In the fantasy card game Magic: The Gathering players are pitted against each other in a strategic duel that involves monsters, curses, and spells. The decks are built with various characters and creatures with thousands of possibilities to choose from. The game is turn-based that includes five phases from "Beginning" to "End." There are certain Magic cards that are sometimes under estimated and under-appreciated, but add so much value to the game. They are beautifully illustrated and highly artistic and they're known as Tokens.
For Token 3784, the collectible card game (CCG) was a very important part of his daily life while in prison (for a non-graffiti related charge.) Token learned to play Magic and the game helped him escape for extended periods of time throughout his sentence. He created a deck made up of token creatures. A single creature doesn’t do much to intimidate anyone. But, “when you are staring down 20, 50, maybe 100 of these token creatures there is not much you can do but lose,” said Token 3784. “I like to look at the graffiti game like this, Yes, we fight amongst each other, but ultimately, we are all just thousands of tokens fighting against a common enemy. Wheatpasters who actually wheatpaste are part of this army, street artists who actually get up in the streets are a part as well.”
“The gods are not always kind, but they do have a soft spot for plucky underdogs…”
- Timely Reinforcements card, Magic: The Gathering
Token started writing graffiti at a young age and has been playing in this game every since, for over 20 years now. In 2017, when he returned home from his prison sentence, he noticed the explosion that stickers had while he was away. Token created the (@its_all_sticky) page as a way of documenting this. Of course, he couldn’t help but join in on the fun. His first sticker appeared around 50th Street and ran for a long time. Just like his Magic deck, the streets are stacked with Tokens all over NYC.
Numbers have been a part of graffiti culture since the very beginning. They represent addresses, codes and hidden messages, but what does the 3784 mean in Token’s name? “I’ve spent a significant amount of time in prison due to my poor decision making in the past and when you are imprisoned you lose your identity,” said Token. “Your head is shaved you are given state greens you basically look like everyone and everyone looks like you. You are not referred to by your name anymore, another way they strip you of your identity, is you become just a number." 3784 was Token’s number, one of two that he was given by the state. He chooses to use this number as a reminder of where he’s come from. He has taken something that was meant to humiliate and insult and flipped it and is now being used as a form of empowerment.
By Any Means Necessary: Graffiti Fills and Tags
Pre-Main Phase (Style and Influences).
His style is something that has been evolving long before Token was around. When he was younger he looked up to local writers from Queens like Desa, VE One, and GIZ. They were everywhere and Token loved seeing the crazy rooftops they would paint along the M train. He would also copy letters from some of his friends, like Bies ROT who was a major influence. Token is a product of being raised in Queens and his art is a culmination of all his life experiences the good and the bad and it will not stop developing. He was resourceful and adapted to the materials that were available to him at different periods of his life but no matter what he was always being creative. "As a teenager a vast majority of my friends wrote graffiti, maybe I am just a product of my environment, but I like to believe that I would have found art in one form or another eventually," said Token. "This just happened to be the form I was introduced to at a young age.”
He's been tagging Token since 2017 and some of his favorite writers are Flash, Anso, Stu, Joji, there's so many, but these stick out because they are seen everywhere he goes. "When I started back up writing I was a big fan of stickers. They were such a quick and easy way to get up," said Token. "But I was still amazed at how many certain people were able to put up." Some of my biggest inspirations in the sticker game are BNE was here, My Life in Yellow, and LASE GOMD. "I wanted to put my stickers next to theirs because then eventually I would be everywhere as well," said Token.
Post-Main Phase (always in the game, always learning).
We have the stickers down, check. We have the graffiti tags, fills, check, check. Next up? What's like a sticker, but even stickier and bigger? A wheatpaste. They're like stickers, but on steroids! It's a love/hate relationship when it comes to wheatpasting. First, you come up with a message or design, then print it out or paint/draw on paper, then you need glue, a brush, and an endless amount of other supplies that could come in handy but are usually lugged around in a big, heavy bag. It's a lot more work than having some stickers in your pocket and slapping them up. It can get really messy...I mean REALLY MESSY. But damn if it isn't fun to see your work bigger and better than ever on a wall glistening behind that layer of sticky glue. Always looking for new art experiences, Token participated in SacSix's Adidas wheatpaste workshops. He was not familiar with the process and looked at it as an opportunity to again learn something new.
