Monday, June 7, 2010
SKUF's presence in the NYC and international graffiti scene
can't be ignored. Having gone all-city several times at
different levels his name is one of a handful synonymous
with bombing, and continues to be even after his last city
wide spree in 2005, following which he stopped.
Growing up in Bushwick, Brooklyn, graffiti and its parallel
elements were all around him. With an older brother 10 years
his senior heavily into break dancing SKUF was constantly
fed hip hop culture surrounded by his brothers friends.
His involvement wasn't something he chose but something
he naturally grew into. The art and colors were what intrigued
him and once he was able to put it all together in his head he
knew he wanted to get up, even as an 8 year old he saw names
like O.E 13, P13 and wanted to be as big and famous as they
were. The lure of escaping his reality, attention other writers
were getting and his brother demystifying what bombing was
fed his appetite for what he called 'killing the street.' SKUF was
an active writer from the late 80's, bombing in Junior high all
throughout his neighborhood he built a solid local presence.
It was 1991 that his cousin STAK (TFP) gave him his name,
and the city-wide onslaught began.
When talking about his cousin and how his work influenced
him you begin to decipher even though he was bombing,
and pretty focused on the vandalism side of graffiti
the encouragement to be creative played a big role in the
development of his style. "STAK has one of the illest hand-
styles in graffiti history, he's extremely underrated. He always
encouraged the whole YKK crew to be creative. They would
all compete against each other and try and come up with new
styles. Creativity is what made us who we are."
Holding such a strong place in the scene for so many years it
is clear that graffiti was the catalyst for much of SKUF's life
experience. When I asked him what some of the good ones
were he was adamant that 'good' can mean different things at
various stages of your life. "What was fun was going out,
breaking the rules, getting up, living lawlessly. Living in a world
where everyday rules do not apply. That escape alone was fun.
Racking paint, getting up, the beefs, the wars. All of that at the
time was living and it was fun at the time." All this wasn't without
consequence and he contrasts these tales with the bad ones that
came with it. Getting incarcerated, getting cut, but the worst
of it all was having his friend (alias VE) die right in front of him
bombing late at night in a rough neighborhood, over graff. It is
absolutely true, as SKUF says, that people die over stupider
things. Given the list of what can go wrong when you're doing
graffiti: getting hit by a train, in fights, shot, electrocuted,
falling off roofs.... Now as a father it's this list that brings him
to the realization he doesn't want his son following in some
of the footsteps that he covered the city with in younger years.
Instead, he feels that kids should be channeling their energy,
embracing the creative elements and finding a way to extract
the negative side of graffiti culture without losing the positive.
He laughs when he remembers the old guys in Bushwick that
would tell him he was wasting him time writing, and even
though he may be echoing some of their words the fact is that
if it's SKUF saying it to kids it's a little different. He himself
says he didn't truly realize he was creative until gallery owner,
Hugo Martinez brought it to his attention. It was around this
time he stopped bombing and began doing shows, traveling,
being able to paint and although not living off it, at least paying
some bills. Slowly but surely he realized Martinez was right,
he was creative, and graffiti was his medium.
Having lived through first hand what someones belief in your
ability, and helping you to trust in that SKUF knows what a little
encouragement can do. As a youth he had nothing like this,
he was in and out of jail and as he says "I learnt to be a gladiator
instead of a scholar," he believes that if kids could become
scholars instead we'd be living in a different community. His ideas
on helping to cultivate the youth in New York are apparent,
"It takes a village to raise a child, NYC is my village."
SKUF stopped by the New Design High School a few months
back and it was pretty clear it was a huge deal to the kids to have
a big writer stop by and just give them some time. He answered
all their questions, and the respect they had for the fact he was
nothing but real with them was clear as day.
SKUF's involvement with Rooftop Legends seems to be a meeting
of two like minds. He gives Jesse Pais (NDHS Dean, alias EV)
some serious credit for what he has created with Rooftop Legends
and the energy he has put in. Both he and Jesse are trying to find
the best ways to execute their ideals: embracing the positive aspects
of graffiti, and eradicating the negative without losing the rawness
and passion that are intrinsic to the core of this movement.
SKUF describes what is being done with RTL as a study of this
movement, giving people a place to express themselves and seeing
what can be done to further it. What he is helping to do for the
broader understanding of the art-form and its surrounding culture
is not much different from how he is breaking it down for his son
Pharaoh. At 3 years old he is intrigued with what he sees on the city
walls, and SKUF is faced with the task of explaining what's good
and what's bad. It's not entirely similar with the world outside of
graffiti, people are interested but need those who care and understand
it to bring to their attention that there are different parts. Vandalism
is one but there is a huge proportion that is not. It's this which people
like SKUF, Jesse and all that are involved with Rooftop Legends are
trying to bring to the surface. SKUF as a father, and Jesse as a Dean
are in the position to show the next generation that they can push
this medium to a whole new level. This is something that speaks to
so many, both locally and internationally. Allowing you to be heard
with your own voice, own style and in your own way. That alone is a
huge thing to teach the youth and sets them up with a confidence in
their ability that they'll carry with them into a creatively enriched
future. It's no doubt a huge task, but safe to say that they are already
SKUF wanted to give thanks to his wife Naisha who he calls the
worlds greatest mother. And son Pharaoh, 'without him, life's not
worth living.' We'd like to say thanks for his passion and involvement
with Rooftop Legends.
*WORDS & IMAGE: S.LESTER