NO ROOFTOP, NO BLACKTOP, NO EL STOP WAS SAFE WHEN CORNBREAD AND HIS POSSE WERE WRECKIN' IT.
"The best graffiti involves a sense of perspective, and you only get a sense of perspective by involving certain emotions in the work--such as humor, drama, tragedy," Suroc says now. "And thievery. I think being able to steal ideas, to take text and manipulate text into your own ego and your own reinvention of imagery is important, and I don't see that as an art istic statement. I see it as a graffiti statement."
Some of the stuff he stole was more concrete than ideas. "I spent a lot of time fencing and doing a lot of burglary when I was a kid because that was kind of tradition too," he says. "There's more marriage between the culture of hustling and graffiti than there is of hip-hop and graffiti. Before the assault of hip-hip on America, there were punk kids and skate kids who were down with getting up with graff and getting up with the hustle."
Back then a bottle of Night Train, a few joints, some good music--the Slits, Gang of Four, the Clash--and some good friends was all he needed to fuel a night's outing. With the club he started--Inner City Youth--he harnessed the best piecing, or painting, talent in the city for a time. "The great clubs of Philly were temporal," he says wistfully. "That's an inherent property of graffiti--that it's not to last."
Of course not. Those kids never expected the graffiti they wrote to stick around forever. It wasn't created with the kind of arrogance with which the life around them had been constructed--the brick monoliths, the slapdash housing projects, the leering billboards.
There's a special kind of bravery in being so young and invincible but at the same time having a Zen-like wisdom about death that kids who grow up a little too fast always have. Graffiti's currency is the name, but it traffics in more than a thoughtless assertion of ego. It doesn't shout: "LOOK AT ME!" but, simply, look.
No. Look again. Keep looking. None of this will last forever.
Katie Haegele (firstname.lastname@example.org) is PW's arts and entertainment coordinator/ listings editor.
The 2014 Philadelphia Spring Guide
PW's Winter Coffee Tour