Today we’d like to present a guest feature from the folks over at The Infamous Magazine. For the feature from their 7th issue, Infamous, takes a look at MQ as he recollects his beginnings, discusses where graffiti and writing has taken him throughout life, and also shares some necessary changes he has made and is looking to make in order to stay healthy in a world full of poison. Check out the story below and hit up The Infamous Mag’s official site to snag yourself some copies and much more!
I’m from Junction Boulevard. Corona, Queens. The 7 train. I grew up in the Fuzz One and Flame era of ‘76 or ‘77. They both were painting heavily and I would see their graff on the trains and throughout the streets of Queens and the bubble letters and tags drew me in. I went to P.S. 19, an elementary school next to the 7 train where we could be see the trains pass by from our classroom. The trains were covered in graffiti and I think the whole class was drawing bubble letters. We were kids and graffiti surrounded our school – in our school yard there was a huge, colorful Dondi piece. When I was younger I mostly watched graffiti around me. By 1980, ‘81, ‘82, I was starting to get little tags around the streets: just a few tags, nothing major. In the ‘80s I was more an observer and had no major goals with my graffiti. I was just happy to get up.
Late-1980s NYC was really changing: the music was really exciting, the fashion was changing and trends were being set. There was also a lot of crime: people were getting robbed for having nice things. In graffiti, you could get robbed, too: other writers would take your paint. It was a groundbreaking era: Rap and hip hop were emerging. New York was a beautiful place. And a lot of graffiti was going on.
I have always gravitated towards street graffiti. To me, trains were just a live wire, always with brand new stuff on them; there were too many crews and too much politics attached to them. I couldn’t really deal with all of the rules of painting trains. But the streets were their own domain, different territory with different rules. You actually had to walk the streets and paint different spots to be seen, and your stuff became more personal, an “I-was-here” feel. This was all very different than trains, where once you were up on a train it could travel all city.
By 1983 I was living in Manhattan and it seemed like graffiti had oversaturated the trains. In the mid-80s Joz and Easy were all-city kings. Joz was painting streets and trains; he was up everywhere. Other writers like Lilman, OE3, and CE were painting on everything, all around the city. Writers started going all city and destroying everything in their paths. At that time I was catching a few tags and doing pieces. Around 1985 I got my second graffiti arrest. It was by Furria and Curley, an undercover transit police team who were notorious for taking down writers. Around this time the 7 train got painted white and it was being watched and patrolled heavily. After that arrest I had a strict probation for a few years. I took a break from transit, which didn’t bother me. Streets, rooftops and trucks were my new outlet. By ‘89 the trains were over; NYC was transitioning into a new era. To me it was crazy because a lot of people who were doing trains somehow disappeared. A lot of talent was gone. I started bombing really heavily in the 1990s. For me, graffiti started getting exciting. There was a new generation, new rules and beef was starting to be a big part of writing. Now you had to paint the street.
I have to admit that beef was always a part of graf for me. Even if I didn’t start it, beef was always there. My graffiti changed during the late-80s, mainly because of other writers and beef. When I saw my stuff dissed it just made me want to get up more. Pieces were targets, so I concentrated on more throw-ups and more tags. Beef was also fun sometimes; it made me paint harder and forced me to get up even more. In the beginning I tried to follow “rules” and I even tried to make things right and squash beef. But nothing really helped. At some point, I decided to make my own rules. I didn’t care what people thought about my graff, I was in my own world and all that mattered to me was getting up and staying up. Graf without beef gets boring – everyone needs competition.
In late 1995 I moved out to California, where my approach to graffiti changed a lot, even while the essence of my graffiti stayed the same. Throw-ups, tags and stickers, repeating the process, over and over. What changed was that I wanted to paint everything but scale back on the negative vibes that beef brings. California for me was a fresh start, another beginning of a new era. And I really ramped it up with stickers. I have been a sticker head since 1982. Back in the ‘80s the main focus of every writer was to be as fresh as possible. Writers were competing over who had the better style: pieces first, then tags, then throw-ups and stickers almost didn’t count. But to me stickers were important because I could put up stickers daytime – they didn’t have the stigma in the eyes of the law but you could still leave a trail of your stuff throughout the city. Writers like Tess and DJ NO in the mid-80s and Cost and Revs in the ‘90s were all doing a lot of damage with stickers and it pushed the sticker game up a few notches.
