subway art

Conceived and curated by Nic 707, the ingenious InstaFame Phantom Art continues to bring old school writers, along with a diverse range of younger artists, from NYC and beyond onto New York City subway trains.  Pictured above is Nic 707; several more images I captured while riding the 1 train last week follow:

South Carolina native Thomas Crouch

The legendary KingBee — with background by Nic 707

Veteran graffiti writer Spar One

Yonkers-based Fabian “Skaer” Verdejo

Brooklyn-based mixed-media artist Bianca Romero

Japanese artist Minori

Photos by Lois Stavsky

Note: Hailed in a range of media from WideWalls to the Huffington Post to the New York Times, our Street Art NYC App is now available for Android devices here.

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Nic 707’s InstaFame Phantom Art movement continues to bring dozens of classic writers back into NYC subway trains. Pictured above is Rocky 184 and Kerz. Here are a few more images recently captured while heading from the North Bronx to Midtown Manhattan:

Kerz

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Lava

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Taki 183 & Easy

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Slave, FAB 5

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Ree

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Nic 707

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And a recent Nic 707 abstract

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Quik

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Photos by Lois Stavsky

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Tracy168-graffiti-Bushwick-Collective-NYC

With his outstanding sense of color, style and design, Tracy 168 achieved legendary status early on in the most significant art movement of our time. The personification of wild style and the first writer to hit the subways with cartoon characters, the prolific artist wielded tremendous influence. On reviewing Tracy 168‘s work on exhibit back in 1999, the Pulitzer Prize-winning New York Times art critic Holland Cotter had the following to say: “Tracy offers an astounding variety of styles, from 3-D to space-age spiky to Cubistic. He floats out words on cushions of colors, and ties them up in unreadable knots, festooned with tendril-like flourishes.”

When did you first get up?

I first got up with a crayon on a wall in my house when I was four years old. I remember drawing a tortoise and a hare. I lived across from the Bronx Zoo, and I always heard the sounds of animals from my window.

What about the streets? When did you first hit the streets? And the trains? When did you first hit them?

In 1969 when the Mets won the World Series, I first hit the streets. And I tagged my first train the same year. I was 11.

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Tracy-flint-photo

What inspired you to do so?

I loved the sense of adventure…the adrenalin rush. I envisioned myself as a Tom Sawyer or Huckleberry Finn. And I loved seeing my name on the trains.

Had you any favorite spots?

I was all-city, and I loved painting anywhere with people whom I loved. But my favorite spots were New Lots Avenue and Utica Avenue on the IRT line in Brooklyn. Any train I painted there would run right away, and so I didn’t have to hang around too long to see my piece pass by.

tracy168-cartoon-on-subway-train

What about crews? Did you get up with any crews?

I founded the Wanted crew. It was one of the largest crews ever, and just about anybody who was anybody of worth was in that crew. It represented Wild Style.

Had you any early role models or inspirations?

My mother, my grandfather, Jack StewartMichael Stewart… Michael Stewart gave his life so that others would live. After his death in 1983 — and the trials and investigations that ensued — the police were somewhat afraid of treating writers so brutally.  We are the true prophets…

Any particular risky ventures stand out?

I was always wild, always doing dangerous things.

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How did you support yourself back in the day? What was your source of income?

In the late 70’s, I began to create all kinds of art-related jobs for myself — painting storefronts, memorial walls, murals… I was the first writer to do that kind of thing. I also worked in an advertising agency. Jack Stewart taught me about copyrights and trademarks. He was a true mentor. He told me real stories — not the ones from Fantasy Island.

Your work has been shown in all kinds of settings across the globe!

Yes!  I’ve been in museums and galleries all over the world. I was always breaking boundaries, Here in NYC my work has been exhibited in dozens of spaces including the New York Historical Society, the Brooklyn Museum and NYU.

I remember seeing your work at the Brooklyn Museum back in 2006.

Yeah! When I came by, I made some adjustments to my canvas with a paintbrush. That didn’t go over well with the security guards. They got the curator of the exhibit involved, who insisted that I couldn’t change anything, since it had already been photographed for their catalog.

