A pioneer of the graffiti movement, Charles Henry aka FLIP One was immortalized in Flint Gennari’s classic photo of him tagging a Coney Island-bound train over 40 years ago. And this past spring the now-iconic photo made its way onto a stencil fashioned by Balu for the Centre-fuge Public Art Project. I met up with the artist — now an LA-based Emmy award-winning cinematographer — while he was visiting NYC last month.

When and where did you first get up?

It was back in 1974 in Propsect Park, Brooklyn. I was 15.

What inspired you to?

Flint’s writings were everywhere in my neighborhood. He was my main inspiration. He also got me into photography. Other writers such as Spin, Coco 144 and Mico also influenced me. And I loved the adrenalin rush hitting the trains late nights and the little bit of fame watching my name go by.


What was your preferred surface back then?

The Franklin Avenue shuttle.

How did your family feel about what you were doing?

They were not happy. My dad used to work for the MTA.

Do you have any specific graffiti memory that stands out?

I saw once — and only once — an LL Cool J top to bottom while I was riding the train to school. I will never forget that!


Did you work alone or did you collaborate with others?

I painted with the Ex Vandals and the Soul Stoned Brothers (SSB).  But I generally preferred working alone, because I didn’t want to draw attention to myself.

What was the riskiest thing you ever did?

Entering the 7 yard with Flint, Dime 139 and Asp across from Shea Stadium during a playoff game in the World Series. Luckily, the cops — who were supposed to be watching the yard — were too busy watching the game on their little black and white TV to pay attention to us! And so we managed to get in and out and do our thing in broad daylight without anyone noticing.

Has your work ever been exhibited?

Yes, my work has appeared in Flint Gennari’s photos in several galleries and museums. My small trains have been exhibited in galleries in LA.


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

I think it’s great! It suggests that what we did has meaning.

What about the increasing engagement of the corporate world in the graffiti subculture?

I used to hate it, but it doesn’t bother me any more. Writers risked getting arrested, maimed — and more — for what they did. They should be paid!

Have you any thoughts about the graffiti/street art divide?

It’s not an issue. My favorite artists tend to blur the line between both: They include: El MacRetna, ObeyMan One and Revok.


How do you feel about the role of the Internet in it all?

I love it! I get to see the work of people I used to war against!

Any thoughts as to why the Europeans are more open to graffiti than most Americans are?

I haven’t really thought about it, but maybe it’s because they place a higher value on self-expression.

And there’s probably no art form more expressive art than graffiti!

Photo credits: 1, 3-5 Lois Stavsky; 2 Flint Gennari; interview conducted and edited by Lois Stavsky

Photo 3  features Balu to the right of Flip One and the last photo features Flint to the left and George Colon aka AIM SSB to the right of Flip One

Note: Jan Arnold, the artist’s wife, is in the process of completing a documentary about Flip One’s life. Be sure to check its Facebook page here for some great photos and clips!

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

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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.

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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


Old School New York City writer George Colon aka AIM SSB credits graffiti with having saved his life in the early 70’s. Decades later, he is back in the game — this time with a message beyond his name.

"George Colon at 5Pointz"

When and where did you first get up?

I was living in Williamsburg, on South 3rd Street off Bedford. It was in 1970. I was 10 years old. I remember looking at a clean wall in my hallway building and thinking. “My name would look good there!” I started off using shoe polish.

What other surfaces did you hit up back then?

Other hallways, mailboxes and telephone booths. The city became my playground. Soon I was hitting trains and station walls.

What inspired you to keep tagging?

I saw how much it was embraced at Art and Design, the high school I attended at the time. And it gave me something to do.

Have you any early graffiti-related memories that stand out?

Seeing phenomenal handstyles — such as those of Super Strut, Stay High and Super Kool 223.

"George Colon aka AIM SSB"

Did you generally go out alone or did you get up with crews back then?

Two of my classmates at Art and Design took me up to the yards up at Baychester and Parkchester. Once I discovered them, I was on my own! But then in 1972, I went on to form SSB, one of the largest crews in NYC. We SSB members saved each other’s lives. And graffiti saved us all, by giving us a voice and offering us an alternative to the drugs, gangs and violence that were everywhere around us.

How were you known at the time?

I gained popularity as AIM-SSB, but I was also known as OH-222 SSB to confuse the cops.

What did AIM stand for? How about SSB?

AIM was an acronym for Artist in Motion and SSB for Soul Stoned Brothers.

Who were some of the other SSB members?

There were many: Lee QuinonesShadow, CAM, Do, Rise, Bang 2, Taxi, Fear, Toke, Bomb-One, Jazz, Jazz 2, Pace, Don1, Dime 139 and more.

"AIM graffiti"

What is the riskiest thing you did? And why did you do it?

Laying on top of a train while it was running from the Bowery to Essex Street.  I was with Chino 13 at the time, and we did it to escape the TA rats.

How did your family feel about what you were doing?

When I first started drawing, my mother encouraged me. She would buy crayons and pastels for me. But when I got into graffiti, my mom was concerned. She’d say things like, “Why are you getting paint on your sneakers?” But they didn’t pay all that much attention to what I was doing.

Have you ever been arrested?

About a dozen times. Mostly for tagging and stealing. I would run fast, but not fast enough.

These days, about what percentage of your time is devoted to art?

Not enough. I do about two pieces a week, but my day job as a recovery coach and a motivational speaker takes up much of my time.

"AIM on canvas"

When you do work, do you sketch first or do you just let it flow?

Both. About 70% of the time I work with a sketch.

Are you generally satisfied with your finished piece?


Do you have a formal art education?

Just the year and a half I spent at the High School of Art & Design. I’m largely self-taught.

Are there any particular cultures that have influenced your aesthetic?

There are Greek and Italian influences. My father is Italian, and I’m inspired by Greek graffiti.

What inspires you these days to engage with the graffiti culture?

The eagerness of young people to learn about it. I love their innocence and ability to explore. My organizations, Imagine Ink and United We Paint, promote graffiti and urban arts events for folks across the generations.


Do you prefer working with others? Or would you rather paint alone?

When I was younger, I preferred to work alone. But I’ve recently enjoyed collaborating with Orlando Rine Torres and Sexer.

Any thoughts about the graffiti/street art divide?

I really can’t answer that. I’d like to learn more.

Why do you suppose the “art world” has been so reluctant to embrace graffiti?

Graffiti was originally seen as a threat. The defacing and destruction of property was perceived as an “uprising.”

How has your work evolved in the past few years?

I’ve diversified my styles and am more open, in general.

"George-Colon and Jean Paul O'grodnik"

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

It’s an asset to the movement; it gets our work out there.

Have you any feelings about the photographers/bloggers in the scene?

I feel positive about them. They give us exposure.

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

To awaken awareness within others.

What do you see as the future of graffiti?

My hope is that it can be taught on many levels and used in a positive way.

What about you? What’s ahead for you?

Continuing to create art and educating others about graffiti.

Interview conducted and edited by Lois Stavsky; all images courtesy of George Colon; the final image is a collaboration between George Colon and John Paul O’Grodnick