Guest writer Scribe revisits the past with graffiti veteran East in this edition of Spraycan Stories.
â€œKC had brought in “experts” to help train them on anti-graffiti tactics, the Chicago Vandal Squad! Of course my name was familiar and things really started to heat up.â€
Scribe: Man, 25 plus years of painting. That is like some stuff you read about in books of old school heads from the East and West coasts. Chicago is the home of the Midwestâ€™s original graffiti history, seldom seen or heard. Give us a quick lesson and where you fit into it all.
East: I’m a bit rusty on Chitownâ€™s history, itâ€™s a subject that’s not been discussed by me in many years. And everyoneâ€™s account of it will differ by borough, I’m sure. But my personal account and experience goes like this – in 1982, a friend had this idea of stealing spraypaint from a local hobby shop and going out to write stuff on some local businesses as a way of celebrating my birthday, I was turning 13. I had been b-boying since 10 years old and was somewhat familiar with graffiti from album covers and artwork found in BMX Plus magazine, but never had tried my hand at it. We did the deed, my buddy scribbled nonsense and I did a b-boy character with some bubble letters saying “Chill.” I decided to sign it Sir, my first name at graff.
All this took place in a small rural town 50 miles outside of Chicago called Crown Point, Indiana where I lived, off and on, with my father. My mother had given up sole custody of me and was allowing me to live with my father due to “behavioral problems.” She originally was living in Lowell, Indiana but had recently moved to Chicago for more job opportunities and once settled she had asked that I come to visit as often as possible. I started making frequent trips to Chi to visit my mother and doing so naturally gained a familiarity with the city and its transportation system. It was on the Howard line that I started noticing graffiti more and more, the quality was far superior to my feeble attempt back in the alleyway of ol’ Crown Point.
After that I started sketching more and more at home, trying to adapt the flavor and style I was seeing on the rooftops of the inner city. Names and crews I was seeing back then were: Omen, Car crew, ABC, Feds, Trixter, Warp, Ille (the first subway I saw running with full color panels), Slang, Orko, ACW, Fesski, Crazy Man, gosh! So many more! Anyway, on a visit to Chi I walked by an art store called Sheldons where I noticed some of the window ads were drawn in graffiti. Curious, I went inside and met a guy cutting matting for frames and this was when I met Fesski. Sheldons became a hangout point for me and I noticed it was frequented by many of Chicagolands finest, guys like Kato TDT crew, The Hit Men, Prove, Omen, etc.
It was there that I met, and later became a member of, Hit Men – an Indiana based crew with a rep that expanded past the Indy/Illini border (thanks DZ Schitz!). Fess had been helping me out with piecing and took me to do my first rooftop which was on the Southside off of the Douglas B line and after that I was a fiend! I moved back in with my mother and took it upon myself to start going out as much as I could in order to get better and to get my name up. I was a solo kinda guy, wandering from line to line, borough to borough lookin for spots and hittinâ€™ insides with stickers and tags.
The Lake line between downtown and Kedzie became my favorite area to frequent. I would hop the turnstile and ride lookinâ€™ for spots in the day then walk to them at night, sometimes miles from my house, to go paint. This line was hit heavy back then by TAC, Feds and SAS crews (RIP-Triple). This was the line I really got “educated” on, I was learning the train schedules and the closing times of certain stations as well as running tracks, bombing station billboards and doing backjumps. A backjump is when you hop out from behind an object or the other side of the station while the train is unloading commuters. I remember doing backjumps at the Clinton St. Station once and when the train pulled away there stood Syse (Orko) leaning against a station billboard, lookin’ cool, just shakin’ his head going, “Ya’ll some crazy mothafuckers!” He then proceeded to bomb the station with our paint!
