There’s a handful of memories that create the basis of anyone’s appreciation of graffiti; a few standout photographs in another kid’s album, a book thieved from your library with handstyles scrawled in the margins… maybe a stay-up burner on your route to school, or if you were lucky, a sketch handed down from an older brother’s avid crew mate.
The particular item I’m drawing upon for this interview was a coverless magazine of American graffiti that I occasionally traipsed around with between sessions in the neighbourhood. While there were other Australian publications floating around with a healthy dose of inspiration, there were a few pages in this American rag that had a certain impact.
The calibre of walls like ‘The DF Lab’, that EMIT and SUB were pumping out when I was wide-eyed and yearning for knowledge left a lasting impression, one that is imbedded in my current day definition of ‘what good graffiti’ as an art form should look like.
EMIT is as steadfast a representative of the movement as any writer would hope to be after such a long term of service. He is a traditionalist, and strikes me as a cheerful and self-effacing character, energetically engaged in life.
It was certainly a treat to reconnect with his doings and find that he’s still at it, still obsessed, and still thrives on competitiveness with a dedication to keep progressing at the same time as juggling the handful of other ‘real life’ journeys that most of us have to undertake to make a living.
In an effort to unhook from the flying fox and move on with the show, here’s the lowdown from EMIT.
Where are you from EMIT? Tell me more about your hometown and what it was like growing up there.
I grew up in rural Connecticut… basically in the woods, but luckily semi-close to areas that had graffiti, and more importantly a short drive or train ride into New York.
I was into skateboarding and BMX as a youngster, and that lead me to meet kids that were into graffiti. My first big influence and painting partner was GAZE. We became friends through BMX street riding and dirt jumping. That’s how I meet CYCLE as well. We have all been friends since we were young and eventually all painted together with the SPORTS and IMOK crews.
What was it like coming up in Connecticut? Was it a competitive scene? Aggressive?
In 1989 when I started writing there was little or no graffiti scene in most of CT. My main competition when I stared was GAZE. We pushed each other to try new things and were constantly talking shit to each other. The friendly competition was always fun. There were a few writers getting up in nearby towns and we typically hit spots near other graffiti to be part of the scene. Right away GAZE and I got dissed with ‘toy’ written on our work. This just pushed us to paint more and try to get better. Wasn’t very long before we knew all the writers in the area and we all began to form our own local crew. We all liked to skate, paint and listen to hardcore… go to shows etc. It did not take long before we started going into NY to paint. The scene was much more competitive and the highway, train line, rooftops, and street walls were endless. Connecticut was a bit more mellow to paint. I liked NY better for the visibility and bigger scene, especially after someone had wanted posters up in Danbury Connecticut offering a reward for me. The posters read “Reward! Who is EMIT?”… and yes, people turned me in, those bastards.
Definitely sounds like a good time to move onto greater things. Were there any local heads from CT that you’d say paved a way before you though? Any major sources of inspiration from those formative years of your career?
There were a few local heads that inspired me, mainly the GT crew in Danbury, but no one in my area painted as much or as big as the NY writers. All my attention quickly moved to New York graffiti… mainly Bronx graffiti. Pretty much everything I saw was inspiring. VET, BOM 5, JEST, YES 2, FACT, CAVS, KEY, BIO, SENTO, SIEN 5… plus a ton more. I spent a lot of time taking photos. Then I met some lesser know Bronx writers.. NOBLE, BESM, and BEYOND. These guys were very creative and had a very different approach to graffiti. They taught me to paint clean (showed me good caps) and to think outside the box… Overall they taught me to be more experimental with my graffiti. Plus, having a place to stay in the Bronx to paint made things way more interesting. Some of my fondest memories are walking the train lines all night doing fill-ins, ending up at 238 Street around sunrise and painting with whatever scraps we had left.
Glancing back through the immense body of your work, it was refreshing to find that your approach to lettering is one that has remained quite consistent over the years, through my eyes quite unaffected by a lot of popular trends. When would you say the style that is so definably EMIT was formed?
I think everyone is effected by popular trends, it seems hard to avoid. It’s just how you process that information. I have always been a believer in the ‘style is the most important thing’ philosophy and liked aspects of graffiti that took skill to execute. An original, sick style, always seemed to be the hardest thing to obtain as a writer. Back in the early ’90s I did crazy fill-ins that hid the fact that my letters were weak. To some, the awkward letters were a cool style, but I always strived for letters that looked tough with swagger (I still have trouble with this).
