1. What got you into doing graffiti ? Why do you think you do it?
I grew up in Queens, New York. In my early years I didn't take the train much. My parents were all about that suburban life and drove everywhere.
I discovered or noticed my first piece of Graffiti in 1st grade in the school yard, it was a smurf by "smurfy" and my interest got triggered. I liked the idea of having an iconic Character and that's how the Light Bulb was born around 1987. I played around with a few names , my adoptive dad was a printer and would bring home loads of paper for me to practice on. I was obsessed with lettering practicing the full alphabet and eventually Meres was the tag which worked for me and that's what I went by mid eighties and ever since then. It doesn't mean anything I just picked my strongest letters and the flow I liked the most.
I started in 1987 more or less and have not stopped since.
I eventually was getting in trouble, much to my mother's dislike and she enrolled me in MAGIC "More american Graffiti in Control" which was a program in the Bronx, I met Zimad there with my homie crew member Topaz and yes the rest is history.
I started for the sport, the thrill, the ego boost, the danger I think, as I reached my early twenties I knew I wanted art to be my profession and saw a way to be part of an evolving yet consistent art form that would be long lasting.
2. Who are the biggest influences of style in the east coast ?
I don't think I am influenced but I certainly look up to many. I pride myself in trying to push myself and come up with my own aesthetic , re-define my line work and push my craft.
I appreciate many , definitely Tat's Crew, FX crew , their individual style and group efforts. Pink ,Lee Quinones ,Futura ,Daze. The old school who paved the way.
3. Tell us the story of 5 pointz and how you got involved. this can be as detailed as you want it to be- including or excluding the lawsuits - just tell your story..
I started painting at Phun Factory in the mid nineties and after it ended in 2001 I eventually took the building over in 2002 and renamed the program 5 pointz aerosol art center and ran it until its tragic halt in 2013.
It was first a legal platform for artists to push their craft learn collaborate
it quickly became a live stage for every element of hip hop
it ultimately became a teaching platform for HIP HOP in general where anyone could experience the 5 elements and learn from its creator.
As much as it was a very time consuming pro Bono project it was a magical place and WE made it a magical platform for the culture.
It can never be reproduced or equalled in my view.
The lawsuit was covered extensively by the press , so I don't need nor have the energy to give you the entire breakdown. VARA, visual artist right act is the law we invoked, it has been a groundbreaking victory which already benefits artists invoking since and has given uncontested stature to OUR artform and that victory is priceless.
It took 7 years, gave me a full head of gray hair, more stress than I could imagine , glad it is over. Super thankful to our legal team and to the 20 artists who stood by me for their rights.
Now I am dealing with the developers illegal usage of my name , calling it 5 pointz towers , and revolving so called "curator" from studio painter to real estate broker claiming they are starting a new 5 Pointz and using our name and legacy to adorn an ugly gentrifying tower, obviously not paying artist and having them sign a Vara waiver. Artists on the daily call me confused and I confirm that I am not affiliated with the "program" nor I condemn or support it ... never ends man ..
4. Graffiti aside, how is your fine art career going in terms of where you want it to be? or do you consider it a fine art career?
It is just an art career, I hate the term fine art. It is so high brow, pretentious and infatuated.
I am just a guy who wakes up and paints on walls on canvas and bulbs on cars . I create on the daily , I question myself , I experiment and try to push my aesthetic and technique, and that is how I make a living so I am an artist, my chosen medium or style being graffiti.
While my canvas price and commission price have increased ( been at it for over 35 years) , I try to still produce affordable art for fans.
I try to keep things balanced, I want to always have affordable art, for the fans who have supported me from day one and may not be able to afford a canvas.. I want that art to be truly touched and produced by me, hence the light bulbs figurine which are real light bulbs which I sand, hand spray and every face is hand drawn. It matters to me and that's how no two are alikes. Prints are always based on original artwork which I then gets photographed and then produce but again I do small runs, so my audience can get something limited (50 to 150 runs) yet affordable.
As an entrepreneur freelance artist, you cannot rest, you have to continuously maintain your income while experiencing that need to paint , and in my case I need to care and be passionate about what I put out. I turn down brand collaboration because I don't believe in the core values of a brand, and I'd rather do a self financed mural than a job if I am not aligned with the client/ agency. It is a choice. But so far I have always been able to collaborate with like minded people and put out ( I think) good work.
I have been truly enjoying studio visits, again that's a choice, but I truly enjoy meeting collectors, walking them through my journey and my style evolution, and doing direct sales. While I see the value of gallery representation and the excitement of launching a new body of work, I love creating commissions based on one on one interaction and reflection. it all works.
I guess I am super blessed to have an audience and a fan base which appreciates my work and buys my art. I don't take it for granted and I am always equally thankful.