Anyway, that’s off track of where I was going, so I eventually met a Chicago legend who frequented that same line, Trixter! Trix was a king of style, he and his crewmates (Slang, Orko, TAC) were not to be outdone on their native line. A battle was to ensue with me being backed by Hit Men, but Trix was a naturally curious fellow with a thirst for knowledge and an eye for detail like no other. He wanted to know who I was and what made me tick, white boys don’t just start bombin on the Westside all around the Robert Taylor projects!? We hung out a few times and became fast friends, his crewmates Ork and Slang were skeptical. Ork was a loud mouthed, energetic kid from the Southside who frequented the Westside by default, he too wanted to know what I was about, so one night I get this random call from him talkinâ€™ shit and how I ainâ€™t legit! He wanted to paint with me to prove his point but since I was just a “sucka,” according to him, I would have to supply the paint! [Laughs] Only Orko would tell you to supply paint just so he can prove to you youâ€™re a sucker!
I took him up on it. Racking paint was one of my main pastimes so I wasn’t stressed. He drove up in a Caddy with some crazy outfit on like he was about to go out for the evening or pimp some hoes, more like a combo of the two. I tell him we’re gonna go paint some freights I found at the end of some dead tracks. I had been painting freights on the low to develop my style and technique, as there was an “Ice Cold” layup eight blocks from my crib. No one painted freights back then or if they did they sure didn’t brag about it, they were considered odd and even toy! Whooda thunk. So Ork says “Why would I wanna paint those for!?” I reply that I’m supplying the paint so I pick the spot! Besides, they’re fun. It was the first freight that I believe Ork ever painted and he was pumped afterward! We did matching schemes and Ork threw an airbrush in the middle airbrushing the fills. It killed! We had fun and that sealed our friendship, we hung out often after that night.
That was around 1988/89, definitely on the forefront of freight train graffiti for the Chicago scene. I know other people were hitting some freights at the time too (Southsiders, Hit Men) but as I said, no one talked it up in those days. Years went by and I met other writers who played parts in my growth, people like Slang, Upski, Anti, Agent (Ages), Kato, but mostly I credit Fesski, Feds and Hit Men for forming the basis from which my graffiti knowledge and style is attributed. At one point, 1990 I believe, I was recognized citywide as the first writer to drop over 100 pieces in a year and I went all city too! Not such a landmark by todays standards but a big deal back then. Well I’ve rambled on about Chicagoâ€™s history to a degree and my lil spot in it, as far as I can recall. I hope anyone from Chi who reads this appreciates my attempt at remembrance and doesn’t feel I’ve done my hometown any injustice. I wanna shout out other influential crews and people that didn’t play as much of a role in my life but still deserve props! Shouts to: DEF, UFG, Stane, P Lee Fresh, THC, Smokey, DTE, Aerosoul, CH13, Mite, Pengo, DC5, Denz, Jesse DelaPena, GBC, Chirock, Doug Infinite, Mad crew and ABC!
Scribe: Eventually you moved to Kansas City, Missouri. What impact did that have on your work and what was it like to help father a new scene?
East: Moving to KC was a great move as far as painting goes; itâ€™s a graffiti writers playground! I met some of my closest friends during my stay there as well. KC has freights like mad, itâ€™s the freight capital of the US! There’s a point in the “bottoms,” an industrial area that contains the main junction. Trains rolling from one coast to the other make their way through the main junction before heading out to their destination. You can see graff from all over the US in one sitting. I came full circle and found myself hitting freights again, but the scene had grown and they were no longer considered toy, but instead had their own occult following. Freight vidâ€™s and magâ€™s were poppinâ€™ off!
When I moved to KC it had some graffiti spotted around town by its original heads, Krie and Gear (Quisp), but lacked the technical maturity that was seen in larger cities. I eventually met up with Gear and Krie as well as Seaone and a Boston native fresh to the scene, Scribe. The five of us revived my crews from Chicago, ATT/TCK, and treated that city like it was our two dollar whore! We did what we wanted, when and where we wanted. It was basically virgin territory and after making an impact in a city like Chicago, KC was a breeze. I took those guys under my guidance and gave them all the knowledge I had gained over the years. They all had some familiarity with the graff game already but I helped push them to the next level and beyond. They are now some of the most respected writers in the game and teach me things on the regular. I look up to and respect those guys to the fullest.
