This past Thursday evening, the High School of Art & Design hosted a reception, exhibition and panel discussion honoring 20 student winners of its first A&D Subway Car Design Competition.  Soon after the event, I had the opportunity to speak to Art & Design alumnus and Old School graffiti writer George Colon aka AIM, who had invited us to this celebration of our favorite art form.


Thursday evening’s event was wonderful.  We loved the way it brought so many folks – students, alumni, faculty, parents, artists and us graffiti aficionados — together. Whose idea was it?

Two years ago, I presented the idea of a panel discussion on the theme of graffiti art to the school’s administration. Art & Design seemed like the ideal site to host such a symposium, since so many famed writers are A&D alumni.  The faculty, though, was hesitant at the time to engage in a graffiti-related event. They were afraid, I assume, of negative reprisals.


How, then, did last week’s amazing event happen?  What caused the change? Why was the school suddenly receptive? 

There were several factors. First, there was a change in the administration. The new principal is open to new ideas and programs that he feels are in the students’ interests.  And I connected with A&D alumnus, George Alonso, who was in touch with Klim Kozinevich — the designer of the All City Style Blank NYC Subway Cars. It was George’s idea that a few of us alumni offer the students a workshop in designing subway cars. Alumnus Klim Kozinevich donated the All City Style Blank NYC Subway Cars and everything else followed.


What was your original inspiration behind this? What spurred you to see it through?

I felt that I wanted to give back. It was also an opportunity to educate folks about a global art form that has strong roots in this particular school.


The panel discussion was certainly informative. George Alonso was the perfect moderator, and you, along with Spar One and Kenji Takabayashi, had much to offer.  The audience was totally engaged. Why do you suppose there seems to be so much interest these days in graffiti, particularly from the perspective of veteran writers?

As graffiti is increasingly embraced by professionals and recognized as a legitimate art form, it is more likely to spur the interest of folks who would ordinarily dismiss it.

joe-russo-tags -at-A-and-D

Yes! Once an art form becomes the subject of museum retrospectives, it is difficult to relegate it to mere vandalism! What’s ahead for you?

We are planning to continue collaborating with Art & Design. We would like to make the A&D Subway Car Design Competition an annual event, and we’d love to conduct graffiti–inspired design workshops in other educational settings.

That would be great! Good luck! 


1. First-place winner, James Dundon (design — center top)

2. George Colon aka AIM SSB signing books presented to students

3. Trains designed by A&D alumni: Kenji TakabayashiGeorge Colon aka AIM, SexerSpar One and Flint

4. Spar One with black book in hand

5. Kenji Takabayashi

6. Joe Russo

Photo credits: 1, 3 & 4 Tara Murray; 2 Todd Atkinson; 5 & 6 Lois Stavsky; interview conducted and edited by Lois Stavsky



The City Is My Muse, featuring new works, along with older paintings and memorabilia, by the legendary Chris “Daze” Ellis, opened this past month at the  Museum of the City of New York.  Curated by Sean Corcoran, the paintings on exhibit — depicting NYC’s streets, subways, landmarks and ordinary folks — exude an expressive, soulful energy. Here are a few more:

Cyclone Drop

chris-daze-ellis-cyclone drop

The 7 Yard


Queensborough Plaza


Daze with his painting Whitlock Avenue

Chris-Ellis Daze-with-painting

Tomorrow evening — December 8 — at 6:30 pm, Daze will be joined by Jane Dickson and Lee Quinones in a discussion about how New York City’s environment, culture and daily life have inspired their work. Curator Sean Corcoran will moderate the panel. Use Code ART1 for discount tickets here.

the city-is-my-muse-daze-mcny

The Museum of the City of New York is located at 1220 5th Avenue.

Photo credits: 1-3 Lois Stavsky; 4 & 5 Tara Murray


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


Gear One


Nic 707




The legendary Taki 183


Michael Cuomo


Kingbee — with fragment of Michael Cuomo on left


Misha Tyutyunik


Photos by Lois Stavsky


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



Veteran graffiti writer Snake 1




Nic 707




Graffiti legend T-Kid


Brian M Convery


Photos by Lois Stavsky


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


Bogota native Praxis


The legendary TAKI 183

Taki 183



Nic 707


Graffiti pioneer Skeme of Style Wars fame


Mulit-media artist Michael Cuomo 


Nic 707


Michael Cuomo


Photos by Lois Stavsky


"subway graffiti"

Moving Murals: Henry Chalfant & Martha Cooper’s All-City Graffiti Archive, a mosaic of 850 wall images of subway graffiti photographed by Chalfant — along with a series of Martha Cooper’s artist portraits — continues through this Thursday, December 18 at 4pm.  A homage to the boundless creativity of the graffiti artists whose talents and passions paved the way to the global street art movement, Moving Murals is the first exhibit to grace the City Lore Gallery at 56 East 1st Street.

Another close-up from Henry Chalfant collage, featuring the legendary Iz the Wiz


Martha Cooper’s portraits

"Martha Cooper Photography"

Including such contemporaries as Lady Aiko (top left)


And next Saturday, December 20, 12pm – 6pm, you will have the opportunity to take home one of Henry Chalfant’s graffiti train prints as City Lore will be offering Chalfant’s train photographs from the Moving Murals exhibit with each membership purchased. Membership begins at $35. Hot cider and a variety of gifts by local NYC artists will also be available for sale at the City Lore Store



Final photo courtesy of City Lore; photos of Henry Chalfant’s installation by Lois Stavsky; of Martha Cooper’s by Dani Reyes Mozeson


The ingenious InstaFame Phantom Art, conceived and curated by Nic 707, continues to bring old school writers — along with newer ones from NYC and beyond — back to the trains.  Here are a few images captured on recent rides:

Paulie Nassar and the legendary TAKI 183  — with background by Nic 707




Nic 707






Nic 707 and TAKI 183


TAKI 183 with background by Nic 707


Photo credits: 1 & 7, City-as-School intern Tyler Flores; 2 – 6, Lois Stavsky; 8, Nic 707

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The brainchild of veteran graffiti writer Nic707,  InstaFame Phantom Art continues to bring graffiti back to NYC trains — with artists from across the globe now contributing to this ingenious project. Here are a few images of artworks captured on the 1 and 6 lines:

The legendary Kingbee


British graffiti pioneer Pulse


Bronx native Yes One


Bogota-based stencil artist Praxis


Style-master Meres — of 5Pointz fame


Old School writer Tony164


And new from Nic707


Photos by Lois Stavsky 



Born and raised on Manhattan’s Upper West Side, George “SEN One” Morillo first got up in his neighborhood in 1980. Soon afterwards, he began painting subway trains on Manhattan’s No. 1 line and became a member of IBM (Incredible Bombing Masters), one of NYC’s most celebrated graffiti crews. When asked to design an original cover for Time Out New York, SEN One painted a tribute to that era.

In his studio with painting on canvas


And here’s a sampling of some more of SEN One’s tributes to that era:


To Kill A Red Bird, 2012, a recreation of a piece done on a NYC wall back in 1985  


My First Love, 2012, based on the first train SEN One ever did with “POKE” and Joey aka “TEL” in 1982


If you are interested in viewing and purchasing some of SEN One’s artwork, he is conducting an Open House at his art studio through the end of this month. For further information, you can contact the artist at

Images courtesy of Time Out New York and the artist

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 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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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