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Did you have a formal art education?

My education is hands-on.

How do you feel about the role of the Internet in this scene?

It can be used as a tool — if you know how to read the truth.

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What’s your ideal working environment?

Anywhere outdoors. Even when I paint canvases, I like to paint outside.

What inspires you these days?

My main inspiration is to express myself and grow as an artist in a world that is reluctant to see me as one.

Are there any particular cultures that have influenced your aesthetic?

Every culture. NYC is a melting pot, and I’m in the center of it painting.

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Are you generally satisfied with your finished piece?

I’m not done until I’m happy. As long as I’m alive, I can improve on it. But it must have meaning and exude positivity. Otherwise, why bother?

A few years back you were reported dead. What was that all about?

If I hadn’t died then, I wouldn’t be alive now. It had to happen.  When I vanished, I saw the world going in the wrong direction. This art form can save it.

How has your work evolved in the last few years?

It’s constantly evolving.  This movement is to art like jazz is to music. It’s a fusion of styles and cultures that knows no boundaries. It is a universal language. And the message of Wild Style is “Be yourself. Find out what your talent is and get good at it.” I love everyone, but I will not surrender the truth and lose my integrity.

Photos: 1, 6-8 Lois Stavsky; 2, 4 & 5 courtesy of the artist; 3 Flint Gennariinterview conducted and edited by Lois Stavsky

Note: Photos 7 & 8 were captured from Tracy’s current black book; special thanks to Flint for the introduction!

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After a brief hiatus, I was again riding the subway trains with Nic 707 as he continues to bring Old School writers, along with new artists, back to where it all began. Here are a few more images captured yesterday from another chapter in the Instafame Phantom Art movement:

Nic 707, Surround Yourself with Love

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Nic 707, Fill Your Heart and Mind with Love

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 Part One

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Styx

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Gear One

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Gear One does Che Guevara

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First image is: Nic 707, Love Is Not Alien Technology

Photos by Lois Stavsky

Note: Our highly acclaimed Street Art NYC App is now available for Android devices here.

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As featured earlier this year in the New York Times, Nic 707’s Instafame Phantom Art movement continues to bring dozens of artists — from Old School writers to contemporary painters — back into NYC subway trains. Here are a few recently-captured images:

The legendary Skeme of Style Wars fame

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Gear One

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Nic 707

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Ivory

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The legendary Taki 183

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Michael Cuomo

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Kingbee — with fragment of Michael Cuomo on left

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Misha Tyutyunik

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Photos by Lois Stavsky

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Featured in this past Monday’s New York Times, Nic 707’s ingenious Instafame Phantom Art project continues to transform NYC subway cars into instant galleries. These are some images I captured on a recent ride from Yankee Stadium to Coney Island:

The legendary TAKI 183

Taki 183

Kingbee

Kingbee

Veteran graffiti writer Snake 1

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Praxis 

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Nic 707

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Sketch

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Graffiti legend T-Kid

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Brian M Convery

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Photos by Lois Stavsky

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Nic 707‘s InstaFame Phantom Art continues to share a range of art — from tags by legendary writers to works by global artists — with NYC subway riders. Here are some images captured on a recent ride from East Tremont in the Bronx to Brighton Beach in Brooklyn.

Veteran UK graffiti writer, Pulse

Pulse

Bogota native Praxis

Praxis

The legendary TAKI 183

Taki 183

Praxis

Praxis

Nic 707

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Graffiti pioneer Skeme of Style Wars fame

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Mulit-media artist Michael Cuomo 

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Nic 707

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Michael Cuomo

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Photos by Lois Stavsky

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Outdoor Gallery New York City author and photographer Yoav Litvin continues readings from his book and conversations about New York City street art this evening, August 6, from 5-:30 – 7:30 at the Bronx Museum of the Arts. Among the topics he will discuss are: documenting street art and graffiti; constructing and editing interviews, and publishing and promoting his book.  Admission is free and you can hop off the Bronx Trolley that provides a free arts and culture tour of the South Bronx on the first Wednesday of every month. Yoav will be joined this evening by the wonderfully talented artist and art educator, Alice Mizrachi, who will speak about her own art and its evolution.