By Any Means Necessary: Wheatpasting
And you thought stickers were "sticky." Welcome to the Wheatpaste world where... it's all sticky-er?
"I come up with the quotes solely based on my life experiences. These quotes are me. So, I just sit there and write the first thing that pops into my head. I can only create from what I have seen and gathered in my travels through this world. Artists are extremely observant whether they show it or not we are watching everything to see what might become our next masterpiece." - Token 3784
Coffee, Bagel, Sandwich, Token; some of the staples you will find around NYC.
The great debate… no, not round or flat,
but art or vandalism?
Is Graffiti art or vandalism? Art is having a vision and it’s about a style and execution that is uniquely owned by the artist and not everyone is capable or talented enough to pull it off. Graffiti is years of practice and of paint, sweat, and tears. Recently, 21 graffiti artists were awarded over $6 million dollars because their work was erased at 5 Pointz in 2013. In this case, graffiti that was ruined and whitewashed, was seen as art and was protected under the law. Also, more and more street art and graffiti are surviving the buff on doors and walls because people are starting to see the value of it. Leaving your mark is as old as time itself and it’s been happening since the cave paintings in France and temple carvings in ancient Egypt and it’s a desire that I think is found in all of us. There's a new museum in Miami dedicated to it and so many shows and events celebrating this art form, because Graffiti IS art and art is not a crime.
I asked Token about another debate: Graffiti vs. Street Art and street beefs. You come across fights, arguments and unwritten rules that need to be followed if you want to play and survive the graffiti and street art game. NYC streets also get very territorial when it comes to public art. He seems to have a very confident and healthy way of looking at it. His answer was, "By any means necessary."
"I am of the mind that if you are in this game to get your name out then you should not limit yourself to one particular medium. Paint be it spray or on a brush or roller, stickers printed, or hand drawn, wheatpaste, pins, t-shirts, magnets whatever I can put my name on I will. Even the internet is a vessel for getting up nowadays and I will not forgo any chance to “get up”. - Token 3784
Token is an artist and also a curator and along with Eyebrows (@art_by_eyebrows), make up the dynamic duo known as the Fl00d (@thefl00d). They just came off a very successful two night art pop-up at 198 Allen Street thanks to @queensartcollective and @turtlecaps. Currently, they have a group show at the Cypress Inn Café in Ridgewood where they will host more art events with a rotating list of artists every few months. The next one will be in about three months, until then Token and Eyebrows will be looking to host other art shows and events. Follow the (@thefl00d) to stay up-to-date and check out the art for sale at (@thecypressinncafe).
"Token is a straight up heart on sleeve mf, I'm honored to call him my partner and my friend. I'm proud of him and even more I am thankful for him. - Eyebrows (@art_by_eyebrows)
Token as part of the Fl00d group shows at the Cypress Inn Café Ridgewood, NY and 198 Allen St. New York, NY.
Graffiti and Street Art are forms of escape just like Magic: The Gathering. It's a game you play with the public and a chance to be someone or something else. It keeps people guessing and it's like they're playing along, too. But for Token, he's not being someone else, it is him, it's a part of a whole. Also, "Graffiti is not my end all, be all. I have other interests." He sees graffiti as an act of defiance against a society he doesn't much care for.
"I have family that I risk losing every time I catch a tag. I love them, but they cannot understand the motives behind the vandalism… hell, I don’t even understand them half the time. I just know I can’t really stop. So, I try my best to be a good person these days I try to build up positive energy around me so that when I go out to do the things I like to do I cash it in so that I may go to sleep in my own bed at the end of the night." - Token 3784
MTG is a complicated game, but the thing about Magic is that it’s a game about breaking the rules, and in the game, tokens must always be tokens. The rules say if they ever leave play, they can't come back; they cease to exist. The game of street art and graffiti is like Magic in that if you stop getting up and getting your name out there, or stop playing, you cease to exist. As long as you keep at it and are consistent, you're still in the game.
So which medium does Token prefer best? Stickers, paint or wheatpaste? "My choice would always be to spray paint, but I enjoy doing everything. I don’t like to limit myself to one medium. I believe experience is the best teacher and that you should never stop learning. Therefore, I keep an open mind to every aspect of art." - Token 3784. Get your name out there, leave your mark, express yourself as the artist you are... By Any Means Necessary.
Think big; think disruptive. Execute with full passion. - Token 3784