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Erni Vales interview for 88hiphop.com

Hello, Erni. Let’s get started, shall we?

H.K.: You started writing about 20 years ago… that was late 70s. The era when subway graffiti was on the decline… but you definitely got your part in keeping the train movement alive. You did it all… panels, end-to-ends… if my memory serves me right …you even had a few whole-cars, is that correct?

E.V.: I actually really started to get big into it at around 1982-83. At that time Graff was alive and well and was starting to get all that national publicity with Wild Style and the whole gallery scene as well as the peaking of Graff styles and artists all over the Transit system (many of whom never were mentioned in Subway Art or Style Wars or any other publications). It was, I believe around 1987 when I started seeing the decline of Graff on the subways and walls in NYC but started to see it again popping up in LA and other parts of the country. I got caught up right in the middle of the Bombing scene and the Gallery scene and kind of split my time and work with that and then eventually ending the illegal stuff altogether around 1988-89. That is… until the 3-D letters in 1993. Up until then I had done about 80-90 subway pieces, a lot more than most but not as much as others.

HK: How was it to get up on the trains during that time?

EV: For the most part, it was still pretty simple as I started to piece on the BMT and IND lines as much as the famous IRT and there were still so many people bombing and piecing with such energy, I feel sorry for Graff artist today who was not able to see and feel the movement of so many in one place at one time, it was an incredible time! I was gone already when the new aluminum trains arrived and that pretty much sealed the fate of burners on subways in New York.

HK: How did you get involved in Graff? Most of the writers from back in the day got a chance to talk to say that it just was there… a part of life. And it grew on you. What about you…what were your main objectives when starting to write?

EV: When I got into High School of Art & Design, I ended up surrounded by Graff artists and Hip-Hop was all over the place that were strange if you weren’t into this great scene. Imagine going to school every day for 4 years with Mr. Wiggles, mare 139, Lady Pink, Wane COD, Doze and Little Seen TC5 and there were probably around 250 more artists and dancers all hanging out at the same time. Every day was another battle or party or some kind of Hip-Hop fest going on and with so much talent and competition around I had no choice but to practice ALL the time just to keep up with some and to stay ahead of the others, if you weren’t sharp, you got burned in front of a lot of people! Graff did grow on people but at A&D HS it just grew bigger and faster than anywhere else!

HK: When were you born? I mean… how old were you when you started writing?

EV: I was about 15 when I started getting into it and around 17 when I started on the subways. A strange way for a child to grow up, I probably wouldn’t let my kids do what I was doing at that age. Lucky for me…I don’t have kids.

HK: Prior to ERNI… were there any other tags you used?

EV: The only other tag I had was Paze or P.A.R.T.Y Paze (Public Artist Riding The Yards)

HK: Who did you use to get up with at that time?

EV: It was always the same group of characters, Midg, Size, Lawe, Eros, Fome, Ence and a couple with Pink and Daze.

HK: Also what crews were/are you down with. If you could tell us how you got down with them and a little bit about the crews.

EV: Once I started getting up a bit, a lot of people wanted you to put up their crews, so it wasn’t hard to be down with many, although the crew I always put up was Newave, that was my crew and it was very small, about 15 total and if you didn’t put it up you were removed (that sounds so official, doesn’t it?). All we were interested in was creating new ideas that hadn’t been done before. When the TA began painting the trains (while we did a T2B of red Checkerboard and solid black letters on it) there were 4 T2Bs Halloween cars, which was a Newave tradition. Unfortunately no one had good photos of many of the pieces we did so it became kind of “out of sight- out of mind” almost. That’s why today many people don’t realize the entire scope of what we did. People today think that I started writing in 93’ when I did my first 3D piece in LA and if it weren’t for meeting Frame I would probably not have come back to do even that. It is kind of funny, though, that I called my crew Newave because we always tried to do something “new” and now looking back, it seems such a dated term today which is probably why I don’t even mention that at all. When I tag in books or wall pieces I do now, I always put “for those who know” because I may not have been king of any lines but I was always hanging around the scene and now when people see me today that know me from then always get very excited to know that I’m still going on.

HK: How was it to get up on the trains during that time?

EV: For the most part it was still pretty simple as I started to piece on the BMT and IND lines as much as the famous IRT’s and there were still so many people bombing and piecing with such energy, I feel sorry for any Graff artist today who was not able to see and feel the movement of so many in one place at one time, it was an incredible time!

HK: It is sad… that is something we (the younger writer and non-New Yorkers) can only dream about. But the train movement is strong in Europe now. It is NOT New York back in a day… but it doesn’t have to be. What are your views on that?

