Wednesday, August 8, 2007

Writing On the Walls: Inside the Ego of a Former Graffiti Writer

The wind whips my trench coat about wildly as a I hurry down Elm St. on a brisk night in late January. The streets are quiet, with life slowly emerging from the once populated clubs. Pulling my scarf over my chilled nose, I slow my pace in front of Club Dada as a tall, lanky figure approaches. Dressed in jeans, a hoodie topped with denim and boating sneakers, the figure looks about slowly before entering Kettle Art Gallery.

Tony Bones strides in a manner that I can only describe as comfortable. A man comfortable with his surroundings, which, considering the fact that he’s written all over his surroundings for years, is rather apropos. Tony is a former graffiti writer.

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I follow him inside, quietly observing the deep interest he displays while carefully observing the gallery’s latest show. He peers closely at each piece, not even noticing my presence behind him for several silent minutes. Having seen his work for years around the city, I’m admittedly a tad nervous about approaching the notorious artist, but as he turns toward me, his genuine smile alleviates all nerves. Tony has a way of making anyone feel at ease.
His stick creatures have been spread all over the city for years now. With their dangly fingers, and comically horrific features, they stand out from the tags of other graffiti writers.
“It’s been a steady evolution.” He tells me over a can of Tecate. “I started really drawing in fourth grade in some English classes, but these ones, it was probably 2000 or 2001 when I [began] this particular style. It was on a walk to a friend’s house. I didn’t plan it, I just wrote all over this one alley. I think some of the stuff is still there. It was the first time I ever experimented with this style.”

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Graffiti writers use a different medium than most other artists, as a result their experiences during the creative process also greatly differ.
“We climbed all over the city like a little spider-monkies,” Tony elaborates, “It changes the way that you see things. You see a shitty fire-escape that you’d ignore normally, but as a graffiti writer you see the best opportunity.
“Man, I could just climb up that little electrical thing right there and step onto that drain pipe and shimmy over and BAM! These colors would look dope on that rusted-ass whatever-thing.
“It manifests and other people see a spot that they’d never have looked at before. People react. Some people love it, it makes them happy, it brightens their day. For other people, it ruins their day. They hate it. It shows them that they don’t have control over their city. It creates life. You feel powerful. You create something. Some sort of dialogue. And with characters, not painting letters, like what I do, or did, it’s a lot easier for most people to see it and recognize it, identify with it. Especially with a human form: some scary monster with his dick dangling in the breeze.

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“People just ‘Bluuugh!’ It’s not why I started doing it,” Tony confesses from behind a wide smile, “but it’s a funny reaction. We bring light to the dark corners of the city. You find yourself on rooftops or underneath the city in tunnels and running from homeless guys, bottles, dogs, cops, and property owners. We come home at like five in the morning covered in paint, just like buzzing from the whole night, and smelling like beer cans, spray-paint cans.

“You get off on that shit, and, I guess it’s like a compulsion. It’s like being an alcoholic. If you’re an alcoholic and you quit drinking, you’re still an alcoholic for the rest of you life. It’s never over. No matter how much I do, there is no amount of fame or recognition that will quench the desire to, well, write on shit. I’m just compelled. I have a hard time controlling it. It’s always there.”

Tony, like most graffiti writers, has had his share of run-ins with the law.

“I’m on probation for graffiti,” he states shrugging, “but, it’s actually been really good. It’s given me the opportunity to slow down, put my travel plans on hold and develop more. I’ve been branching out a lot to different things that I don’t think I would have gotten to. Well, I probably would have gotten around to them, but not so soon. My plans were to be abroad. Depressurize and get the hell out of here for a while, but being stuck here has grounded me a lot. I’ve grown up. I wasn’t grown up. I’m coming to my own. I’m getting there. [I’ve] gotten more sure of things, and laid the groundwork for the future.”

Since quitting graffiti writing, Tony’s been showing his characters in a new environment: art galleries.

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“It’s whatever you call it,” Tony expresses casually. “If you want to cut a piece of graffiti art off the wall and put it in a gallery, it becomes fine art. It’s your mind. It’s all in your head. It’s all relative to your perception of what is art. For me though, if I can sell it to someone, it’s fine art.”

Tony’s first solo art show in south Dallas at Phil Hollenbeck’s place was the first time these creatures jumped into the realm of fine art.

“I got together like 50 pieces,” Tony remembers. “ Just bolted them up, and hung them up however. I made some flyers, sent them out and there was an awesome response. I sold almost everything. People had seen my stuff all over the city and it was the first time it was available for sale. It was a complete mind-fuck. It was so scary and nerve-racking. Everyone was there and looking at the art that I had made. It was surrounding me. Luckily there was beer: a social lubricant. I got my beer muscles, calmed my nerves. That was a crazy night.”

This year, while still on probation in Dallas, Tony intends to have a full plate.

“I have my website up now. It’s in its infancy. I’ve got the bare bones laid out, so I’ll do the website, get that thing going really strong. I’m working on a lot of commissions lately. tonybones2.jpg

I’m working on some [art for] local bands. I’ve got an agency representing me now. IA Agency. I hope to be doing a lot more work, editorial stuff with magazines, or just expanding and broadening my horizons and getting out there more. I want to do more sculptures. I just finished my first steel sculpture, want to do some more of those. I just want to get bigger, make bigger shit and just get bigger, bigger and more.”
Though Tony has written all over the city, if he still wrote graffiti, there are things he won’t touch.

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“Generally speaking, I don’t write on cars or stuff that somebody takes pride in. A shitty wall that’s rusted and covered in crap in the first place, is one thing. No one cares about that. It’s not like someone’s up keeping it. It’s not like someone comes up every morning and is like ‘Ah! Look at my beautiful shitty wall!’ I write on run-down dilapidated things. I would never write on a place of worship, like a church, or a gravestone, something sacred. Something that people hold valuable, or has a sense of aesthetics. You wouldn’t write on certain buildings, but you could write on others. It just comes down to your own judgment call.

“I feel very passionately about preserving certain parts of the city. I would never write on a historical building, or Deep Ellum has a lot of those old ads that are painted on buildings, like “St. Louis to San Francisco: 2 nights!” or like an Amtrak thing from 1930. I’ve seen people write on that and it fucking pisses me off. There’s not a rule book, and if there was I don’t think it’d be nearly a fun, because it’s your call, and people hate you for it, or love you for it. As you get older, though, you gain more control over things.

“I only speak for myself. I think a lot of people agree with me, but at the same time, some people, their whole thing is just pissing people off. People always get mad at me when they find out that I wrote graffiti. They get pissed at me and say, ‘Tell your friend to stop writing on my fucking building” and it’s like ‘Man, look: You tell him that’. I’m not his keeper, just cause I wrote graffiti doesn’t mean I even know him. There’s so many new Jacks coming up in the game and people lump it all together.”

-by Alison Marie Welsh
-pictures from www.tonybones.net and www.myspace.com/bonytones

More art from Mr. Bones at www.tonybones.net



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