The eventual destruction of the cityâ€™s walls, viaducts, rooftops, and freeways led to more exposure by the locals and other writers were poppinâ€™ up to make themselves known. People like Aero, Cream (Dase), Last, Five, Femme, Gasp, Codak, Nyce, Smak and others were hittinâ€™ up the city now as well and things got full blown. KC was overwhelmed and graffiti became the spotlight on the local news as well as the newspapers. Claire McCaskil was publically vowing to bring the vandals to justice and was offering a $5,000.00 reward for info that led to an arrest. This led to several arrests around the city with Smak and his crew and Att member, Scribe. My name was specifically mentioned in the media. I immediately stopped and went underground till things blew over.
KC had brought in “experts” to help train them on anti-graffiti tactics, the Chicago Vandal Squad! Of course my name was familiar and things really started to heat up. Raids were conducted on peopleâ€™s homes, scare tactics were applied to get toys to spill info and a bunch of writers got busted. I had been good about keeping to myself and never letting people know too much about me, nor did I ever invite writers into my home. Once the dust cleared over a year later, I managed to come out unscathed. My cohorts weren’t so lucky but they stayed loyal, as I knew they would, another thing I helped to instill in my fellow ATT’ers. To this day KC has a thriving scene and consistently turns out quality writers in strong part to the contributions of local writers who were there getting it done in the beginning…Gear, Seaone, Krie, Scribe, Tene, Dase, Aero, Last, Femme, Five, Wip, Nice, Kiz-Niz and myself.
Scribe: The saga now continues in Denver, Colorado and I personally know of your love of riding bikes but thought you could share a little on how those worlds collided and what the future holds for you.
East: I’ve always been a bike fiend, not unlike my hero Dondi. I’m a Mt. Biker/Messenger at heart but I’ve always been attracted to BMX as well. Recently a friend of mine started up his own BMX company called Failure bikes (www.failurebikes.com) and was I need of an artist to create some hand drawn graphics for a frame that was premiering in Vegas that year. He had an artist on board but they parted ways just before the deadline for this new bike frame. He contacted me to see if I’d be interested and I jumped at the chance. The drawings were a hit and got much praise from the other riders as well as the crowds in Vegas, so he asked me to come aboard as the new art director. Itâ€™s been fun and educational as well as giving me a new canvas to express myself on. Failure now has frames ,seats, packaging and tees with my artwork on them, whooda thunk!?
Scribe: You mentioned names of people in Chicago history that played a huge role in your life. Who would you say had the biggest impact on your current style?
East: The person/people who influence my style the most would have to be The Feds. Trixter, Slang and Orko (Syse). The quality of their endeavors as well as the high standards they set for the Chicago scene in the 80’s and 90’s will stand as the benchmark for my entire career. If I never reach that level of skill and style I will at least have tried my best to make them proud. The only other crew I can recall that ever gave me that feeling of awe and inspiration might have been the Aerosolics, but they weren’t impacting me and my scene the way the Feds did. Long live the Midwest Masters!
Scribe: So youâ€™re watching Sponge Bob with your son and youâ€™re also on the laptop looking at graffiti, who nowadays makes you stop and stare for that extra moment?
East: I’m impressed these days by 7th Letter crew and SUK. Those crews really kill shit proper. And personally, I think Pose of 7th Letter/ATT/DC5/Mayhem is the best writer on the planet currently. I’m just sayinâ€™ yo!
Scribe: Is it true that us character guys are just there to pretty up the areas around you lettering jocks?
East: Yes and no, characters and backgrounds were originally done by letter guys for that purpose. But the book was rewritten with the Slick vs. Hex battle! Character guys finally had the spotlight and the letters became second string. Nowadays a character guy can garner as much respect if not more than a letter technician. Itâ€™s increased the all around quality of graffiti murals worldwide. All hail the Toon technicians!
Scribe: If you could spell out your laugh like a cartoon how would it be spelled?
East: Like the alphabet thrown into a blender!
More Info: http://www.dementedfreaks.com