I also never forget that a few decades ago our art form and our pioneers had to pave the way and were not as recognized nor valued as they may be today. They never gave up and kept on painting so that's kind of my motto "I don't do graff and I am graff". I embrace the evolution of the culture, try to support my peers and represent an artform I am so proud of.
5. How did covid affect the graffiti game in Nyc ?
I still love the illegal aspect of the culture and feel New York in the last 2 years has recovered that nineties feel, I ll be driving and noticing a sick handstyle and I smile, I love seeing clusters of throwies everywhere, I love seeing Soho boarded windows being claimed by known and unknown.
I really feel that for a hot minute New York found its voice again, while we were witnessing tragic moment in our history, the people spoke Loud and clear, and to me that's not vandalism, that's a reminder that we are all here and hey we need to be loud sometimes.
6. How did covid affect your personal life ?
It definitely halted human interaction , made me question my surroundings . Our soundtrack for 5 months were ambulances and police cars and that was anxiety fuelled for sure.
In a way it was almost a cleanse , let go of non essential , from people consuming your energy , to daily activities and bad habits which were no longer possible and now no longer needed.
I ate like a king as my girl cooked up a storm , gained a couple of pounds , and we did not kill each other and actually did not fight once.
We are still super careful , while I am vaccinated , I still need to be cautious, so I feel we are still experiencing Covid time and making the best out of it.
It did reveal what we call our pod, our real group of friends and we see it as a gift.
It gave me a lot of time in the studio and I painted a lot.
7. What was the best time you ever had while painting a piece? like when , where , with whom?
I cannot pinpoint one, there are many: the light is right , the wall is great, the music is the perfect soundtrack and the styles merge and flow.
I definitely enjoyed many collabs at 5 Pointz , I met artists I would have never met , learned, exchanged , kicked it .
The piece is just in a way a sample of what the moment was.
9. If you had to go back in time what are some of the different decisions you would have made in life?
Other than bad haircuts ? My signature Models long sleeve T shirts which I purchased in every color and wear on every pictures or footage lol ... I don't believe in regrets, I live with the teachings of every action , the good and the bad , and try to better myself.
10. What are some of the most important lessons that were taught to you about life but through graffiti culture?
Respect, brotherhood ,teamwork ,humility, detachment ,empowerment ,but then also jealousy, egoes ,and just plain bullshit.
11. are you a dog person or a cat person? and why...
Allergic to Cats, though Baxter the black 5 Pointz cat was my buddy, he got rescued when we lost the site, and lives happy in EWR New Jersey with friends who rescued him. He has his own instagram , and his story was covered in the Wall street journal.
But I am a dog person for sure, Louis Blue King / aka doo doo head / pain in my A.. is our 11 years old Blue nose am staff and he is so important and healing to me. I grew up with Cocker spaniels and german shepard, he is my first pit , my girls 3rd and I just love the breed. They are like us feared and misunderstood (lol)
12. How do you feel about the current government and where the world is going in general
SUCKS, and I' ll stop at that, I just feel the past 5 years have been so draining and for every little steps forward we made, we are consistently going backwards on so much.
There is no moral compass and there is no accountability , and there may be laws being passed and overturned everyday, but the idea of justice has been lost.
13. Lets say you were the president of the USA. what would be the first problem you would solve?
Free Paint for everyone / more walls free art everywhere -
No seriously, I think healthcare for sure, our system is based on treatment not prevention, treatment aka prescription generate money for big pharma and educating a poppulation on health regimen, nutrition balance does not benefit the health industry . Drug prices are higher here than in bordering countries for the exact same prescription ( Canada) . It is unacceptable that in 2021 the level of care you receive depends on your social standing and bank account.
I speak from experience. I lost my birth mother when I was 4 to MS, My mom died at 61 following open heart surgery. My father just died of cancer. It took 42 years for me to be diagnosed with Lupus and start living somewhat pain free, and get some adequate treatment which has improved my quality of life.. 42 years, I almost died in 2015, was in CCU for a month and they finally figured it out.
Education would be second, from cost , yet again, to disparity , it is all linked.
14. What are some bucket list spots you want to visit, for art or just to be a tourist.
I really hope to spend time in France next year, to paint but also to spend time in my partner's homeland. Marie was born and raised there , and we truly deserve time together. I want to see where she grew up, her roots ..etc.. we went to Switzerland and France together but not her part. I have many crew members in Europe so a little painting tour would be great.
South America, I want to see my crew mate AK47 in Brazil and definitely want to make my way to Argentina and Colombia.
15. What do you think the secret to being happy is for a human?
16. Any words of wisdom for the young folks?
Work hard, be patient , don't compromise, figure out your voice, stick to your aesthetic, stay humble (always) and push . Never be content, and reach for the stars or moon , or the next spray can , whatever will get you where you want to be.
If you start speaking about yourself in the 3rd person check yourself and don't take yourself too seriously.