KR.ONE Discusses DON1: THE KING FROM QUEENS
ILLMATICAL: What motivated you to start working on this book?
ILLMATICAL: Your book helps readers to understand a writer’s artistic motivation. Many writers were fans of his art. Did you admire Don1 growing up?
ILLMATICAL: What is the importance of ART AND DESIGN HIGH SCHOOL in relation to New York City’s graff development and history?
KR.ONE: Many of the writers that attended Art and Design obviously had an artistic talent in order to get into that school. Once that artistic talent fused with graffiti it pushed it forward and the graffiti that came out of that fusion became many of the styles and characters that in turn, became the blue prints for many to latch onto.
Although, there are many style masters that didn’t go to Art and Design, that also pushed graffiti into more advanced levels as well.
ILLMATICAL: What was Don1’s motivation aesthetically?
KR.ONE: Like many, Don1 wanted the fame of being the best on the lines. He wasn’t concerned as much with quantity as he was with quality. His pieces became technically advanced for the time and his tag style was also very flowing and seriously nasty. I call it “burner tag style.” He’d often write “Don1, From Queens” Wanting to put the borough of Queens on the graffiti map and compete with the style masters from Brooklyn, the Bronx and Manhattan.
ILLMATICAL: What I like about your book is the emphasis on art. There is a criminal element to graff, but your book focuses on the craft.
ILLMATICAL: You mentioned that he decided not to take his life. After his exposure to angel dust, did he get depressed? Did he continue or try to write again? Does he still have his artistic skills?
KR.ONE: After the accidental overdose of PCP, some of the horrible side effects included severe depression. Depression, along with visual and aural hallucinations that remain but are subdued by taking many medications. The amazing thing and very inspiring thing about Don1 today is that he still is a very creative individual. Although his graffiti skills are not what they used to be he still draws and still does photography. It is his, like for many other artists, a catharsis and peace of mind.
ILLMATICAL: I’ve heard it said, can’t remember whom exactly, but a writer said that police could spot a group of writers back in the days, if they saw a group of teenagers composed of multiple ethnicities. Graff is a testament to art transcending barriers, racially, economically. Thoughts?
KR.ONE: Multiple ethnicities hanging out together may have been a way for the police to pick out writers, I think having spray paint and ink all over your clothes was a way to spot a writer as well. LOL. Also, watching someone look at every single piece going by on a train was a tell tale sign as well.
I’ve always said that graffiti transcended any and all of the social, economic, and racial barriers. From 1977, when I began on walls and buses, till 1983, when I retired from painting on trains, I hung out with Chinese, Korean, African American, Italian, Greek, Polish, Indian, Filipino, Latino, etc. These people where rich, poor, middle class, from good families, from broken homes. None of that mattered. If you knew the language and history of graffiti, had a marker or a can of paint it didn’t matter all what your heritage was. The art was the common denominator.
ILLMATICAL: You mentioned Don1’s commissioned work after high school, why didn’t you include any in the book?
KR.ONE: Don1 may be one of, if not the first of graffiti writers to go from the tunnels and yards right into the ad agencies getting jobs for magazines doing logo and design work. From the 1976 till about 1980 Don1 did a bunch of covers and logo designs for the adult entertainment and music publications of the time.
There were copyright issues that prevented their usage in the book. You can see the cover Don1 did for Cheri Magazine November 1978 here.
ILLMATICAL: In an online conversation, an older writer who wrote during the 60s and 70s, said that the 80s graffiti writers failed to pass the torch to the next generation. Aside from the clean train campaign and the drug plague, what hurt the movement?
KR.ONE: The train movement was hurt by the MTA and the city itself. Putting up twenty foot fences with dogs in them, adding stadium lighting and making sure that every train was buffed and taken out of service if pieced on made it not as attractive as the time when it was much easier to actually see the pieces and tags you were doing. Once the element of not be able to see the work was removed I think writers were like, f***k that, nobody can see what were doing and the penalties became much harsher.
ILLMATICAL: While reading a book on globalization, I’m reminded of researcher’s words, stating that New York City was in danger of loosing its culture, becoming no more relevant than Paris or Rome. That was several years ago. Please speak on the impact of loosing the 5 Pointz. How is that loss going to effect New York City culturally? Not only with the art community, but holistically.
