GETTING UP: Subway Graffiti in New York by Craig Castleman

GETTING UP: Subway Graffiti in New York

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KIRKUS REVIEW

A conscientious (if fusty) description of New York's subway graffiti scene, from ""Taki 183"" (1971) onward--and a wipe-out for the antigraffiti forces. Castleman, heeding his Columbia ""academic advisers,"" doesn't theorize; he doesn't romanticize-or patronize--the graffiti ""writers"" either. So one is inclined to be tolerant toward his wordy pedanticism. ""Style, form, and methodology, major concerns of most writers, are secondary in significance to the prime directive in graffiti: 'getting up.'"" Translated by Castleman, that means ""writing their names prolifically""; in plain English, writing them all over. He's also limited as an interviewer, a reporter, and an intrepreter. We hear that graffiti writers, though much like other city kids, ""are more remarkable for their differences""--but the one example is that they get around a lot. We hear that few go on to art careers--then we learn of several who did. And do they become criminals, as some officials allege, or don't they? Still, enough comes out about the labor, the satisfactions, and the standards of graffiti-writing to make the enterprise worthwhile. Lee, of the Fabulous Five, tells about doing a whole train (the outsides of ten cars) one Christmas; and riding it. ""At every station, it was a train stopper, a show stopper. At 14th Street, people were yelling and cheering, but 42nd Street was the biggest. Everybody was going, 'Wow, look at that man.'"" (Yes, there are photos.) Stan 153 describes his ""style war"" with Riff--terminating in a joint ""checkerboard cloud-3-D-diamondback Crunch-Crack piece."" Wicked Gary talks about knowing everything, being ""involved"": ""It was a whole other system of communication and interaction. . . ."" Along with the low-down on styles, names, gangs and groups, there are brief histories of two failed organizations (typical outsider interventions) and particulars on the multi-million dollar efforts of successive N.Y.C. administrations, the transit authority, and the police to stop the unstoppable. ""So like I say,"" says police officer Lesnewski, ""we try to keep one jump ahead of them, but they keep one jump ahead of us."" Or, Lee: ""If they didn't buff the trains. . . it would be like Disneyworld on tracks."" As a provisional report, OK.

Pub Date: Oct. 1st, 1982
ISBN: 0262530511
Publisher: MIT Press