Volume 80, Number 51 | May 19 - 25, 2011
West and East Village, Chelsea, Soho, Noho, Little Italy, Chinatown and Lower East Side, Since 1933

Photos by Clayton Patterson

Chico recently created a new graffiti mural at Avenue B and Houston St. for the British royal wedding, sponsored by Branson B Champagne.

The history of L.E.S. graffiti is starting to fade

By Clayton Patterson

The front door at 161 Essex St.

One of the greatest blessings I have received documenting the Lower East Side is the collection of my Front Door photos. In 1985, I started taking pictures of local people in front of the entrance to 161 Essex St., the building where I have lived since 1983 (http://www.thevillager.com/villager_338/frontdoor.html).

My front door served two purposes. First it was the backdrop for my Front Door photos, and it was a canvas for the local graffiti writers. Graffiti is a fact of life. I saw my front door as a canvas; I was fascinated by the signs and symbols that proliferated on it.

I am not a graffiti artist, and who knows why, but I have felt the compulsion to leave a trace of my existence in the great outdoors. As a child, a few times, I wrote my name in newly laid sidewalk concrete. In 1963, the summer I graduated from junior high school, I spent hours carving my name in several places into the sandstone building. Those carvings have survived till today.

In the early 1990s, there was a squatted building called Glass House on the corner of 10th St. and Avenue D. I gathered the team together and one Saturday we painted the wall there, it was about 100 feet long. Our group included DAST — who was connected to the Latin Kings — Cochise, president of Satan Sinner Nomads, and myself. The unifying theme was AIDS, and the message was a warning against shooting drugs. DAST’s piece featured a broken hypodermic needle with the words “SUCK DEATH,” which is the title of a poem by one of my favorite Lower East Side poets, “Anntelope” Anne Lombardo Ardolino.

The drug trade was the main reason that the neighborhood was not conducive to large pieces. This environment did not lend itself to artists hanging out and making paintings. One exception to that rule was local legend Chico Garcia. Chico’s murals denote significant cultural events, like Obama elected as the first black president, or they are commercial ads for local businesses. What sets him apart from other writers are his R.I.P. murals. It is said that Chico is the person to have cultivated the style and made popular these memorial art pieces.

In the ’80s there was a sprinkling of murals spread around the hood. In the parking lot of the Rafael Hernandez Houses, at 189 Allen St., the graffiti artist LEE painted a mural dedicated to the Allen Boys, a painting that survived until recently. On the northeast corner of Avenue A and 10th St., the wall defining the 10th St. edge of an empty lot was painted with figures done by artist Ron English and Lewis, the person who ran the Avenue A Night Gallery. The Rivington School on Forsyth St. had a large mural. On Ludlow St. between Rivington and Stanton Sts., Ed Higgins painted a flying wing nut, dedicated to Ray Johnson.

Some I remember, but did not photograph. On Suffolk and Delancey spread across the facade of an abandoned building, Bobby G painted a series of hipsters, some in blue, others in green. Keith Haring’s 1982 mural with the LA II and SOE tags, at the corner of the Bowery and Houston, generated media and neighborhood buzz. On Avenue D, Haring did a robot DJ mural on the front of a store. There was a Richard Hambelton shadow figure on the wall of the Essex St. parking lot. As mentioned in a past Villager article, Elsa and I took over The Wall at Houston St. and Bowery in 1990 (http://www.thevillager.com/villager_404/ithadbeen.html).

Because most blocks were full of businesses, watched and controlled, most of the L.E.S. was covered with tags, quickly written street names the writer uses to identify himself or herself. They are often accompanied by letters representing their crew.

L.E.S. graffiti history has not been written and so much of it is being lost, possibly never to be uncovered. If a history is written, likely it will only reference the few L.E.S. writers who are recognized as being citywide and connected to those granted fame by the art or museum world. The L.E.S. was different. Most of the writers’ fame was local. It had a territorial edge — where you were from in the hood made a difference. It could be dangerous to start marking outside of your home territory, which is no different than traditional street gangs marking their territory, then dominating and controlling who has the right to access the streets in their part of the hood.

Some of the tags signed on my front door: ADT (SHOCK and JAE – Avenue D Terrorists), WON Crew (SF – Writing Over Niggers), DMS (Doc Martens Skins), MF (Missing Foundation) Peter Missing, MUG A YUPPIE, DUKE 9, 333 (Half Evil) CEEK, VR, SEMI, TSK (Triple 6 KINGS – 666), BUGS, FTW (F*** The World), LA II, SOE, TNS (They Never Stop), LSB (Ludlow Street Boys) Capone One, G Money, FOS (Flip Out Squad), FEX, SPER, BBB (Baruch Bad Boys), The 3rd and C Posse, FRIDGE, DAST, TR, LER, LESK, RFC (Running From Cops), 501, DECK, MSK (Mad Society Kings), Violators, PRES, SEN 4, 3 DEE, Dopah 500, T.D.T, LES SEV, HECK, MK, BABA, CEVE, IRAK, SEMZ, KS, EAR SNOT, SACE, SCACER, REAZN, SFFS (Satan Sinner Nomads), Homicide, Piro, Latin Kings, La Familia, NETA, and RED ED with his Dow Jones numbers.

Edited by Monica Uszerowicz

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