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On Wednesday, August 20, Yoav’s special guest, Brooklyn-based street and subway artist Jilly Ballistic, will join him at Word at 126 Franklin Street in Greenpoint, Brooklyn. The discussion will begin at 7pm.

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And on Thursday, August 28, Chris Stain, one of our favorite stencil artists and muralists, will be joining Yoav at 7pm at the collectively-owned Bluestockings at 172 Allen Street on Manhattan’s Lower East Side.

"Chris Stain"

Photos by Yoav Litvin

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A native of Barranquilla, Colombia, MICO is an undisputed pioneer of subway art. One of the first writers to get his name up in the early 70’s, MICO also used the trains that rolled through NYC to deliver powerful socio-political messages.

"Subway Outlaws"

When and where did you first get up?

It was back in 1970 inside Erasmus High School in East Flatbush, Brooklyn. I used a pen at the time and thought it was so cool!

What inspired you back then?

Our main inspiration was the idea of writin’ our names everywhere and becoming known or famous. Also, I had no other creative outlets for self-expression. My high school didn’t offer me any art classes, and that frustrated me. I also, began meeting other writers like Undertaker Ash, WG, King of Kools, Dino Nod, Half, DECO, and along with my new found Colombian friends, we decided to start competing with those other writers that were already hittin’ the neighborhood walls.

Mico

"Mico subway graffiti"

Any early memories that stand out?

My first MICO hit on a street wall with spray paint. I remember finding a can of silver paint in my building’s basement. And I used it to hit the base of a store window at the corner of Beverly Road and Flatbush Avenue.

What about your name? How did you come up with MICO?

Back in Colombia, there was a kid in my class who looked like a monkey. In Colombia, it is quite customary to be called a nickname, so we called him MICO, which means monkey in Colombia.  That guy actually did look like a monkey. Obviously, he didn’t like the idea of being called a monkey. My best friend and I decided to write MICO all over the school walls with white chalk — to drive this guy crazy. Once in NYC, and in need of a name to hit, I thought that if I wrote MICO all over NYC, and that guy from Colombia ever visited and saw “MICO” on NYC walls, he would probably get a heart of attack.

Mico

When did you begin hitting the trains? And why?

Early 1972. Remember — my friends at Erasmus Hall H.S. and I wanted to be famous. Once we started hittin’ the streets, my main writin’ partner MANI said, “If we hit our names in big letters with spray paint on the subways, our names will get around even more, and we will be even more famous.” The rest is history. Now the friendly competition we had engaged in with the other writers in East Flatbush became an all-city friendly competition with writers from the Bronx, Manhattan and the rest of Brooklyn. This friendly competition, however, began at the same time that a guerilla war against the NYC Metropolitan Transit Authority started — with life and death consequences.

You became known for your social and political messages – like “Hang Nixon,” and “Free Puerto Rico.” Can you tell us something about that?

From a young age, I always had a strong sense of social awareness and was sensitive to injustice the world over. I was always a newspaper reader. Once I started hittin’ the trains, I realized that I could use them as a vehicle to communicate socio-political stuff throughout NYC. And I did!

"Mico in Bogota"

Were you ever arrested?

Yes. Back in the winter of 1972, Slim 1, a young Chinese writer, and I were bombing a newly-found RR underground train yard at City Hall. Apparently, they already had a video surveillance camera down there, and they sent down a uniformed cop to chase us out.  We ran into the tunnel and made our way to Canal Street. But when we got there, Detective Steve Schwartz, the notorious detective of the MTA’s anti-graffiti force, was waiting for us.

Any other arrests come to mind?

In ’75 – after I’d stopped getting up on trains — I got arrested, along with another UGA member, for painting clandestine murals throughout NYC for a rally that was to take place outside the UN on November 1, 1975 in support of five Puerto Rican nationalists.  The following morning, William Kunstler, the most famous radical lawyer at the time, showed up in the courtroom and had a private conference with the judge at the bench. We were immediately set free.

Mico

What is the riskiest thing you ever did back then?

