separable those days and today I am lucky to call them both close lifelong friends.
Are you still trying to imagine this? This was the core posse I rolled with for 5 years! Midg, the Lil Bandit from Ridgewood, King Size from deep in Brooklyn, Ence from deep in Brooklyn (just another part), Fome and KR One from Astoria, Lawe from Staten Island made up the A&D members of my crew Newave Cru along with Eros, Staten Island and KR One from Astoria rounded us out.
There was soooooooooo much style happening all around all at the same time that it was hard to keep up with Airborne and Tack and Kaze too who were just getting that FBA style to really burn! Conan who was always in a far superior class by himself because he was such a good illustrator and a master at combining art with graffiti, in freehand no less! Python was also in that class where his illustration work would be the platform to his pieces, raising the style bar for everyone else!
So much amazing talent it was almost impossible to not be inspired, every day blackbooks flowed around the lunch tables getting tagged, pieced, signed. I remember Doze bringing about 8 books back to people after doing the same piece in each one! Hysterical! There were so many others, some who gave up in lieu of life which happens and some who blossomed later, I’m always happy to see Sexer painting, having shows and becoming a force now, decades later, amazing!
People I work with today come from relationships bonded in that school, Ferra Designs in Brooklyn, Rob Cabrera here in Miami, Rine back up in NYC. The list goes so deep and all from this plot of land that sadly no longer exists. The school was moved to make way for, no shocker here, a high-rise luxury building.
My style was definitely shaped by the NYC subway graffiti and gallery scene of course, where I met many legends like Crash, Noc 167, Mitch, Wasp, etc. but more so than that my style was solidified by the place I spent the most of my time at, because you see, even though I cut so many classes, well the entire 11th grade to start, I went to that school every day! Actually, in my 5th year, my “Super Senior” year I got an award for perfect attendance. (No lie) I loved that school, that time and the artists, the talent that surrounded me every day only fueled me further, to be better, hotter. It was never easy but wow it was so much damn fun and my style would benefit from all those relationships, all that style I saw and that’s what its all about, what we learn. Today it’s hard to learn sitting alone in front of a computer being “social”. I haven’t learned much from that especially compared to where I came up from.
One last thing, there were some teachers in that school as one would imagine. Looking back professionally, many were crap. Ms. O’Shuanessy who told me in her English class that she forbid me to have graffiti as my topic for debate and if I chose that topic she would fail me. The irony there still bewilders me. I went to her boss and had my grade overturned, lesson, there’s more than one road to achieve your needs in life. (I didn’t need to confront her, I needed her boss to side with me so I still win without wasting time on this ninny). Mr. Cassius who had us spend 6 months doing a perfect 5 pointed star like the life of Satan himself depended on it! I cant make this crap up I swear! Mr. Planding, had us recreate newspaper headlines with carpenter pencils. I was a ballsy, lippy sarcastic kid then and hated, as I do today for anyone wasting MY time and all this was just a waste and my absolute favorite idiot moron, my guidance counselor, Mr. Kulik, whose guidance to me, a kid who at the beginning of my senior year was facing about 43 failures that I needed to make up to get my diploma from this school, his guidance was I should transfer out to my zone school and when I refused, argued at my stupidity and told me I would end up a drop out. Oh but how I love me a challenge and 2 years later I made sure it was he who gave me my diploma, while I gloated, condescended and disregarded this little turtle of a man, I was still just about 19.
Fortunately, on the other side of that moronic shallow pool was some wonderful, amazing teachers/mentors who understood how to inspire and nurture growth. My style, my career is a tribute to them just as much as Crash, Dondi or Lee and so on. As I ridicule the underbelly of that school I can never forget and thank the others, Mrs. Osterwiel (I hope I have spelled all the names correctly, its been a long time), she made me promise to not give up and till this day I pride myself that I am a man of my word. She made my life harder when I was ready to give up, I was selling paintings, I was featured on the news, she reminded me of some core things that I still needed and never ever doubted me. She also forced me to take a screen-printing class with Mrs. Glicksman. A tiny asian woman with a super calming demeanor, I didn’t want the class but a deal was put forth, if I didn’t like it I could switch to ANY other class. Osterweil was right, I stayed in Mrs. Glicksman’s class for as long as I could and what she taught me about screen-printing followed me for decades after HS and I owe so much to her, she was why I came to school early every day. Mr. Graves who took a chance and curated the first ever graffiti show at the school. (I think it was the last ever since someone was shot at the opening, that’s a whole different story though.)
As an artist I feel I am kind of a filter. Absorb the good stuff, discard the bad, the better the filter, the better the style and as much as I cut class, as much as I goofed off, I knew I was in a magical place that would never, ever be recreated again and when I talk about style, Art & Design was to me, and I know as to many others an amazing foundation.
Oh and did I mention we had a terrace too?
Credits to Martha Cooper for Mare139 and Lady Pink , as well as ADHS Posse photos.