On the Go, 1996
One of my criteria for judging a writer’s status is momentum. How long has said writer been doing dope work? How long has that artist been steadily evolving? How often do they paint? Some guys get a hot style one year, and 15 years later, they’re still doing it. Some writers get fame for a minute and satisfied, they disappear. At this point, you may be saying, “Why does dis guy gotta judge anybody?” Because I got heroes, scrub. There are people who meet and exceed my wildest expectations of what you writers can achieve. One of the feelings that graffiti will rob you of is awe. After a year or so of writing, you’ll hear your knucklehead boys say, ”Yo, get off his dick yo” and your desire to admire will be retired. I too lost my love for a lot of graff. I went through a long period where everybody sucked except me. Then I finally got a grip on my self esteem and became aware that some people have done some remarkable work after learning to do throw-ups. I started meeting some of my heroes and my idea of who was really on top of the game kept being revised. No it has only a little to do with super def style or fresh fades. Now the race is to become human, to fully achieve goals with bare skills and determination. Who among us, I wonder is truly evolved?
Erni Newave, for one. You’ve seen his panel piece on the cover of Subway Art. That was hot. Blue and white with red outline, in a different style than everybody else. That tag next to it, and the name of the crew, NEWAVE – he was definitely on the next level. Years go by, like 15 or so, and he paints the first dimensional piece I ever saw. That was the killa right there. To reinvent yourself so late in your carrier is unprecedented, but Erni did it, seemingly without sweating.
I met him earlier this year, backstage at some dumb talk show, and going through his portfolio I learned that trains were only the first chapter of his book. He painted this wall of cherubs in 1988 that Reebok used for the ad campaign. I originally though it was a work of a school street artist well above the graff semantics until I came across the picture in his back pages. “ok shit, that was you? Every page showed a different direction his carrier took him. Besides the wall art, he’s got his hand in about eight other media. To top it off, he’s still partners with his old painting rollie, SIZE. If this guy ain’t a real king, then I’m waiting to hear nominees.
Actually, Erni wasn’t looking for a crown, “I didn’t care about the graffiti artists, I wanted to paint for a living,” he says. So after graduating from Art and Design with such luminaries as Seen, Doze, Pink and Airborne, he and his man got to work. First they painted T-shirts, then 15 or 20 nightclubs, then making furniture with a third partner, to sculpture, backdrops and movie sets, and now restaurant design. Whatever they did, they came with the style that the duo does, innovation is the common denominator, “We wanted to start a company that people could come to and not feel they were getting graffiti artists, that no matter what you ask for, we’re going to come into your house with spraypaint. Sometimes that’s just not appropriate.” So he immersed himself in all kinds of work to fully realize his potential. In the process of expansion, he picked up the valuable tools of being professional, delivering the goods on time, and discipline. Most importantly, he learned to do a thousand and one things other than graff. “When Graffiti started, everything about it was new, so we were the cutting edge of the world. Writers were the ones breaking out of the mold, now we’re the ignorant ones, we don’t want to pick up a brush and oil paint, or conform to the fact that graffiti is business. Graffiti is not what it used to be, and those that wanna stay true to it can’t, because it’s not what it was..” The New York train movement was a beautiful movement in time. Some still live in that movement, others like Erni, take the lessons they learned in that moment to propel themselves forward into a 5 day work week.
Since running into Erni in March, I have tried in earnest to get him to sit down since mid-July, and some six weeks later he blessed me with an appearance, “I’ve been working everyday since August 1st,” and being the third day of September that is pretty steady work indeed. Some of the highlights of his recent workload include an award winning sculpture in the lobby of Mercury Records, designing a restaurant in Connecticut, and graphic design for the GhettOriginal production of Jam On The Groove. He’s not afraid to do work that doesn’t pay a lot, as long as he’s vibing with the client, he’s straight. “When they started out, I did their backdrops for nothing, I saw their show and I thought it was really good, so I said, ‘Tell me what you got and I’ll work with you.’ Now they got a budget and I’m getting paid. Now I’ve met people in ad agencies that I’ve gotten more work from. So as long as I have time, I’ll paint for free. Erni’s time has become very precious commodity because he gives his clients the best of the street without the typical poses other kids cop.
But that’s not the main reason I dragged him away from his studio, it’s the extra-curricular work that commands my attention. It’s the style that the youngsters call Dimentional that Erni flipped in the street. He first painted the style in oils on canvas after seeing a sculpture Mare had done of letter-forms. Then in 1993 he took it to the street in LA, where it lasted for a remarkable 6 months before succumbing to the scrawls of the sprayers starved fro space. Then Pink and Smith put him on a wall at 2nd and A which renewed his faith in graffiti, “Painting that wall was the first time in a long time regular people walking be were excited about graffiti again.” I asked an impartial observer about who painted the style fist, and Smith said, “I think Delta might’ve been doing it at the same time. Erni doesn’t know anything about the magazines, so when I showed him what they were doing in Europe, he was surprised.” There you have it, yet another example of simultaneous spontaneous combustion. Regardless of who did it first, Erni was on the edge of it, and a thousand other writers needed to get it. It was just the type of flow writers needed to get the juices flowing again, and hopefully the next level is coming soon. “The best thing about it is writers are saying, ‘there is so much more’ and they’re getting inspired and trying to push it further.” Inspiration is an electrical impulse that can race across the planet and revitalize a stagnant culture overnight. Erni is the guy who flipped the switch this year. Who’s next?