At 60 miles per hour everything looks like a blur outside the window of a speeding Long Island Rail Road train. The Port Jefferson line cuts through the Island’s thick foliage and creates waves of green, with grey houses and highways cutting into the mix.
But as the train begins to slows down into each station, one can’t help but notice the few bits and pieces of graffiti seen on buildings from station to station. Names like JOEY and LAMEO appear suddenly and fade away once the train hits the platform. Impressively, they show up again miles apart from their last location.
“It’s very suited to the environment. Painting track spots or trains roots back to the beginning of writing graff. Its has a lot of exposure to the general public who use mass transit to get from A to B, allowing your work to be seen by an endless amount of people,” Joey said.
“In the shadow of New York City, Long Island doesn’t typically come up on the radar as a place for graffiti,” Phetus, a Long Island graffiti veteran, said. Originally from Huntington, Phetus began his career as a graffiti artist, or a writer, in the 1980s by taking trips into New York City where the underground graffiti movement exploded. Phetus became well known for his character Phat Phace, a cartoonish, menacing face that he sprayed throughout Long Island. One of Phetus’ crown achievements was painting this face on every trestle from Montauk Point to Penn Station in 14 months.
“I was going out three, four nights a week and walked the train lines finding every trestle. This was before the internet, there were no iPhones. I had a map of Nassau and Suffolk County and found where the train lines went,” he said. Phetus even meticulously planned where he could park his car and then surreptitiously enter the tracks.
“Track sides are unique on L.I. because that is what people put their all into,” writer Clyde said. “Many of the towns are super pretentious shit so street side catches buff (or gets painted over) quickly so track sides are sacred tomatoes in a way.”
Despite the graffiti on the LIRR, Phetus and other writers said that there is no graffiti scene on Long Island, and as someone that has painted all over the Island Phetus believes that there isn’t much going on. Phetus said it is because many writers don’t leave their areas of the Island and that writers do not stick together. Joey, who is actively writing today, also agreed.
“It’s basically a washed down, wannabe version of New York City,” Joey said. “There’s a lot of various factors that can contribute to that. I can tell you Long Island is different because of the landscape or geography, but nowadays a lot of so-called writers lack the ability, drive, attention span or resources to become educated in the culture, and thus you get a lot of people who got different pieces of the puzzle but can’t really get the full picture or understanding of what this art/culture is.”
Even if graffiti isn’t as big on the Island as it is in the five boroughs, law enforcement is still watching. Within Suffolk County’s seven police precincts, 25 arrests have been made for making graffiti and 246 incidents have been reported from January to the end of October this year according to statistics provided by the Suffolk County Police Department. Suffolk County has its own graffiti task force and Nassau County officials have also taken a serious stance.
“Crimes like graffiti or other types of criminal mischief is something that is frequently seen in the county,” Nassau County Detective Vincent Garcia said. “A lot of it can be attributed to gang activity and young people who tag property with gang signs or other writings. We do see biased types of graffiti as well and, depending on the circumstances, these instances may be investigated as hate crimes.”
Most police are clueless to graffiti and it is not worth their effort at the end of the day, Joey said. Joey had cops drive past him multiple times while painting, has been involved in intense foot chases and escaped. Some nights cops would just sit him down on the curb for hours and then release him. Other times he took a trip to central bookings. “Shit happens,” he said.
But Phetus warns that graffiti writers could face serious repercussions.
“I just beat four felonies for bombing (writing graffiti) the MeadowBrook Parkway two years ago,” Phetus said. Phetus faced numerous charges such as trespassing on MTA property, trespassing on state property, eluding police and possession of 27 cans of spray paint. Phetus found the right attorney who wiped the charges away.
“Four felonies on your record? You can’t ever get a job again!” Phetus said.
Even Long Island college students have faced heavy charges for doing graffiti on their college campus. In 2010 at Stony Brook University, 20-year-old commuter student Jesse Jay Riker was hit with a class E felony charge for criminal mischief in the third degree. Riker was known for putting up numerous tags under the name “Walter” throughout the campus.
Despite the legal risks, writers are drawn in.
“It’s like derelict boy scouts,” Clyde said. “You are judged on your level of heart, integrity and pretty much insanity as opposed to the money driven materialistic based things in life.” Clyde and Joey also said that the chance to freely explore new areas and chase an adrenaline rush are also things that drive them to bomb.
And for older writers like Phetus, graffiti is also what pays his bills. Phetus has found numerous ways to make income off doing what he loves. He has made custom clothing for famous rap artists such as Flavor Flav of Public Enemy, Ludacris and 2 Chainz. He has designed logos, including the “We The Best” logo for the viral sensation DJ Khaled. Phetus was also the first one to make a graffiti-centric app for the iPhone and it got 15 million downloads. He is currently working on a graffiti emoji pack.
“Do you want to go work at Mcdonalds or make a logo for 100 bucks?” Phetus said. “I just made more money drawing something then going to flip burgers type shit.”
Extended Q and A with Joey and Clyde
So introduce yourself.
My names Joey.
Tell me the story of how you started?
My mom would tape paper to the walls in her house. It helped me a lot growing up with adhd.
