I've taught The Art History of Graffiti and Street Art class every other semester or so since 2011 at City College. Every session we meet with a section of amazing artists.
On October 3rd the founder of WallWorks John CRASH Matos and the director Anna Matos opened up the gallery just for our class - an opportunity so appreciated. We met with Wilfredo BIO Feliciano a member of one of the longest running graffiti crews in the city Tats Cru. We saw his exhibition Elevated - Reliving Color, a stunning exhibition of over 20 works in vivid color and grisaille including a selection of "old-school style tableaus of BIO's tag in various colors and manners," a perfect instruction to new appreciators of this great movement. Thanks to BIO and CRASH for signing our blackbooks and this is what my students had to say about the visit.
Amy L. Young
Annabelle: Although BIO does work for commission, from looking at his exhibition; I see he’s still maintained a faithful relationship to his original audience, himself. It’s always nice to see and understand an artist’s process but it’s equally as nice to just enjoy a creation simply for the sake of its existence with no questions asked.
Adina: I really appreciated that BIO broke down the rules of graffiti - tags, battling, wars, masterpieces - and struggles that come along with it. This held a lot of weight to most of the discussions with them, because they were in the process of inventing a new kind of art. I asked CRASH about the urge to paint on the trains. He said there was something about the movement of the train that was compelling. Buses didn’t get as far or as fast as trains. He said the most amazing thing was that the art on the trains never looked blurry, because they always moved with the train, and somehow your eyes can still see it, which is unlike any other art.
Andre: BIO told a story about a mom whose son was shot and killed, and wanted to have a mural created in his memory to show the young guys on the street that the gang life isn’t worth it. What made this story BIO was telling us interesting was that he had a permit, so he had permission to paint and make this mural. While he was working on the mural some police officers pulled over and threatened to arrest him and jump him if he didn’t stop working on the mural, so he quickly picked his paint and ran off. What I learned is that no matter how you try to explain graffiti as an art form to someone, some people will never understand that it is not negative.
Byron: My favorite pieces were the ones at the far end of the gallery, his small wild style graffiti writings in so many different renditions of his tag name and how unique and distinct they all are from each other, and the way he incorporates each color into pieces, giving that particular piece a perfect balance, between the lines, color and proportions. He’s really precise in his execution, because while analyzing each piece, the lines are so meticulous and straight, while other lines interweave with the rest of the piece.
Clifford: I learned about a journey from individuals who had a similar path in a creative perspective and I was surprised how personal and open BIO was sharing his process. The best feature of the show was the showcasing his multiple tagging styles. The personality of his name is highlighted by the show's theme revolving around the heart logo. Being a graffiti artist, I also learned that takes determination to complete any bomb and get away with it.
Imerald: Besides getting my black book tagged by two of the most dope graffiti artists, what I also enjoyed about BIO’s collection was comparing these pieces to some of his legendary murals in NYC. I noticed that he really focuses on abstraction in this collection, as he plays around with geometric shapes, lines and curves and multiple colors that still manage to complement each other, instead of relying on a color scheme. This represents an artist who really went out of their comfort zone, and outside of the box by showing a different kind of “freeform style."
Tiffiney: After the visit I was left with a deeper understanding of graffiti, hearing first hand of all the highs and lows they went through to be where they are today. This truly shows that the road to success is not paved nor is it a straight path. What inspired me the most was the passion and humility they both portrayed. BIO stated that he started doing graffiti as a creative expression and he did not envision it to be this big. Start small, take steps everyday to perfect a trade. Networking and team work are the keys to success, without these components you can only reach so far.
Daisey: Hearing BIO talk about the crazy but fun times that he lived through while train bombing was hilarious but also shocking and inspiring. To think someone who was previously viewed as a vandal ended up working with big brands and artists and use to use their art as a form of income to me is amazing. CRASH being also a previous train bomber is now the owner of his own gallery and to me that is unbelievable. Here are these guys who were once being chased by the police for trying to express themselves with their art, are now free to display it safely at a location owned by one of them.
Anastasia: I loved how informative BIO’s speech was about different aspects of the life of street artists. For example, he said that many people don’t even know that artist spends a thousand dollars to buy paint and spends his available time to do what he loves. Many people complain that wall art make streets “worse” that this is vandalism, but if you really think about it, the artist does it with purpose. It was extremely interesting to hear about the “rules” of competition on the streets but in a respectful way. The small “throw up” can be covered by a bigger piece and it’s totally fine because the person spends more time and money for that. I was impressed that unspoken rules are actually active on the streets.
Natasha: I learned that BIO finishes his artwork is extremely fast. Those paintings in his solo art exhibition would take him one to three days. His artwork is ridiculously meticulous, filled with details and various layers. Just to know that he knocks them out in just a couple of days, is amazing. Its interesting hearing BIO's past adventurous about train bombing and how he would escape from cops or any trouble. It amazes me the adventure graffiti has given these writers.
Dimitri: After observing BIO'S work closely, I noticed that he iterates over his canvases. Some areas were sprayed over and the pieces evolved as he worked. One example was a row of dots where he later removed three of them. He also creates a lot of visible layering in his work. I don’t think that we typically see the layering of the paint on the wall. However, on canvas, the thin layers of paint created colors that weren’t painted there originally. I learned a lot about the properties of spray paint.
Ariela: One thing I learned from BIO, that I was really curious about, was how he thought of the topic of being considered a “sellout.” I found this interesting because I had at first thought that in a way BIO was a sell-out because of the way he started to make money off a medium that wasn’t intended to be capitalized, but the way he phrased it was that he adapted to survive - he took advantage of the fact that something he loved to do he could also profit off of and at the same time give back to his community. That really helped me understand both sides of the story. He gave another reason to be proud of being from the Bronx and all the wonderful history the borough and the people contributed into making it as great as it is today.
Jeffrey: My favorite piece at the show was the piece titled Soul Power because in the center it was black and white, but around the center the piece was colorful and vibrant. The piece jumped off the canvas… as if the elements in the piece came alive. I also really enjoyed the back-story - that while he worked on it one of his crew members had the radio on and the song would repeat the words “Soul Power."
Kiara: The most inspiring line BIO said during the visit was, “You have the freedom to choose what you want to do.” And he explained how recognition really just comes from determination and dedication. He explained that his motivation starts with him and it comes from within, “If I do something I love…I position myself where I don’t get up in the morning saying ‘I hate work,’ instead I think, ‘oh I got things to do - I got a lot of things to do.’” This made me reflect on my own personal decision to become a teacher. In order to do that I have to be passionate and I, too, have to position myself in a place where I look forward to getting up in the morning.
Alexis: I learned how important the people you surround yourself with can be to your art. From the start BIO surrounded himself with people who were serious about their craft. He got his name through a friend and that alone was enough to get my attention because it showed me that sometimes you really do just need a helping hand to push you in the right direction to get things going. When asked about how he learned he simply said by watching those that came before me. He also mentioned that he does what any artist does, and he steals what he likes but makes it his own.
Liping: Before this meeting, I thought the heart shape he uses a lot in his murals and artwork might a very important meaning. However, he explained that the heart shape created by an accident and the reason to use it because the female audiences like it. Moreover, even he made this heart shape by unpremeditated, but he changes its color and pattern to make each heart shape look different and unique. This shape for him not only an element but also his signature. I know that graffiti artists start graffiti writing because it is a way to express their egos, but now they get paid for a living. BIO said in the very beginning they would paint memorial walls for people to get the commission. He introduced that they will listen to clients' needs and what they want, then use their style to create a wall. Doesn't it sound like an advertising design?