I first met JMB at a mutual friend’s house in Brooklyn Heights. I had seen him at City As a School but did not speak with him until this occasion. He seemed perhaps a little shy, if only just soft spoken. Maybe slightly uncomfortable in the presence of a bunch of Graffiti Artists and Skateboarder kids. I would soon afterwards learn that he was quite a confident individual.
What were your artistic aspirations growing up?
I was exposed to art early in life (grammar school). I have pretty much always wanted to live my life creating. Using my ability to “make stuff” from any available materials, write and draw.
Do you have a favorite memory of you and JMB?
Me and JMB once climbed up the side of a building in the West Village just to cut a huge banner down and remove it for no particular reason. We had a few friends below who helped us roll it up and carry it away. It was later abandoned at a girlfriend’s house. The banner read: “Frank Langella As DRACULA at the CHERRY LANE THEATER.” It must have been at least 12’ x 18’. Huge.
Could you tell me a bit about your early graffiti works?
I began writing graffiti in 1971. I wrote BOMB-1. I was one of the very first writers to import Graf Culture to the Lower East Side. I was influenced by SNAKE-1, STITCH-1, and other Writers Corner 188 (Washington Heights) writers as well as Cool Cliff 120 and the writers from Harlem. I first noticed this phenomena during my visits to my cousins house in Washington Heights and art classes I took in Spanish Harlem. I was totally impressed and wanted to be part of it.
Do you spend much time thinking of what you’re going to write, or is it more spur of the moment? Are the locations planned?
The locations for the WET PAINT signage and collaborative “outlaw” installations with Jilly Ballistic are definitely mapped out beforehand. Sometimes even “Site Appropriate.” This does not generally apply to the SAMO graffiti, it’s more about the immediate opportunity.
Have you revisited areas you remember tagging as a teenager? How was 1977 different art-wise to 2017?
Let me count the ways… The most significant differences (to sum this question up) are A, I was 18 in 1977 and I will be 58 on June 10th, 2017…. B, there were no cell phones, computers were the size of a Volkswagen and NYC was still an affordable city to live in, etc.
You’re an integral part of Art History, I’m curious if that’s something you ponder on?
I have read my name in quite a few books and every now and then I think to myself: “What a ridiculous life I’ve lived.” Honestly, though, I guess I do feel flattered and have a sense of pride about it.
Tell me a bit about your years as a musician? Wild stories?
Around 1979, when Basquiat and I took separate paths, I began making and playing PERCUSSION INSTRUMENTS. Brazilian, African and Caribbean type instruments. It was a trend for many artists to experiment with different mediums. Film and music included. I eventually played live shows and recorded with a variety of notable folks such as: Liquid Liquid, Elliot Sharp (ISM), KONK and a mostly female “Naive Rhythm” band named DOG EAT DOG. After a decade or so the late night lifestyle ultimately took its toll on me and many of my associates.
Any closing thoughts? Advice?
As far as advice I can give: Make your work the most important aspect of your life. Love, money and opportunities will follow. Also to reiterate what Patti smith so eloquently said: “Be happy, take care of your teeth.”
Al Diaz, NYC, 06/07/17
(Happy Belated Birthday Al!)
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