I remember this show way back in 1983 at the Sidney Janis Gallery on 57th Street called Post-Graffiti. It featured all these cats like Basquiat, Haring, Scharf, and Rammellzee who were adopting some of the energies of graffiti culture to studio practice, as well as several essential writers from that time like Futura, Lee, Crash and Daze who were exploring how their work on the trains could translate to canvas. It seemed to offer so much promise and point a real direction forward, but then seemed to lose momentum not long after that. Maybe I missed something, but did you ever feel that historical interruption? Or maybe that the next generations of writers coming up, including you, had missed this brief opportunity which pretty much got shut down right after it kicked open? How did you navigate this narrow aperture to go from the graff artist Ease to the fine artist José Parlá?
Great show, I remember when I first heard about it through a friend a few years after it happened. Miami back then was a few months, sometimes years, behind New York. An artist friend who had been to the gallery got the printed catalog of the show in Miami around 1986. The show also included A-One, who was a friend of mine and had introduced me to Keith Haring when he was opening the Pop Shop in Miami Beach, and A-One was painting a massive mural in the back alley entrance. Part of the show were also Toxic, Noc 167, Lady Pink, and a few other artists you mentioned. I was just getting started with painting canvases around the time I met A-One, and he had a hotel room full of canvases he was painting—all artists who were incredibly respected and inspirational. I was really into the works by Rammellzee, A-One, Noc 167, and Toxic, so I guess their abstraction resonated with me. There is a chance a lot of next generations writers missed that opportunity, and even though I was young, I guess I was at the right time in the neighborhoods where shit was real, and in Miami then, I was inspired to keep writing/writers in the work that I was doing. I was writing Ease for a long time, and many writers like me refused to let go of the pure form. The local Miami scene was also happening and we were making productions everywhere, so I have to mention some writers who were my partners and peers locally. My brother Faz, Jes 1, Sar, Edec, Shie, Seam, Dash, Abomb, News, Cer, Rage, Dekay, and from Spain we were painting with Sem and Kool who joined us.
We formed a crew called Inkheads and kept on burning and bombing both illegally and legally up and down the whole East Coast. I moved to the Bronx, then to Brooklyn, New York, and soon became a member of The Fantastic Partners alongside Kase 2. With Kase, I learned a lot of the history that wasn’t in the books of the original writers, and during that time, I started going to London, Paris and Tokyo, painting and meeting the artists there. Tokyo played a big role in my work and the opportunities it created for my generation. I met Futura and Stash in Tokyo for the first time and although I already knew Kaws, we would often see each other in Japan or be in shows in other cities, and you knew the whole thing was going global at that point. There are a lot of artists who inspired me, including Twist, aka Barry McGee, OsGemeos, Reas aka Todd James, Espo, aka Steve Powers, the list goes on.
One of the writers I looked up to the most has always been Phase 2, may he rest in peace. I was a huge believer that, as Phase 2 said, the “G” word was not the end all be all of defining what we are about. So, going back to you mentioning the Sidney Janis exhibition, I didn’t really get into the title of the show, Post-Graffiti, to be honest. I thought it was limiting us all as artists. In writer circles in the late 1980s and 90s, we would never invite each other like, “Hey man you want to graffiti?” or use that word, so it didn’t stick to me, anyway, though many people will not say it. However, Keith Haring and Basquiat were often talked about as not being writers but more like street artists, so, of course, all the confusion and co-opting happened that is normal, about “what in the world” is so-called street art. The conversation is always about this, and people ask me how we made the “transition” into the art world, but honestly, if I looked at it that way, I would have lost my way of defining myself. Phase 2 once told me, “Do not let anybody define your art for you.” So I navigated carefully and made art that is rooted in what I see as social and inclusive of where I am from, and I make paintings because I like the idea of documenting my environment not by making a photograph, but by making something tangible. To me, there was no transition, more like an expansion. I went to art school, and there I argued with my painting professors all the time and eventually earned their respect. I also negotiated extra time in the studio as long as I did the standard life drawing and painting classes that I was not interested in. I took the opportunity to work late at night on my paintings to learn and be critiqued by older students and my professors, as well. I wanted to understand how other people besides writers saw the work in order to learn the language and universality in art. I am not sure I agreed with everything, but it gave me a broader perspective than when I was only painting in the city streets. To get into galleries and all the other projects I have done, such as commissioned work or museum shows, took a long time. It took decades, but the entire history and crazy stories and days are all documented because, luckily, it’s part of the writing culture to keep photo albums.