My mom was a single parent so my Nana would watch me, she would take me to art classes to a small art studio in town. I would draw a lot my entire childhood and as I grew older. I started going into Manhattan to take photography classes at the Fashion Institute of Technology during the summer and I’d take the train from Port Jefferson to Penn Station.
Who or what motivated you?
First off my mother and grandparents were super supportive. They backed me in any decisions I made. I had a lot of friends who rode BMX and also wrote, I was the youngest out the group I hung with and they had a big influence on me. They showed me the ropes and took me out to the train yards etc.
What’s your style inspired by?
I have to say my two closest homies Zong and Feck. Feck was a huge influence and he had the whole squatting/freight hopping background from Philadelphia and taught me priceless amounts of information. Zong too had a huge influence on my early years developing he had gave me a true understanding of style and structure. I find myself being inspired by all different artists and art, really whatever sparks my creativity.
What drives you to keep writing?
It’s fun, I enjoy trying new things and going new places trying to push myself, the experiences it presents me. I do it for the rush.
Tell me some history about Long Island graffiti. Who were the pioneers?
I like to think I’m educated about the history of Long Island graffiti, but to be completely honest I’m not. There are no history books or records to look this shit up. If you are lucky enough to be well connected you can get an idea of the true pioneers of this scene and kinda form a timeline to figure out the roots of this culture. When I think pioneers or early Long Island graffiti I think of Fyt, Sih Abk, Mcs, Au Crews, but I know it’s way deeper than that. The names i remember are Hater, Dama, Duner and Beck, Zam, Phetus, Celf, Odesk, Desn, Bose, Demok, Static, Zeus, Cecs, Pace, etc.
People don’t see Long Island as a center of graffiti as NYC is, yet they are so close to one another. What makes Long Island graffiti unique?
Good question. I wouldn’t call it unique, it sucks at the moment. There’s a lot of various factors that can contribute to that, I can tell you it’s different because of the landscape or geography. Like you said it’s so close but nowadays a lot of so-called writers lack the ability, drive, attention span or resources to become educated in the culture and thus you get a lot of people who got different pieces of the puzzle but can’t really get the full picture or understanding of what this art/culture is. It’s basically a washed down, wanna be version of NYC.
How is law enforcement around here? Are they tough on artists? Share any stories you have dealing with police if you like.
Dealing with the police sucks, man, regardless of the circumstances. You can catch a break here and there, but that’s typically cause you wind up lucky. Most are clueless to graffiti, it’s not worth their effort at the end of the day. It’s the politicians who will sometimes put the focus on the graffiti and then the police pursue the primary focus of the politician’s goals of the time. Drugs Theft, etc. I’ve had the cops drive past me multiple times while I’m painting. I’ve had intense foot chases where I just barely get away both in the city and the island. I’ve been sat down on the curb for a few hours to only be let go with a warning and then I’ve had nights in central bookings. Shit happens.
In NYC people bomb anything, but in Long Island graffiti seems to be concentrated on LIRR tracksides and hidden spots. What do you got to say about this?
It’s very suited to the environment, Painting track spots or trains roots back to the beginning of writing graf. Its has a lot of exposure to the general public who use mass transit to get from A to B, allowing your work to be seen by an endless amount of people. Painting those types of spots are typically safer too because you’re not in public and have more time to practice your work. The same can be said hidden spots too, although they aren’t seen by the public really.
My family, my friends Clyde ,Fish ,Zong ,Danthrax and the list can go on and on. There are just honestly way too many to name, you know who you all are don’t think I forgot about any of you.
1. Clyde, or as my homie Ken4 would say “the funky peanut.”
I drew characters from a young age, it’s always been a form of escapism to me.
I started using the postal stickers in 2009, kinda fell in love with the fact they were free and so easily accessible. Overtime it grew into physical tags and more recently with paint as well.
One thing I cherish about graffiti is the level playing field aspect of it. It’s like derelict boyscouts, you’re judged on your level of heart, integrity and pretty much insanity as opposed to the money driven materialistic based things in life.
One of my favorite things to do is show up to a completely new area I’ve never been to before with just two white markers and catch rusty little pipes and poles all day for the hell of it. 😎
2. My style inspired by hip-hop and hairstyles mainly. You’ll know the conditions of the spot by how much extra shit I add, for instance if it’s really suspect you’ll get the baldness whereas If I feel I can flex a little bit you might catch an afro or hightop.
3.I keep writing out of a love for travelling really, I love to see new places. I went to the west coast twice with just stickers and markers fuck it haha.
4.Track sides are unique on L.I., people really put they’re all into. Many of the towns are super pretentious shit so street side catches buff quickly, so track sides are sacred tomatoes in a way haha.
5. Law enforcement = pigs, no more no less..
I recently had to run with my homies Taco and Bane thru an abandoned camp carrying baseball pants in the rain haha.
Long Island graffiti is definitely it’s own sailboat and if you jump on at the right time, you just might not drown….well maybe haha.
Klyde IY, still scribbling and scheming no intentions of stopping only learning! Like to give a shoutout to my homies JOEY ARGU ONIONS CHEM TACO BANE and all the rest of my homies it’s all love. Peace ✌