You can see something similar in a bunch of the current trends; guys covering their letters with too many effects that hide the letter style, or the letters are just very simple. After 23 years I still feel as if I have things to learn and I could still paint my name better with more style. It never ends. One of things that I hoped would define an EMIT piece besides my letter style, were some of the details. In the early days of my career I had a love for 3D graffiti, but I was always married to the idea of NY letter structure and an actual outline around the letters. I always wanted my piece to pop of the wall and look as if you could grab it, like a well painted 3D style. I tried to obtain this look by doing a more realistic lighting on my 3D, overlapping and notching parts of my 3D that shadowed and/or overlapped other parts, as well as adding a shadow on the wall. Fill-in designs that overlapped letters and that went in and around letters also helped achieve this look. The details were always secondary to the style… I always wanted them to be something you noticed if you studied the piece for a bit. Some of these ideas were hard to achieve in the ’90s with the lack of the modern day colour selection so some of my stuff was still pretty flat, but I have always loved the idea of realistic light and shadow to make a piece pop.
I’m aware you’ve developed talents in a wide scope of creative outlets. Do you ever feel that letters are confining?
I never thought graffiti was confining, but sometimes you confine yourself within your own comfort zone and stop trying new things. I recently became a bit lazy with trying to develop my own style writing ‘EMIT’. After a tonne of years, I felt very unmotivated and bored. Recently I have been painting entire pieces with a fat cap, which has made things more entertaining, and actually more relaxing. Getting though a piece in a couple hours is great! I just don’t have as much patience with graffiti anymore. Is this common at 40 years old?
Ha, I’d assume so but I’ve got a little bit to go before I can confirm that. So tell us more about your ‘Style Swap’ project? The exchange of style between writers is definitely one of the more fruitful by-products of online graffiti culture. Has this been a rewarding venture?
That lack of personal graffiti motivation, also got me to start doing a style swap (Exchange). I asked friends/peers to draw an EMIT outline for me to paint. I figured this would force me to try some new styles, shapes, concepts. It has been really fun, rewarding, and a bit of a challenge as well.
I have been documenting the pieces on a web page (thedfcrew.com/EmitStyleSwap) while making notes about the experience. My goal is to keep adding to this page throughout the year. I have been asking writers with styles that are quite different than mine to display a wide range of interpretations of the word ‘EMIT’. Still waiting on a couple guys that said they would participate in my project… you know who you are! Stop slacking and send me an outline. Please! The letters E–M–I–T in sequence are actually really hard to flow together. Sometimes I think that was a dumb name to pick.
I’m sure everyone has felt like this at one time or another, or even humoured the idea of changing it up entirely just for the sake of flow. On that note, how’d you come up with EMIT?
I get this question a bunch… Some people ask me if it’s ‘time’ backwards. Not sure if that would be considered a clever thing to do to obtain a name to write, but I simply picked up a dictionary and started with the ‘A’s’. I stopped looking when I got to the ‘E’s’. The word just stood out to me… Sometimes you just know I guess. For the first few months I did pieces that said other names such as RID, COMP, EPIC, ZEST, AERO, and SYKE, and I put “By EMIT” next to my work because I could not draw an EMIT piece.
Tell me about the formation of DF. The quality tally of polished EMIT and SUB productions will no doubt tear through the memory banks of many Artillery readers. When did it start?
I meet SUB in the early ’90s from my trips to paint in NY. We instantly clicked; had a similar sense or humor and a similar graffiti mentality. We always talked about new ideas and concepts we had never seen before. Lucky for me SUB is so talented. Anything we could ever come up with he could paint. A few years later, once we joined forces with the midwest legends, ATT crew, it was a similar dynamic. We would all just laugh and make up outrageous concepts for characters and wall themes, then would make a production wall out of it. We always entertained ourselves and even threw in some jackass type pranks on each other… Not sure if others got it, but that doesn’t really matter. We always had a great time.
SUB comes out to paint once in a while. He is one of those guys that can pick up a can after a year of not painting and still burn. Just a really humble and talented individual. Have you seen his paintings? They are commonly mistaken for photos. SUB and I have been talking about painting a ‘DF Labs Part 2’ wall for about eight years now… hopefully one of these days. Maybe someone will read this and invite us to a jam to paint together. We had a great time at Xstatic Festival a couple summers ago. If you are a graffiti artist that gets to travel and paint, consider yourself blessed, because that’s one of the best experiences I have ever had as a writer. Traveling, experiencing different cultures, and getting to paint in a different city is really awesome. Geneva was really cool too, I need to go back!
Would you say the pursuit of travel is something thats kept you active all these years? What else has kept you going?
