Viewing page 4 of 6


Transcription: [00:11:53]
[[Robbie Ingui]]
Kind of in a way. It definitely has changed other businesses, a lot of hardware stores, Mom and Pop hardware stores, are gone - because Home Depot came along and they sell for less than the Mom and Pop stores could do.

So yeah, I haven't made many hardware store signs I could say - but generally my clients are not corporate. I have maybe half a dozen mega-conglomerate corporate clients that I deal with. Most of my, 80-90% of my business, is Mom and Pop stores. Thankfully, New York, right, is still dominated---

[[Teresa Ingui]] Yes, it's dominated by the Mom and Pop stores. And if I might add, like Robbie was saying about the Home Depot. Just when the Home Depot started up we had noticed that we were making a lot of hardware signs, right before they all went out. Because they were really, really trying to keep their heads above water.

And we find that in the neon business and advertising, when the economy isn't too good for the Mom and Pop stores, that's when the business is good for us. So people are trying to keep their heads above water but sometimes the corporations taking over.

But then other businesses come in and fill up that space where the hardware store was, now we have a big run of telecommunications/cell phones - so where one business goes out there's always something that's going to come in and you're going to be making a new kind of sign to break up your monotony, so to say.

[[Robbie Ingui]]
New York has no lack of entrepreneurial shipmanshipism.

[[Elena Martinez]]
Well, another art form that we will be looking at and talking about is graffiti, and I think one of the images that comes to mind for many people when they think of New York City are the subway trains, like during the 70's, that just had tags and graffiti scrawled all over the inside of the cars.

And, we'll ask some questions of Nicer and Wise, and if maybe if you guys can tell us a little bit about how graffiti was used on the subway train with the tagging, as well as the pieces that were made on the outside of the cars, and talk about your experience with the subways.

[[Nicer or Wise??? Unknown Speaker]]
Well we started, I started painting subway trains in 1980. It was, it sort of started as a subculture, it wasn't, the general normal everyday person had no interest in this art form really. It was just, you know, we saw the artistic value in it.

When I started it was by chance that one day I got on the train with my family, the doors closed as we were leaving and I turned around and there was this huge lettering on the side of the train and these cartoon characters, it sort of like reminded me of like a comic book cover.

So I walked away, and I was like overwhelmed like "Wow, what was that?" and meanwhile I am being dragged along. So, that sort of like piqued my interest. The art, graffiti was being practiced from like the 60's on, so we are sort of like the 3rd generation that came along.

When it started, if you look at the overall timeline of graffiti, it started, it's gone through an evolution, so it started as just someone writing their name, you know, and simply enough as that.

The art form is an art form of calligraphy, in a sense, because what you do is you try to stylize an alphabet, you try to camouflage lettering and so its sort of like a calligraphy sort of formatted art form.

But the originator sort of started it with one stroke lettering and someone else saw that and they said "Well you know, that looks cool I'm gonna add another color to it, and I'm gonna outline that."

And then someone else saw that and said "I'm gonna do those two steps but I'm gonna do stars in the middle of it", then it just went on and on and on.

Where now we are in 2001 and actually the kids are designing the stuff on computers now and printing it out and going out and painted it on walls.

[[Elena Martinez]]
And you guys started your work on subway cars too right?

[[Nicer or Wise Unknown speaker]]
Right, right, we painted from 1980-1986, which was the very last that the MTA let trains ride with any graffiti on it. By then we already had taken it to such a different level where there were composition was no longer just based on a name, there were backgrounds and foregrounds and characters, and they started taking shape where it was more defined.

[[Elena Martinez]]
A lot of graffiti artists talk about how they liked using the trains because if you lived in the Bronx, you'd do a piece on the train and it would travel through Manhattan and Queens and Brooklyn and it was like your artwork was just being, the whole city was getting a chance to see it. Were you guys conscience of that when you did your pieces?

[[Nicer or Wise Unknown Speaker]]
Yeah, definitely! Because what ended up happening at the very beginning was that even throughout the very ending of painting trains, a lot of times there were just names on subway cars, or images on subway cars, and what ended up happening was you didn't know the person, you didn't know the face that was attached to it.

It was just names - so you know in a lot of different ways these trains sort of became rolling canvasses. Which was kind of a cool thing because you'll be in Brooklyn somewhere and you'll see someone that looks like they wrote graffiti, had paint on their sneakers, or their fingers were full of ink - and you'll approach them and like "You Write".

"Write" is one of the terms, we call each other writers. It's funny how people that are in this art form don't even use the term graffiti a lot, graffiti was basically a name that was given to it by the media and what ended up happening is we call each other writers because we write on trains, the lettering styles, it's sort of like writing.

What ended up happening was if I had my way I would change the name completely and call it something like Aerosol art which is because there is, one of the things that ends up happening with this art form is that say someone that has no interest within the art form stumbles across a spray can and picks it up and goes and writes on a building or on a car or church, synagogue or something - right away they are vandals but they are called graffiti vandals.

Guys like myself and my company, Wise and us, we can paint portraits, we can replicate photos, we can create one of a kind images, you know all manipulating spray paint, but the spray can is just our medium. It isn't our tool for destruction.

So what ends up happening is everyone, they look at everything that's done with a spray can and they clump everyone sort of into the same group, and that's one of the things that we try to do as a company. We try to break that stereotype.

[[Elena Martinez]]
Well you guys have actually made pieces all around the world, you've been to a lot of different countries. You do murals, [[?]] murals, memorial murals, commercial murals but you still have a problem, run into it sometime where people just consider it vandalism?

[[Nicer or Wise Unknown Speaker]]
Yeah, it's funny we had a call one time, actually we had a meeting, with a company out of Greenwich Connecticut. They came to our office, they looked at the portfolio, we designed some art work for them and we were ready to go and proceed with the project.

So we drive up to Greenwich and you know we start unloading, and we're getting ready so we can start painting, and the woman walks over and she's like "What's this for?" and I say this is what we're going to use to paint. She's like "Spraypaint?" and we're like Yeah, and she's like "Oh".

Like right away like her tone changed, it was like "Oh" but needless to say we just ignored it, went on and painted and by the end of the project they all came and they were like "We have to have you back" and "We have to have you do the other wall" and it was kind of, it's cool just to see people's, see them change their perception from the very beginning.

[[Unknown speaker]]
Art transcends all cultures.

[[Unknown speaker]]
See that.


[[Elena Martinez]]
Well you mentioned that it was a kind of calligraphy, can you guys talk a little bit about the aesthetics, there is different writing in different Burroughs and different countries even. Can you talk a little bit about the different aesthetics of Aerosol art.

[[Unknown speaker]]
Yeah, one of the things that you have to keep in mind is that it's one of the art forms that's probably, as far as paint being applied to something, it's probably one of the newest art forms ever invented.

What ends up happening is that you know it was invented here in the states in New York City, sort of nourished and grown, and yet there's places throughout Europe that recognize this as a true art form and give it actual space.

We've been to places like, we did a month long show, a tour throughout England, which we really traveled the entire English---

Please note that the language and terminology used in this collection reflects the context and culture of the time of its creation, and may include culturally sensitive information. As an historical document, its contents may be at odds with contemporary views and terminology. The information within this collection does not reflect the views of the Smithsonian Institution, but is available in its original form to facilitate research. For questions or comments regarding sensitive content, access, and use related to this collection, please contact