Traveling to Queens from Manhattan on the 7 train, you’ve probably seen this large warehouse completely covered in graffiti. To on-lookers, the four story block-long structure may be an eyesore, with its yellow façade falling victim to vandals. From a distance, a developer’s plan to knock down the century old building to make way for two residential high rises seems justified. When you look closer at the building, however, you see colorful murals created out of spray-paint and stencil. This building known as 5 Pointz is a place for graffiti artists to hone in their craft; where they’re allowed to paint on the four story walls. Known as the mecca of graffiti art, it would be a shame to see 5 Pointz sacrificed for a redundant tower that will house over-priced restaurants and snooty shops, many of which have dotted the East River over the past five years.
While developers will be offering studio space for artists in their buildings, this plan of “urban development” takes away the outdoor community, created by graffiti artists. In Gregory J. Snyder’s book Graffiti Lives; he acknowledges graffiti as a genuine art. First off, like any other form of art, it’s about creating an image for your work and building a reputation upon it. Furthermore, graffiti writing comes from having a unique style in lettering. Snyder says, “In post-train era, legal walls have become essential to the progression of art form. Piecing with style requires more time and more supplies than tags and through-ups.” It is from the amount of time and effort that goes into street calligraphy and murals, as seen at 5 Pointz, that graffiti is far more than just thugs sloppily spilling threats and foul language on buildings, but rather works of art painted on concrete and brick canvas. Snyder refers to the provided at places like 5 Pointz as “legal walls.” There, graffiti artists are given a legitimate sanctuary to positively express their aerosol talent.
Originally established in 1993 by Pat Delillo, 5 Pointz was known as “The Phun Phactory.” He had convinced the owner to paint over the illegal tags covering the building and replace them with visually appealing murals. Delillo’s image was to create an outlet for the neighborhood youth to express their artistic abilities by painting on legit spaces.
Seeing graffiti as a way to keep the streets safe from vandalism is a familiar idea. Cedar Lewisohn’s book Street Art: The Graffiti Revolution speaks about the graffiti phenomenon in New York City subway cars during the 1970’s and ‘80’s. According to Lewisohn, not only did this opportunity give graffiti artists the freedom to show off their talents, but it also allowed them to battle out their differences through creativity. Rather than needless bloodshed, artists would paint “bigger” and “better” murals next to or over their nemeses’ pieces.
Jonathan Cohan (better known as “Meres”) has been the curator of 5 Pointz since 2002. Meres was responsible for the name change from “The Phun Phactory” to “5 Pointz.” The name stems from his image of the building as a single place where all five boroughs can come together. Meres explains, aside from graffiti artists, “it’s a place for dancers and MC’s to break in our available space. We also welcome photographers and filmmakers to take pictures and use them for artistic inspiration.” Various rap and hip-hop artists including Doug E Fresh, Kurtis Blow, and Grandmaster Kaz used 5 Pointz as a colorful background for their music videos. As for those with aerosol talent, they need not have a high level of experience or even connections in order to have a space on the wall to paint; all they need is an innovative idea.
Comic book and animated characters that decorate the walls of 5 Pointz represent the artists’ creations that have come and gone over the past decade. Some of these familiar faces include Batman’s The Joker (painted by Meres) and Family Guy’s Quagmire. Still, there are pieces that hold a deeper sentiment. Meres explains, “we had a piece done for a friend of mine’s brother and his wife when they got married. It was done as a tribute to their marriage. Towards the roof you see a bunch of names. Those are a tribute to the graffiti artists who died.” For some of the artists, their animation work at the warehouse becomes a launching pad to a full-time career. Meres adds “some of our artists have started here and are now painting in galleries and around the world”
Since 2002, the amount of precision applied to the paintings has increased public recognition for a growing number of graffiti artists at 5 Pointz. As a result, the site has become a respectable outdoor gallery. Meres said that “over the past eight years, it seems that the more outside visitors we get, the more detail our artists put into their work. The more detail they put into their work, the more organized and respected 5 Pointz is to the community. From this, we develop a stronger system.”
With the respect that 5 Pointz has gained, the site has also made a huge impact on New York’s graffiti culture. According to Meres, “the amount of graffiti art seen on the side of buildings and subway tunnels are large murals exhibiting creative expression and talent, from animated characters to political statements. Such pieces are often seen as inspirational for writers and mural painters at 5 Pointz. In return, other graffiti artists throughout the city gain their own ideas from what they see at the site. With this in mind Meres wishes to see 5 Pointz continue to evolve and contribute to the growth and development of the graffiti artists’ community. “This includes worldwide acknowledgement and an increase in tourism and respect for Graffiti artists,” Meres said.
* Originally posted on 3/16/2011
Tags: 5 Pointz, Art, focus, Graffiti art, Gregory J. Snyder, Meres, murals, Pat Delillo, Phun Phactory, Queens Graffiti, spray paint, today, Vandelism