Graff 101: Tats Cru 2018
I've taught at City College since 2004 and during and before that I was a museum curator, gallery director as well as an artist. I began teaching the "Art History of Graffiti and Street Art" in 2011, and I'm so appreciative of the amazing Street Art community that gives back, enthusiastically willing to meet with my class over the years. The artists and others who generously visited with us with have included:
Bio, Nicer and BG183 from Tats Cru, John Ahearn, Buff Monster, City Kitty, Clown Soldier, Crash and Anna Matos, Daze, Michael DeFeo, Dusty Rebel, Elbow Toe, Gilf!, Hanksy, Hellbent, Icy and Sot, Jay Shells, Jilly Ballistic, JPO, Lady Aiko, Lady Pink, Lexi Bella, Lungebox, Olek, PhobeNewYork, Rae BK, SacSix, Jordan Seiler, StrayOnes, Andre Trenier, BD White, and Dan Witz
And many other artists have responded to my student's requests for interviews, and sharing information about their artworks and ideas. My students are scouring the city and reporting on the amazing street art they find. See their instagram posts for this semester at #citygraffclass18S
Every semester there are sessions held where we meet with amazing artists. This semester we will be recording their reactions here on Sold Magazine. On June 18, 2018 we met the legendary Tats Cru - Bio, Nicer, and BG183, at their office at The Point in the Bronx. Here is what my students had to say about the visit.
Lory: "Talkin All That Shit"; is a funny name for a bunch of fun, energetic, creative, rebellious group of guys. They explained how in the beginning they started out as graffiti writers bombing trains, learning how to do throw-ups, and being & "toys" just a bunch of inner city kids doing what they looked to do. When you speak to a successful person often you forget the failures it took them to become successful. From “the bench” on 149th street to making R.I.P. walls and backgrounds for music videos on M.T.V., I liked how they were honest about the mistakes and hard decisions they made when deciding between continuing to paint and making money.
Oliva: The enthusiasm and passion from all three members gave life and vigor to their stories and lessons. Bio and Nicer gave insight to the subculture that was graffiti back in the 80’s, “before it was glorified to what is known as street art.” Through BG183’s stories I learned that graffiti was a lot more than just tags but technique and precision of the letters. From Bio I learned that absence of art programs in schools and lack of funds for public education in the 80’s is what made these young kids turn to graffiti and mentioned that one of the first people to believe in them was a teacher of theirs in high school. She provided them canvases to paint on and told them “your kind of art is not wrong, "just different".
Jennifer: It’s pretty nice how these artists knew what they wanted to do since they were little kids. It surprised me how they have so many stories to tell, we would have to spend days with them so we can know them all. What I thought was really funny are the stories they told about their time in the streets. It was really great to hear the history of graffiti from people who know it firsthand. One of the things that I like the most is how humble they are. Even though they have met and know famous people, they are still the same, they haven’t changed, and they still live in the Bronx, still helping the community.
Jakari: One of the stories that Bio told that stuck out in particular was how he came up with his name and how important it was back in the day to have your own tag. Tags helped other artists not only to identify you but it also created your own character and legacy. Bio chose his name because he liked the letters in it and it had a nice ring.
Charlotte: I got some great insights from Nicer about public perception of graffiti culture during the 1970s: “We were part of a subculture, an inside group, but subculture wasn’t glorified; It was looked down upon.” He also gave us a personal side of the story when he explained how his socio-economic situation at home wasn’t conducive to fostering creativity: “We didn’t come from families that supported art and they couldn’t afford it if they did." During this visit I learned that much of this violence in New York City at the time resulted in many untimely deaths of people that Tats Cru would eventually memorialize. They knew that by painting these memorials, they were creating very intimate works that brought them closer to the community.
Lucas: The visit taught me that art and painting can be a collaborative process. We usually imagine the artist as a lone genius, steadfastly guarding his or her vision against demands for compromise. But the musician, too, is an artist, and the dancer, and their efforts are often improved when performing with a partner or an ensemble. Why not the graffiti artist? Nicer said that even those who do not speak the same language can collaborate. And he should know, Tats Cru have traveled the world, bringing their art where they go. This collaboration is made all the more poignant by the fact that it was born of necessity. In the 1980s, when they started writing, their native Bronx had not yet recovered from the fires, the city was cracking down ever harder on graffiti, and paint was becoming increasingly difficult to “find” as storeowners began locking them up. There was survival in numbers.
Gwenoviere: I liked how Nicer mentioned, "there’s a common language through art because at times we don’t speak the same language, but everyone understands the work." Interestingly, BG183 mentioned, “we have heated arguments and that’s what sparks our creativity."
Lucy: The most interesting thing I learned was how Bio developed his bioheart. He said, “I was down in Puerto Rico painting a wall, and it also happened to be Valentines day. When I was writing my name I made the dot in the ‘i’ a little heart, but not a normal heart. It was like a broken heart. I continued painting the heart on my murals, and one day I stopped doing it and someone said to me, ‘where’s the heart?!’” Bio’s heart is what stands out most in his murals, so the fact that it has such a powerful story behind it makes the symbol even more meaningful.
Mileena: Meeting one of the longest living graffiti art crews in New York City was the best experience. I would always see graffiti in the streets and I remember when I was younger I got to see the trains with every name possible. Knowing that I met a crew that tagged their name on subway cars was amazing because one of those names could have been theirs. Meeting Tats Cru and listening to all their stories was truly inspiring because they never gave up on what they love, and they made it a lifestyle.
Erica: After hearing story after story one thing that seriously stuck with me was when Bio said, people tend to only think what makes street art is that it is being done in the street, in public. He went on to say “the street" in "street art" really symbolizes dealing with the community.” What makes a good street artist, is a writer, vandal, muralist etc. who will not only express what he or she feels but be the hand that paints the story of those in the community; the people of the streets.