Flint Gennari

Flip-graffiti-pioneer-at-Centre-fuge

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.

flint-gennari-photo-of-Flint

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!

Flip-tags-graffiti

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.

flint-and-balu

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.

Flint-Flip-AimSSB

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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"Part One" graffiti

This past Sunday, Elmhurst’s ELKS Lounge was home to Street Art Expo NYC, as it celebrated three generations of first-rate graffiti artists. Visitors — of all ages —  had the opportunity to meet a wonderfully diverse range of artists, become acquainted with new products and purchase original artworks directly from the artists. Pictured above is the legendary Part One. Here’s a small sampling of what we saw:

Veteran writer and photographer Flint Gennari with photo he’d captured back in the day of Flip One in action

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 Old school writer and a sponsor of Street Art Expo NYCAlski

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Bronx-based veteran writer and founder and curator of InstaFame Phantom Art, Nic 707

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Contemporary graffiti and street art legend Moody Mutz, AA Mobb

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The prolific Brooklyn-based Plasma Slug

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Bronx-based b-boy and graffiti artist, Chief 69

Chief-69-SAENYC

In addition to The Alski Show, other sponsors of Street Art Expo NYC included: Ironlak, TYOTOYS and Art Primo.

Photo credits: 1 & 5 Tara Murray; 2-4, 6 & 7 Lois Stavsky

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A&D-subway-design-winne

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.

George-Colon-Signs

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.

Art-and-Design-subway-car-competition

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.

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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.

Kenji-Art-and-Design

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! 

Images

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

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flint-tags-centrefuge

Among the intriguing images that recently surfaced on the once-abandoned East Village trailer, curated by the Centre-fuge Public Art Project, is Balu‘s rendition of Ex-Vandal Flint Gennari’s photo of old school writer, Flip One. This past Sunday several legendary writers graced the trailer with their tags.

Balu captured at work earlier this month

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Nic 707 — to the right of Al Diaz aka Bomb 1 tag

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Rocky 184

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Kool Kito

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Snake 1

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Coco 144

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Nic 707, Snake 1, Coco 144, Rocky 184 and Flint

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All photos by bytegirl

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"Flint and Tracy 168"

Back in the 1960’s, Flint Gennari was getting his name up, without even realizing that what he was doing was a precursor to modern graffiti.  It was wonderful to have an opportunity to meet up and speak with this graffiti pioneer.

When and where did you first get up?

It was back in 1966.  I was nine years old, and I was traveling and camping cross-country with my family during our summer vacation.  I  was already aware of the mindless scribing on the bathroom walls. I’d seen “John loves Mary,” “For a good time, call…”  Why not write something profound or, at least, interesting — since you have a captive audience? I started writing sayings and signing them FLINT.   Anything that caught my fancy would work — something from a fortune cookie, a great lyric from a song or a quote that offers advice.  It didn’t matter that people didn’t know what to make of it. I had a secret identify, and it kept me busy.

Gee! You must have been quite precocious! And what about your name? What inspired you to start writing your name in public spaces?

I had been learning about World War II in school, and I became obsessed with the phrase, “Kilroy was here.” Who was Kilroy? And why did he write his name everywhere? Like Kilroy, I liked the idea of advertising myself. I had hearing and speech problems, so I couldn’t understand much of what was happening in the classroom.  This made me me a loner, but I found something that could make me part of the world. I was sensitive to social change. It was the 60’s. Things were changing, and I wanted to be part of it.

"Flint graffiti"

Did any particular writers or artists inspire you?

There were no writers at the time. Graffiti – as we’ve come to know it – didn’t yet exist. I was influenced by Madison Avenue ads and slogans.  They would bombard you with whatever they were trying to sell.   The artist Peter Max was commissioned to make art to be placed on mass transportation.   He always made his name the centerpiece of the work and placed his art  — angels, butterflies, fairies etc — around his name. Was he smart?  I think so.

What about your name? How did you acquire the name “Flint?”

I spent lots of time – as a kid — with Marvel comic books and movies.   These characters were cool;  they would do what they wanted.  I became a real James Bond fan. And so I took the name of Flint, the master spy who spoofed James Bond.

How did your family feel about what you were doing back then?

