In the New York graffiti world of the early 1990’s, he was everywhere and larger than life, sometimes literally: the name REVS, usually accompanied by that of his partner in crime, COST, could be found scrawled, wheat-pasted or painted in gargantuan white letters on overpasses, walls and roofs from SoHo to northern New jersey. The work upended many traditional notions of graffiti and helped inspire a new generation of so-called street artists.
Then in late 1994 COST was arrested for vandalism. REVS went underground and left the city for Alaska. And when he returned, his work went mostly underground, too-into the subway, where he painted long, feverish diary entries on dozens of walls hidden deep inside the tunnels. He called this a personal mission and said he did not care if anybody else saw them. But over the last few years, he has re-emerged into public view and reincarnated himself in a way few of his fans ever expected, as a legitimate and mostly law-abiding sculptor.
He has made dozens of works using construction-grade steel and other metal parts and has sought the permission of building owners to weld and bolt them to the outsides of buildings in the meatpacking district, the East Village and Dumbo, where the gentrifying but still half deserted streets have become a veritable REVS gallery.
Yet unlike many former graffiti artists who have turned their street credibility into successful careers as graphic designers or youth-market branding gurus, REVS has continued to shun, angrily, the worlds of conventional art and commerce. He makes his living about as far from the art world as possible, as a union ironworker, surrounded by co-workers who mostly have no idea of his reputation as a near-mythical deity of the graffiti world. His only gallery show, in Philadelphia in 2coo, was to raise money so he could pay a lawyer after he was arrested for graffiti. Otherwise, he has refused to sell his work or take commissions for it.
But REVS fans can be forgiven for thinking a comeback is in the works. Over the last several months, pictures of the sculptures have shown up on several street-art Web sites. This has prompted graffiti cognoscenti to scour the streets to find and in a few places, to wrench loose and steal the works, most of which are clustered in or close to Manhattan, although some have been discovered as far afield as Queensboro Plaza.
Over the last few years, he said, he has made more than 100 metal pieces, some weighing hundreds of pounds, and he estimated that he has installed about two-thirds of them with permission, including nearly all his most recent sculptures. He says that while he may not be a guerrilla street painter anymore, he is still a fully committed outsider, and his work will be seen only outside, on New York City streets, as long as he keeps making it.
The first time I saw graffiti these two teenage guys carved their names in concrete in front of my house with
A stick. I wanted to do it too but i didn’t have the balls. It’s still there this day. That was Bayridge Brooklyn in ‘975. I didn’t even know what graffiti was. I remember some kid when I was in eighth grade started doing these square letters on a piece of paper, I was like “yeah I want to learn how to do that, That’show everyone starts, one of their friends does it. I didn’t start writing till 85, I was still a toy. I just liked the rebellion attitude about it. I love the attitude of just big, toy, and not giving a fuck of who okays it. You just shove it down someone’s fucking throat till they choke.
I did the whole graffiti thing like everyone else. The piecing, the black books, tagging. I know graffiti history. We used to run around with the markers and the cans. Go on missions to hit trains Ito a die hard graffiti writer, I fucking love graffiti. But at the same time after you do something twenty years, things get stale. I don’t socialize with nobody. I’m like a lone wolf kind of person. I used to hang with kids, but when you find out how full of shit everybody really is and how full of shit graffiti is, it makes you wanna turn your back on it. And thats kind of what I did. I turned my back on it and then started fucking it in the ass with all these rollers and everything. Because I went out with a purpose of being as toy as possible. Just to fuck everyone over.
After a while when you find out how full of shit everything is, whether it’s rap music, punk rock, or graffiti. It’s all full of shit. Theres hardly any real sincerity in any of that stuff. And if there is it’s buried way underneath so you hardly see it anymore. We just wanted to bring things back to the basics. I was doing regular graffiti pieces, letters, and characters up until 1989. Then I got a girlfriend. And you know I never got laid, I was a real oddball. So I did that for two years, I stopped writing pretty much. But then I found out how full of shit that was because she ran off with a sailor. And then I had a near death experience. So I was like all right fuck everything. Everything just changed from that point. You know how some people say they get struck by lightning and they go in a different direction from what they were doing normally. And that’s how it was for me; that’s how it’s been ever since. Thats how I started with the posters. If everyone’s doing one thing Ito going to do the opposite just for the hell of it. I saw COST had the same mind set and we had a long discussion; because I hadn’t seen him in years. This was in like 91, because I knew him back in and we both had the same philosophy to fuck shit over.
We would do the posters as soon as it got dark out. This was before Giuliani administration got in and Dinkins was running the show. You see things were changing while Dinkins was in, but they were changing very slowly. You know freedom in New York City. COPE was doing it at that point. He was wrecking with all the throws and fill-ins on the street corners in 93’. JA and KEZ5, were doing their thing. We were doing ours. Then after we passed away RN and CINIK kinged shit.
But now it’s like a fucking police state you know what I mean. You get pulled over for any little thing. It’s a different city. When we were kids running around, if the cops caught you they would pour ink on you or they’d kick you in your ass. But nowadays it’s a numbers game. They got to meet their quotas. They got a whole lot numbers to make the politicians look good. Now everybody gets put through the fucking system. They gotta have everyone documented. It’s a control thing. This city sucks nowadays.
This is like a subculture. See punk rock, rap music, graffiti. All that stuff is harmless in away, but at the same time it’s not. We cause property damage. That means money goes out the fucking door. Giuliani is all about money. That’s why all the yuppies took over the city. I knew it was coming.
You gotta be stealthy. Silent. Real bad guys ain’t walking down the street screaming that they’re bad. Breaking shit all over the place. It’s the guy who’s silent and doesn’t say nothing to nobody. That’s the guy that’s going to unload and cause havoc.