I guess my competitive nature won’t let me quit. You see other writers painting and doing fresh work, and it just makes me want to keep painting. The entire world of graffiti is so connected now a days, we all influence each other, so to continue to paint and share my graffiti just keeps me involved in some way. Plus, I am surrounded by a scene of writers in Denver that constantly paint. I am lucky that people call me to come out when there is an extra spot. I rarely turn it down.
Does this intense competitive streak translate into all facets of your life? I know you’re an intensely active guy; an avid snowboarder and still enjoy BMX dirt jumping among other things… Does it ever grind the wife’s gears?
My wife is great. She lets me have my hobbies and do what I want. A lot of the outdoor stuff we do together. She is competitive as well, so we always have fun snowboarding or getting involved in a game of whatever. The good thing about Denver is, we have a big city but then we have a playground of outdoor activities with the Rocky Mountains a short distance away. Over the years I have actually tried to curb my intense competitive streak. It gets stressful, and stress is really unhealthy. You just have to know how to harness it and put that motivation to good use. Staying active has kept me young, and being completive hopefully keeps me out of last place… LOL.
What excites you about the current movements within graffiti? Are there any particular evolutions of style or techniques that are commanding you attention at present?
There are certainly writers that stand out to me… A lot of guys painting really cool stuff. Some of my current favorites are EAST, RAPES, OUIJA, JIVE, EWOK 5MH, JICK, VOGUES, LEAD, SUB, SCRIBE, WHEN, TASTE, TOTEM, BACON, SERVAL, KENT, POSE, RIME, OMENS, YES 2, GES, MIEDO, DAIM, BELIN, TUES, SWET, VENTS, CES, DOES, ZONE, NEON, and SMASH… the list goes on and on. There really is a ton of sick graffiti out there. I’m not sure if anything excites me that much in a photo though, l really like to see graffiti in person to see how the wall was executed. Ever since day one when I started, a piece up close has always got my graffiti addiction flared up. Also, meeting writers and getting there perspective on things has been of more interest to me as I have gotten older. We all have quite a bit in common.
Now on something that has always interested me as an Aussie; freight culture in North America. It holds a severe grip on both participators and appreciators alike. It seems to be a steadfast element within graffiti culture over there, vastly different to any other continent. Would you say the freight aspect of the game has shaped your personal career in any way?
The concept of painting any moving object has always been appealing. I remember the first freight I painted in 1991. There were some boxcars near a wall we were hitting and I still had cans in my bag. I told the guys I was painting with, “hey I’m gonna go paint that freight.” They all laughed at me and said I was wasting my time and paint. It was fun to me since it was different than a wall. I had seen a few freights painted in the Bronx and I thought is was cool to paint metal after staring at my ‘Subway Art’ book. That day was one of only two day freights I have ever gotten to paint. I feel safer painting illegally at night. Years later, after I moved to Colorado, freights became my way to connect to other cites. I’m not really sure if freights have done anything for my career, actually I don’t think I even have a graffiti career since I never make any money. I just paint cause I like to paint. If I got paid to paint as a job I think I would just stress myself out trying to please people. I like to paint for myself and my friends.
Amen to that! Now finally, it’s inspiring to know that your creative zeal resulted in your present (and paid) career path. Was there a time that you made a conscious decision to spin your pursuits as a writer into gold? Would you say it was a natural progression to move into design and web development?
I’d say I was heading in a creative field direction before I even knew what graffiti was. In grade school I was into drawing and then screen printing. After high school I was accepted into an architecture school, but never went. I eventually took art and video production classes in college and discovered computers. Then graffiti came along and it was just another creative outlet. I don’t think my job has really effected my graffiti very much, but graffiti has affected my job. I used to do a bunch of rave flyer designs in the late ’90s and I’d do gritty, drippy, paint splat photoshop brushes, and raw texture graffiti related aspects in my designs. Nowadays they remain pretty separate. Graffiti is a nice escape from every day life; to just let loose and expressive your self with no boundaries, no clients asking for stupid stuff, no one telling you to change shit. Now that I’m older and stay away from most of the illegal stuff… the only thing I miss is the smell of Krylon ultra flat black and being destructive.
EMIT, its been an absolute pleasure mate. Thank you for taking the time to tune in with Artillery. Any last shout-outs or words of encouragement for the young ones?
Thanks! Appreciate the interview. Lets see… the classic “shout out”… Well, If I’m cool with you, hopefully you know who you are and I would like to say thank you for putting up with my shit and painting with me throughout the years. There are just too many people and good memories to list everyone. As for the ‘young ones’.. I guess I would say, try to avoid the sewing circle gossip, paint what ever you get the most enjoyment out of, and please, learn your history before you pass judgements. Respect the people that paved the way from every graffiti era before you.
Wise words indeed. Cheers!
Plenty more freshness to catch up on.
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