It was important to me to be recognizable. From the beginning, I always wanted my writing to be like a stamp, to always have the same tag, over and over again. It was the same with my throw-up. It took me many years to accomplish that stamp-like consistency with my throw-up; I didn’t really use my MQ throw-up until after five or six years of writing. Today it’s a central part of my graffiti. It is my symbol, part of my personality. Now I want to stamp many things with it. It’s a symbol that I use everywhere, in my art, on walls and in my tattoos. It’s a positive symbol to me.
I try to keep my graffiti positive. Today when I paint I’m not trying to do extreme vandalism. I’m more trying to make people happy. I am a dad now and I paint with my kids. I won’t put them up or make them tag on the streets, but when we go out I’ll put up stickers and point out cool graf to the kids. I want to show them that graf is part of life and part of the city. I want them to see that graffiti is an art, that people have a right to express themselves, that the city has to be more than billboards and ads for corporations, it needs graf to balance out the impact and influence. I don’t think my kids care about the negative parts of graffiti, but I can’t always be a full-time vandal.
Right now I am trying to get into frozen foods. I’m trying to get my throw-up on something that you eat: MQ Foods. I’m trying to get a burger place started in Asia. It’s in the beginning stages, so I can’t talk details right now, but I’m thinking like frozen burgers, ice cream, and MQ water. It has to be just right, because I won’t attach my name to something because it’s a fad. I’m trying to make something that will make you happy and healthy. I am also changing my habits for myself. I am trying to eat organic and stay away from poisons. When you’re using spray paint you are inhaling a lot of poison. You got to know what’s in that paint and try to stay healthy.
My current approach to bombing is to go back to my origins. I want to get back to where I started, markers and tags. I like how it is down low. When you’re using spray paint it’s more of an aggressive act in the eye of the public. Marker tags and stickers are quiet and more subliminal. People don’t have this preconceived negative idea that it is vandalism. They are more open to see your stuff, even if they are not consciously noticing it. For the last few years I’ve been on a copy-machine mentality, and I feel like I overdosed. After doing the same sticker and using the same copy machines to crank out thousands of identical stickers, it makes you crazy.
But stickers and markers don’t always work: sometimes you have to go big and paint something huge. Lately when I have done something gigantic it has been with house paint and rollers. I painted a barge. The piece took me three months of rolling. When I saw the barge for the first time I felt like I definitely had to paint it; it was something personal. To me I envisioned a million silver pen tags on one surface. So I started rolling the barge with silver paint. It was a big deal that it was all chrome and black and maybe one of the biggest spots ever done, 650 feet long. I did my name. Now I’d like to do something else big, not sure what yet. When the time is right, I will know. Definitely going big once every 10 years is mandatory for me.
What’s up with DMS crew? Back in 1987, DMS was a small street crew, a Jackson Heights crew. We were all into hardcore music and half of us wrote graffiti. Although DMS is still around, it’s less graffiti now, it’s more part of the New York Hardcore music scene. RIP CBGB.
Speaking of RIP CBGB, the last time I was in NYC was four years ago. I hadn’t been to New York for about nine years before that and the whole city had changed. CBGB was gone and a lot of the street graffiti had disappeared. Everything was looking too clean and too orderly. I met up with my friend Skam Dust on the Lower East Side. He was there with a crowd of about 30 Japanese music fans who were there for a show the next day. We started putting up stickers and at some point the Japanese kids joined in and everyone was putting up stickers. We had thousands of stickers. Then we got pulled over by NYPD. Several cars pulled up. They had followed us for about eight blocks. In an instant we were all on the ground. All the Japanese guys had passports and hardly any of them spoke English. I tried to talk my way out of it and say that the stickers were a promotion for a Japanese music band. Long story short, the cops didn’t buy it and me and Skam went to jail. I had only been in New York for three hours at this point. It was a trip to get arrested for stickers right after getting to the city. I got a $200 fine and sat in jail for 24 hours. I didn’t mind; I got to see the city from the inside-out and enjoyed that experience. Man, I forgot how crazy and intense New York can be.
I am trying to see as much of the world as I can. I like to paint overseas and combine street work with art shows. In 2012 adidas sponsored me and a few of the 246 Team to have a show in Japan: “All Day I Dream About Stickers.” I had seven writers from the United States out there. Adidas bought tickets for everyone and they even rented a helicopter for us to fly over Tokyo. When we flew into Tokyo, each of us had our luggage and carry-ons stuffed with stickers; I had a bag containing over 80 pounds of stickers. It was a good time. Japan is very different from California. To me it is wild, like graffiti on steroids. I also like being in a place where graf is changing and evolving into different forms. Everywhere people are doing their own take on the art form. It’s not just the USA doing graff now; Asians have their own graf scene. It’s exciting and I have a lot of respect for their scene