Probably having to climb down from the elevated tracks of the 4 train to the street in the cold winter while the cops were chasing me and others.

Were you involved with any crews?

In 1970, I co-founded with MANI, SALVAJES, the first all-Latino writin’ group in Brooklyn. It consisted of three Colombians and one writer from Spain. I also became the first writer from Brooklyn voted into UGA.

Mico

How did your family feel about what you were doing?

My mother did not approve at all. I was made homeless by a decision she made when I was 16. That is one of the reasons I spent so much time on the trains.

How do you feel about the movement of graffiti into galleries?

It’s bittersweet as it takes it out of its original vandalism context and brings it into the world of commerce. And instead of your work being in a public space for everyone to enjoy or hate, it now belongs to some collector who hides the work in his or her collection.

Mico

Have you exhibited your work in galleries?

Yes. My painting “MICOflag” was the first painting sold in the Razor Gallery in 1973. In fact, it was the first time in history that a spray paint masterpiece on canvas was purchased in an art gallery setting. I’ve also shown in other galleries and in the Chicago Museum of Science and Industry. In 2006 I was one of five US artists invited to participate in the 9th Havana Art Biennial.

In retrospect, have you any thoughts regarding the original school of writers?

We were the ones who sailed through unchartered waters. We risked our lives to the 600 volts of juice on the third rail. Part of our experience was to discover the various layups and train yards for the next generation of writers. It was interesting that every single one of us in the Original School — who took what were doing seriously — always had a sense of originality. We tried to outdo ourselves with the next masterpiece, and we also had a sense of respect and tolerance for the work done by other writers.

"Lava, Clyde, Bama and Mico"

What about the evolution of graffiti? What do you think about what’s happening these days?

I’m impressed!  Its technicality amazes me.

What about your art? How has it evolved through the years?

It’s evolved from letters to figures to abstract social realism, a style I began to develop in the mid 80’s.

"Puzzle Signature Collection"

Do you work with a sketch-in-hand or do you just let it flow?

It all comes from my head. I never use in-hand-sketches. I do sketch on paper…but usually it becomes a work of art in itself

What inspires you these days?

Societal issues that arise in everyday life. Justice and injustice.

Are there any specific cultures that have influenced your aesthetic?

Indigenous and urban.

Mico

What do you see as the role of the artist in society?

His or her role is to express and convey ideas that need to be out there.  The artist is a recorder of historical events who gives these events an artistic twist.

What are some of your other interests?

My main focus these days is on my family, social and political realities and preserving nature.

If you were getting messages onto trains these days, what would your message be?

Why is there ALWAYS money for war, but not for education?

Why does the 1% continue to make life miserable for the other 99% — even if it means criminal behavior — AND get away with it?

What’s ahead?

More art.

Interview by Lois Stavsky with Richard Alicea; first image © Keith Baugh; all photos by MICO or Reserved Rights; photos 3 & 4 in Bogota, Colombia; all others in NYC

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"Nic 707"

If you happen to be riding the NYC subways anywhere between the Brooklyn Bridge and Pelham Bay Parkway, you could be in for a treat – an impromptu art exhibit curated by veteran graffiti writer Nic 707Michael Cuomo, a multi-media artist based in Yonkers, accompanied Nic 707 on a recent ride to share some of his new paintings. Here’s a sampling from the InstaFame Phantom Art Project:

These women who exited the train on the Upper East Side were delighted by Nic 707’s InstaFame Phantom Art Project!

Nic 707

Michael Cuomo, Wizard’s Well

"Michael Cuomo"

Michael Cuomo, Amazon Jungle

"Michael Cuomo"

Nic 707,  Kilroy Goes Wild

"Nic 707"

Michael Cuomo, Astro-nuts

"Michael Cuomo"

Nic 707, Apocalypse Aftermath

"Nic 707"

Nic 707, The Whole World in His Hands

"Nic 707"

 Michael Cuomo, Bubblegum Ecstasy

"Michael Cuomo"

Photo of Kilroy Goes Wild by Eddie DiBono; all others by Lois Stavsky

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