Last week, as I reported here, Shepard Fairey invited a trio of taggers to add their work to the sides of his mural on Houston Street. Lower East Side photographer Clayton Patterson was there, snapping pictures of taggers Cope, Indie, and Ewok. His photos are included here. I also asked him some questions about the Houston Wall and his famous graffiti door, which is under threat from the Bloomberg Graffiti Police.
All photos on this page courtesy of Clayton Patterson
You've been intimate with the Houston graffiti wall for some time. You actually painted a mural on it. Tell us about that.
Yes, Elsa Rensaa and I painted a mural on the wall in 1990. The imagery came from my black-and-white drawings. The message of the piece was political and related to the LES struggle for Truth and Justice. All the writing on the image was taken from the inscriptions carved into the walls of the downtown courthouses.
What's your opinion of the Houston wall's shift from open canvas for street artists to a showcase for Deitch Projects?
The wall like everything else has been gentrified. In this day and age there are very few free public spaces for artists to work on. The other day I walked through SoHo and was quite surprised to see that there was almost no graffiti. And even more surprising was that there was almost no street art, a few paste-up pieces, and very few stickers.
What would you like to see on the Houston wall in the future?
More NYC artists. I want to see support for the locals--would like to see more outsiders and outlaws. Not just corporate art, or commercial art that already has a strong market base. It is like waiting to see if Banksy will do the wall.
It is my guess that since Deitch has now brought enough attention to himself, that he now has the MOCA director's job, the wall will once again go dormant.
I know for Tony Goldman the wall is just a business deal. Around 10 years ago Anthony Zito, Steve Ellis, Marco, and I approached Goldman about doing the wall. He wanted big money, so we suggested we could make something in support of a non-profit organization, like the LES Girls Club--he hemmed and hawed and hemmed and hawed until it became obvious that he was only playing us. Pay or get out.
I understand Bloomberg is coming for your famous graffiti door?
Bloomberg has already come for my Front Door. His message was loud and clear: Clean it or the city will, and if you don’t, I get a $300.00 fine!
Elsa stopped the city workers from trying to clean our door. It was at night, and Elsa heard this loud smashing. Her first thought was: Someone is attempting to break in. She ran to the window to investigate. Turns out it was not robbers, but a crew of city graffiti cleanup workers using some kind of power chisel to hammer off the stickers on our door. Stupid as this sounds, the tool left a trail of little chatter marks, and small dents where they chiseled away the paint and the stickers.
In the 'hood, my front door is famous. I have photographed in front of that door for over 25 years. Documented kids growing up in front of that door. There is a book of photographs out called the Front Door Book, published by OHWOW. All the photos were taken in front of my graffiti door.
The graffiti on the door is as important as the photos. In the old days when drugs controlled the streets in our community the graffiti was almost only neighborhood tags. You had to be familiar with those working the streets in order to hang out on the block and to leave your mark. Today the block is not watched in the same way--it is possible for people from outside the community to come into the neighborhood and tag or to do large pieces.
So the tags on my front door, in the old photographs, are another history of this community.
More Wall Stuff:
Billy on The Wall
Fairey Gets Targeted