They hated it. They hated the name “Flint,” but it was my given name.  I gave it to myself. Yes, I was the black sheep of the family and I was always in trouble.

"Flint graffiti"

What about crews? Did you join any crews?

As time went by, many more writers started in Brooklyn.   Scooter and Dino Nod lived in the same apartment building two blocks away.   And Flip One lived In the other direction — one block away.   Erasmus High School was nearby, along with Mico, Mani and Wicked Gary.  Dino Nod was the president of the ExVandals — the first-ever graffiti crew — and I ran with him. Then with my writing partner, LSD OM, I founded the Rebels.  Future Rebels members included writers such as Shadow and Zephyr.

Were you influenced by these other writers? Did meeting them affect your style?

It was when I met these other writers that my sayings changed. I started writing more for them, and messages like For Those Who Dare, For Ladies Only, Bad but Not Evil and The Time Will Come... started turning up.

What is the riskiest thing you ever did?

Every time a writer gets up, he is taking a risk. But probably the riskiest thing I did was climbing down from the el to avoid the cops.

Flint

Do you have a formal art education?

I attended the High School of Art and Design, the greatest “writing” school out there. In the lunch room we all sat at the “Writers Table,”passing around our black books and refining our tags. In fact, Art and Design is where I met Al Diaz and influenced him and Basquiat to write messages.” On a more formal level, I took some classes at Pratt and at the International Center of Photography. But I’m largely self-taught.

You are an active photographer as well as an artist. At what point did your focus shift to photography?

I stopped hitting train stations and most public surfaces in 1976. And the following year, I began a 10-year project of photographing a drug addict. But even as a young child – before I could afford a camera – I loved photography, and I would borrow my father’s camera to photograph my friends.  There was a time when it became a choice between doing pieces or photographing my friends doing them.   This is how the video footage for my graffiti song came about.  I remember when my friends Flip One and Dime139 asked me to hit the yards.  I ended up doing more photography than hitting that day, but this was 1975 already.

Have you exhibited your work in gallery settings?

Yes. I’ve exhibited both my graffiti and photography. Before I graduated from high school, my work had won a Scholastic Art Award and was exhibited nationally. Then in 1998, Hugo Martinez, the founder of the United Graffiti Artists (UGA), saw my tag behind me at B&H photo, where I was working at the time, and gave me an exhibit at his gallery in Chelsea. That opened my eyes to how big graf had become: I had no idea! Since, I’ve exhibited worldwide and was featured in Born in the Streets at the Fondation Cartier in Paris.

Flint

Why do you suppose the Europeans are more receptive to graffiti than we Americans?

Europeans have always understood and respected art, particularly art that’s a bit out of the mainstream. Just look at how receptive they were to jazz musicians!

What percentage of your time is devoted to art?

All of it, though most of it is focused on my photography business. I’d like more time to focus on my own art. I do get orders for canvases and water colors all the time.

Any other passions?

Music. I play the guitar and I write songs.  I was the rhythm guitarist for the Ex Vandals Band.   Stan 153 played bass; wicked Gary was on percussion and Bama/Amrl was the leader and on drums.

Any thoughts about the graffiti/street art divide?

It’s all a means of expression, and we influence each other.   It means something special, though, that we graffiti writers are a part of New York City’s history, and that we writers have invented a new American art form which is still evolving. But I’m not a purist. I think Banksy is terrific.

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

It’s great. I’m seeing and enjoying new things all the time.  And it goes without saying how easy it has become to showcase what you are doing to a much bigger audience.

Flint

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

It’s all good.

What do you see as the future of graffiti?

At the beginning, graffiti was considered nothing more than vandalism. When you became a writer, you entered a brotherhood  with benefits.  You belonged to a family of like-thinkers who, along with you, were creating something — without knowing exactly what.  I’ve had life-long friendships with many of the pioneers such as Tracy 168, Stayhigh 149 (R.I.P) and Taki 183. Back in the day, we never would have imagined just how influential graffiti would become – that it would impact everything from fashion and marketing to the “art world.”  Graffiti will continue to evolve, and its influence is likely to increase.

Interview by Lois Stavsky with Richard Alicea; all photos courtesy of the artist; first photo, Flint and Tracy 168.

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