KR.ONE: New York City has already started to lose itself. Just look at how many of the great cultural spots that have disappeared within the last few years. CBGB’s, Bleeker Bob’s, Wetlands, and now 5 Pointz. Its a damn shame. I can name so many more. NYC is fast becoming a sad shell of itself.
ILLMATICAL: What will happen to New York City’s street art movement within the next 5 years? I personally believe that the city is going to put tighter restrictions on the legal walls as well. Your thoughts?
KR.ONE: I agree. It will probably be harder to get away with it and maybe become less and less appealing to do it.
KR.ONE: Dondi says it himself in his book. He, like I at first thought that Don 1 was from the Bronx. He realized that Don1 was from the BMT’s. DEAL CIA and Dondi’s brother Michael have both told me personally that Dondi really liked and was influenced by Don1. Think about it. Dondi was from East NY and the J line ran through his hood. Don 1 was killing the insides and outsides of all of the BMT’s , including the J’s. At that time Dondi was coming up and piece watching trains and forming his own styles. Deal was one of Dondi’s boys and says that within the pages of Dondi’s personal photos albums were photos of Don1’s pieces. His photo albums consisted mainly of his own photos. But he had Don1’s pieces in there too.
ILLMATICAL: Hopefully, this article will be read by writers young and old. Don1 represents a class of forgotten artist and fortunately he documented his work. What advice would you give to any older writers who are out there, sitting on a collection of great photos and art work?
KR.ONE: Yes, It would be great for both the young and the not so young to check this out. It amazes me that Don1 was a photography major and took great photos of his and his contemporaries work. That in itself is a very rare fact. Most photos by graffiti writers were taken with cheap cameras, on angles and such. Don1 truly captured that time and those (undocumented) lines of the BMT’s (Brooklyn Manhattan Transit).
I don’t really have any advise but some ideas may be to hi-res scan everything to preserve those moments. In terms of a book. I personally had no monetary motivation I did it purely out of love for Don1’s influential work and to bring that work out to the world. It is a part of the overall history of NYC subway era graffiti.
ILLMATICAL: There’s some writer out there in high school who has amazing talent and they’re contemplating a career in art, what advice would you give them?
KR.ONE: Again, first there must be the total love for the form. When you truly love and have a burning passion for anything you want to make a career it is that love and passion that will give you the strength and perseverance to achieve your goal.
ILLMATICAL: What I really enjoy about this book is that you included many credible writers who by their words and shared memories, helped the reader appreciate Don1’s legacy. I’ve heard complaints from older writers, speaking about certain graff books that sounded more like fantasy fiction than a biography. Was this your intention from the beginning?
KR.ONE: For sure. I knew that Don1 had affected a lot of the top writers of his time. Like I said in the book, Don1 came onto the scene and just burned it up with sheer style and mastery and then just disappeared into the ether. Every single writer I asked about him pretty much had the same thing to say in their own words. That he was a bad ass mother f*****! All the writers that gave quotes about him are all stand up, very credible people. I knew what they were saying was true because I too had seen his work. I felt it very important to get guys like Lee and Daze and Team to give their words. It’s basically me saying, ‘Hey! If you don’t believe me, listen to these cats!’
ILLMATICAL: You mentioned that you tried to get in contact with Don1 in 1986. This was only three years after you stopped writing on trains. Why weren’t you successful then?
ILLMATICAL: I read another interview when you mentioned that getting access to Don1’s negatives was like finding a treasure. Do your family and friends ever have a problem understanding your fascination with the culture?
KR.ONE: Yes, I say I felt like Howard Carter (the archaeologist) who located King Tut’s tomb. I found King Don1 and his photos were the treasures! As soon as I saw all the images I knew that one day this would come out. It took nine years but it finally happened. That is an example of what I said earlier about love and passion.
Throughout the years my family and friends may have been a little confused or unknowing of how deep I felt about this art. It was in the mid 80’s that I started get a lot of ‘You still do this?’ kind of statements from people. One must understand that basically from the inception of graffiti till maybe when the galleries started to take notice in the early 80’s it was not a thing that you were inclined to be encouraged to do. I still do it after all of these years because I’ve always loved it. They get that now. But I know many people gave up due to that discouragement.