COCO144: The Evolution of an Artist

September 16, 2013

COCO144 is a pioneer New York City-based graffiti/street artist. He started tagging in 1969, co-founded United Graffiti Artists and introduced the stencil into the graffiti movement in NYCThis interview was conducted and edited by Yoav Litvin. Yoav is a writer, photographer and author of a forthcoming book on NYC graffiti/street art.

You were there at the beginning of it all. How did graffiti start?

Graffiti is what the media called it. What I call the writing movement started in NYC back when I was in junior high in 1968. It began in the Inwood section of Manhattan with Julio204. Then in 1969, it took off in Washington Heights, with writers like Phil T. Greek and TAKI 183.1970

Why did writing start?

Writing was a reflection of the times — the socio-political and economic realities back then. It was a combination of the spirit of the anti-war movement, frustration with economical and social inequality, and racial and political tensions.


How do you feel about the evolution of it all? Where’s it heading? What’s the difference between today and back when graffiti just started out?

It has changed from a social scream of the inner city to a large-format, graphic design-like urban beautification movement. Go out right now and try to write your name on a wall, you’ll get arrested! Try to paint anything else and you’re more likely to get away with it.  Back then, we wanted to be known within our circle of writers for destroying the system; you hit, do your thing and were cool to be incognito rather than celebrating who you are. That’s changed today.


Why do you think this movement has spread throughout the world?

Making your mark is a contagious virus with no known vaccination or cure.


Who do you consider are the pioneers?

My contemporaries, far too many to name, but I also feel that folks who are really interested in knowing the history of the movement should do their research.


How did you get your name – COCO144?

COCO was a term of endearment given to me by my parents when I was 3 months old. I grew up on 144th St. in Harlem.

What are some of your preferred mediums?

Markers, spray paint and later I developed the stencil for obvious tactical reasons.


What were some of the concerns and dangers you had to consider?

Going into the yards you always had to consider the third rail. Other than that, there wasn’t much security to worry about at that time.

How have you evolved as an artist?

My name has developed and evolved in a calligraphic sense. I’m still working with my name. I see it as a process of constant rediscovery of myself; my name is a big part of who I am. Today I am influenced by my workplace, a Science Research Institute in Manhattan. I integrate the sciences into my name. I find it fascinating that both art and science utilize and emphasize the process of experimentation/trial and error. Both also greatly value and rely on curiosity and modesty as driving forces. Lastly, both accentuate the importance of the process as much as that of the final product.


1) Photo, 1970

2) Photo, 1972

3) Photo, 1974

4) Photo, 1984

5) Photo, 1995

6) Photo, 2009

7) Photo, 2010

All photos ©COCO144

For a slideshow by COCO click the following link: COCO

For an interview with Yoav on Street Art NYC see here.


{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

MICO ~as~ LATIN PRIDE! January 31, 2014 at 7:12 pm

In 1968-69, while kids were writin’ their names to leave their mark and become famous in Inwood, Manhattan, there were also kids in Crown Heights, East Flatbush and Williamsburg in Brooklyn, NY., writin’ and leaving their mark in order to become famous. With this in mind, no one is able to say with a 100% degree of certainty, that writin’ was started in this or that neighborhood.

I personally starded writin’ alongside my friends in 1970 at Erasmus Hall High School in East Flatbush, Brooklyn, NY. We did it because we just wanted to become “famous” and for no other reason.


Valerie Newsam November 13, 2014 at 10:37 pm

No matter what your challenges have been in this life, they are a blessing because out of their coloring and molding you, came the birth to your gift, which continues to grow and inspire. Your work is amazing! The depth, the thought, and the compilation of your experiences and influences is awe inspiring and shows up in your art. You Rock Hard! Keep on keeping on!


Artie from 152aka jace-2 February 13, 2017 at 1:47 pm

Hey brother Coco congrats! We hung together many times and just wanted to send you a shoutout! God Bless


Lance December 26, 2023 at 6:04 pm

Hey Coco,

Great to see that you became an established artist. I grew up 1 block from you on 145th and Riverside Drive.

Fyi – I was sad to read that Rican619 passed away about 2 year ago.

Anyway, time moves on. I hope you are doing well.

aka Slim116


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