EV: Since I haven’t seen the European trains in person, only in books, magazines or the internet I cant really tell if its better or worse off, I’m happy to see that people all over the world have adopted this culture and art and carried it to bigger and better heights. I love the spirit of Graff and I’m always going to be a fan of it myself because I believe my career will only continue to grow as long as there are others out there helping to disperse the notion that Graff is a fad and will one day go away. To be quite honest, I think that Graff has grown and evolved more outside of NYC in the past 10 years because as nostalgic as I am about ‘the old days’ I understand that it doesn’t apply into today’s life at all, I am always looking forward, what’s behind is only memory. I guess you can say that I’m an avid supporter of the European scene.

H.K.: Were you able to check out European Graff scene? If so – what part of Europe?

EV: When I was in Europe it was never as a Graff artist. On vacations I rarely came across anything personally, again, only through books and stuff.

H.K.: You said earlier: “Imagine going to school every day for 4 years with Mr. Wiggles, mare 139, Lady Pink, Wane COD, Doze and Little Seen TC5 and there were probably around 250 more artists and dancers all hanging out at the same time.” Wow… it is hard to imagine that… I’d give almost anything to be a part of that experience. What happened to most of you after HS? Did you go to college?

EV: I didn’t because I got a job at a huge T-shirt printing factory doing Graff designs right out of High School. I eventually became their art director until I left to start my own shirt label called L.E.S. Clothing which led to me painting murals in a nightclub in Long Island which led to another and another and so on. I’m glad to say that most of my friends are still in the creative field and doing very well for themselves but are no longer involved in the Graff scene as there are many old school ‘legends’ that ended up becoming part of the ‘work force’ (Yuck!) or worse getting fucked up with drugs and that is such a tired thing to watch.

H.K.: How did your life as a writer interlinked with Hip-Hop as a culture? And looking back… what do you think about the way that graffiti and Hip-Hop culture moved over these past couple of decades?

EV: Today I’m more of a bystander to Hip-Hop culture, as I don’t agree with many of the cultures negative elements. Back then all you did was for the sake of Graff, which was linked in spirit with Hip-Hop but, as the years pass, everything changes. Some became greedy and bitter while some became wealthy and selfish. Style and the development of styles became not as important to people as things that the whole scheme of life turned out to be not so important…did that make sense?
I guess what I’m trying to say is that when I started enjoying the good parts of life in general I lost the need to prove myself in a Hip-Hop community that was for the most part ununified and self destructive, so I just walked away for a spell of years to pursue my own personal pleasures and to re-challenge my talents in different fields with different people. Now I’m seeing a resurgence of the old school mentality washing like a wave through Hip-Hop and once again I find myself in its presence and it feels good to be back but I must say that it no longer consumes my life as it once did although I’m glad I was able to give my small contribution to it… it’s always good to be a part of something so influential the world over.

H.K.: You also said: “A strange way for a child to grow up, I probably wouldn’t let my kids do what I was doing at that age. Lucky for me I don’t have kids.  What do you think is the most important thing that you got out of life you lived as a writer growing up?

EV: The most important thing I think is that I created a style that is individual to me, so when clients seek me out, it’s because they want my work, not just any Graffiti artist. I believe it is so important to stand apart from the competition because they knew it was my work immediately, now that’s a great compliment!

H.K.: Did you parents know about graffiti life? If so what were their reaction or views on it?

E.V.: I lived with only my Mom and if she caught me it was basically your standard ass kicking (and that gets tired right away!) but when the gallery scene popped up and painting started selling big cash all of a sudden there was space in the linen closet for spray paint and Mom became a big supporter and naturally took a cut too. Aside from that she was pretty indifferent altogether.

HK: With the atmosphere in A&D HS I assume it was kind of hard not to get involved in different aspects of Hip-Hop. Were you ever active in any other elements other then graffiti?

EV: I’m the absolute worst Breaker/Dancer you’ll ever see. Not even Wiggles or Fabel could help me, and on their good advice, I stuck to the art and stood aside at the jams and parties to watch only….and let’s just not get into Mic and Turntables.

HK: Where did you stand on the issue of racking vs. buying the paint?

EV: I did a little of both, you need a certain color you had to find a way to get it. Whatever you need to do, you must have your tools in order or you can’t come off, it’s that simple.

HK: I hope I wont sound stupid…what were your favorite paints and colors (what are they now?) What kind of caps were or are your favorite?

EV: After a while I just got bored of the spray paint palette, it was too limiting which was one of the reasons I started learning to paint with real paints that I could mix broader spectrums from and using spray to detail things as well to set my style apart from traditional painters. Now I’m back to spray painting and choosing colors has more to do with mood rather then finance or availability of colors and when I piece I’ll put on a fat-cap to fill large areas but I don’t use anything past the factory cap on the can. If I think I need an airbrush thin line on something I’ll use my airbrush, otherwise it’s just me and the can as is.

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