I must confess, I was very excited when my partners at the new Tippling Hall spot in Chicago gave me free reign in the long corridor that leads to the restrooms. They wanted me to just throw down some old school graffiti, make it entertaining was all they asked because the corridor is long. The bathroom corridor, also shared by the buildings tenants is the one area most patrons of the restaurant will see but only in passing.
At first, along with a lot of traditional graffiti I wanted to animate the generic bathroom characters, give them life and personalities and the graffiti would be a background to them. I definitely wanted an old school style and I was looking through some reference photos I came across an old Dondi piece. That’s what started the tribute. There were just enough walls that I could re-do a couple graffiti names of artists and friends that sadly are no longer with us today.
The first of course is Dondi, the style general. His style was an overwhelming influence on me back in the early 80s. He was one of the first I had seen who could create so much feeling from the letters without very much effort. His “wild styles” were so minimalist to me. Never too many bells or whistles, always just the right amount and his color sense was flawless. I didn’t know him as Dondi, the graffiti artist, we became friends years after the trains, he was a true legend and I was honored to have gotten to know him in the years that I did!
The second was Shy 147. Tragically he passed away very young, meaning I was even younger. As teens, all of us graffiti kids in NYC were invincible, death was something you should meet later in life and the passing of someone so talented, a voice so calming was a true shocker for me. I wish I knew him longer, I wish there were more Shy 147 paintings in the world because they were all beautiful. I’m sure if he were here today he would be as he was to me back then, dignified and monstrously talented, revered and still respected by the entire graffiti culture worldwide.
Kase 2, aka one armed Kase ( http://youtu.be/_T4vgrgXcd0, start at 1 minute). Inventor of the “Computer Rock” style! I was blown away by Kase after seeing him in the Style Wars interviews. He would draw his outlines so clean and smooth and that was the first time I considered the drawings and sketches of my graffiti as art themselves! Cubism flowed so freely from his mind I think Picasso himself may have lifted some of Kase 2s style. He didn’t need to study art, it was in him. I only enjoyed his company on a flight from Cleveland to NYC and I can easily say that was the fastest flight ever for me as I got to talk and hear stories from this legend I had always looked up to. He never let his handicap burden his artistic spirit.
Iz the Wiz was different than the others, instead of focusing on style his legend came from his true passion, which was quantity. There were only a handful of people who had committed themselves so completely to the mission of having your name on so many subway cars and he was definitely that kind of legend. He was also kind, wise and when not totally vandalizing a train yard would also piece with great style and destroy the insides all day long. His friendship and his wisdom helped shape me into the first the graffiti artist I was then, and as the artist I am today and I miss him greatly.
During the graffiti golden years, Keith Haring’s iconic chalk drawn characters became the backdrop on almost every subway station in NYC. They were everywhere, they were fun and playful and everyone wanted to know who created these, “different” works of graffiti. I knew Keith for many years, he was always kind, accessible and extremely talented but to me his best quality was how secure he was with himself as an artist and person. It never mattered how successful he was becoming, he was always the same person and friend. He gave me so much of his art but I still value his time that he shared more than anything he created. These characters began as a simple idea for this corridor but were quickly replaced by the memory of Keith, and the knowledge and style I was lucky enough to have learned from this group of true legends!