Off Script: ACNE
Documenting the best graffiti handstyles from NYC and around the world
ACNE DKLT NSF KMS was among an intrepid wave of younger writers who took to the streets in the mid to late ‘90s. Along with his long-time partner CECS, he bombed neighborhoods all over and painted many cutty spots on the city’s gritty underbelly, some of which run to this day. He then ventured past the five boroughs and travelled across the US and to Europe, in order to explore and paint as many different cities as possible. While he doesn’t call himself an active writer, he remains at the heart of the culture in NYC.
How did you get into graffiti and who were some of your influences?
The first graffiti I noticed were literally some of my first conscious memories, being stuck in traffic on the Cross Bronx Expressway when I was six or seven years old, going to see my mom’s family in Brooklyn. I remember the brick walls going all the way up, seeing TD, JA—there were so many back then. That was the first graffiti I could read, it was simple and effective, and it was everywhere. Keep in mind, that was the pinnacle of NYC streets and highways. There was JOZ, EASY, JOSH5, an endless list of people. I didn’t necessarily understand what it was at that point, but it was everywhere.
My next-door neighbors when I was a small child, around five to eight years old, their older sister used to babysit me, because my parents were never around. I didn’t realize until later on, but they wrote graffiti. They had a clubhouse, spray paint all over. They were the older kids on the block that kinda bullied me and shit. I didn’t realize who they were for many years. There was also graffiti around my school. Kids I hung with in school used to write on shit and had blackbooks and kept getting in trouble for drawing graffiti in blackbooks in class and getting suspended for writing in the bathroom.
When I was 12-years-old, I started skipping school on a constant basis to go skateboarding. I’d go to the Brooklyn Banks and see things off the train lines and realized that shit’s kinda cool. I started hanging out downtown every day and started seeing the same names around there, including the names I saw right by my house, which turned out to be my neighbors. I’m gonna leave their names out of this. Something about it was appealing to me.
My first stylistic influences were people I grew up seeing. Definitely PMER, REVS, SP.ONE, YES2, CES, all the IMOK dudes, a lot of New York people from the classic heyday of street bombing. SKUF, SPOT, FOE, JA and FTR crew did their thing, KECH, GIZ, SLASH, all those dudes—too many crews to mention that put in so much work. Kids these days couldn’t begin to fathom. There is an endless list of people that put in a ton of work and deserve credit, graffiti really was everywhere in NYC back then. VE for sure. That dude always had the high spots, made me think about placement. As a young kid that stuck out in my head. “No comp, no competition.” There was so much more graffiti back then, choice of placement was important. The whole street level was fill-ins and tags, and VE always had the up-high spots everywhere I went. Some tight, arrogant shit, always no comp.
There was just so much graffiti. I was looking at mainly Brooklyn and Bronx writers, no disrespect to anyone else. I used to skip school and take pictures of all those FX productions in the mid to late ‘90s. That’s what got me interested in piecing, it was inspiring. But then I also got to see the cutty Bronx dudes that really put in work on the streets. Even toys were good. Nobody gets it now. Kids do the bare minimum and don’t try. For us it was all about handstyles. If you don’t have good handstyles and good throw-ups, what’s the fucking point? Each borough used to have their own handstyles, specific neighborhoods had their own flow. That’s lost in graffiti these days. In fill-ins it was even more evident. I was influenced by writers from all boroughs. My friends now influenced me a lot before I knew them.
I wrote something else for a while, but I wanted a cooler word that ended with an E. I don’t remember the specific year. I was shoplifting for a living to support myself and my vandalism habit. Maybe at that point I realized that it was a lifestyle, since I woke up every day thinking I have to steal something, whether it’s paint or something to sell to make rent. I just went with the flow for a long time until I realized it had taken over my life.
There was period where I had a partner, CECS. We also linked with SHAUN RFC. These dudes inspired me. CECS was my best friend for years and years. Our entire life for well over ten years was graffiti. I’ll be honest, stylistically, his style was ahead of the curve, still is, even though he quit writing. Him and SHAUN always pushed me to get better. The three of us made a good team. “It’s satanic man!” (That’s for SHAUN.)
How has your handstyle changed over the years?
Stylistically, CECS and I were influenced by the same people and pushed each other to get better across the board. I’ll even give him credit for being better and pushing me.
The way I was taught, handstyles are most important. Then throw-ups, straight letters, and then pieces, if you could get to that. But number one is tags. That’s the way I still view it. It’s a problem in graffiti today, these kids don’t get that. Style first, then quantity. Get good first, then do it everywhere. When I was a kid the first thing I noticed were dope handstyles. It all evolves from that.
That used to be the most important thing in New York. If you don’t have a dope handstyle, you’re a fucking toy. I don’t care if you do your shitty fill-in everywhere, you need to start with a dope handstyle. And then if you have a dope handstyle—almost as important—you probably have a dope fill-in. You better. That’s the progression. If you have a dope fill-in, you can do a dope straight letter and dope pieces. I’ve never been a big blackbook dude, so it was trial and error for me. I did a lot of shitty graffiti until I started to get good. I don’t know what kind of psychosis it was, I just had to do it until I got good at it. And piecing really came a little later on, it was more of a recreational activity.
Do you have any favorite markers, spraypaint or other tools?
When I was younger I tried to get whatever I could for free. Rustoleum. I was really about silver markers for a long time. There’s this one Videograf where COST has the shoebox full of silver markers. I saw that when I was a little kid, so at all times I had to have two of those. There was a point where I was living downtown and I deaded two silver pens a day no matter what, that was my goal, no matter where I was. In retrospect a lost cause, because probably not a single one of those tags is still running.
It was easier to steal spraypaint from Home Depot in the suburbs, but I didn’t have a car. I had to figure out the logistics. I need to steal a car from somebody and I need to fill up this car with paint and get back to Brooklyn.
I’m not a religious man, but if I were to have a religion it would be Rustoleum. But I like all this newer paint. Kobra, Montana, the new cap technology, I like all that shit, because you can expedite the process. It’s possible to do a fill-in in two minutes on the ave. It covers well. Everybody’s issue seemed to be the paint standing the test of time, but I don’t think that’s an issue with spraypaint anymore, things get buffed too quick. Not going to jail is the issue now. Everyone gets caught up in this keeping it real shit with racking, like you gotta rack your paint… I pushed plenty of carts in my day, to say the least, and have nothing to prove in that context. I’m pretty much middle-aged now, I work hard, I’m not broke. Stealing paint used to be a necessity. I like the way the new paint feels … Rusto and Killz is what we had to work with back when racking was the only way we could get paint.
What’s the best part about bombing with tags for you?
Kids are going for it these days, and I have nothing but respect for them for doing it. At the time, with street bombing people could go all city. I’m not sure it’s even physically possible anymore, you’re just gonna catch a case and everything gets buffed. For us it was about connecting the dots. I would steal a car and me and CECS would just drive around NYC and find spots. If I couldn’t get a car we would find a way to spray any which way. I would say the best part about graffiti in general is connecting the dots…. we used to love doing spots that made people be like “What the fuck were you doing out there?”
I remember when me and CECS first started writing together, taking paint tags in a neighborhood that is now very gentrified, but it was hood back in the day. You’d laugh, but back then it was kind of a tough area. We were lucky enough to have these older dudes looking out for us, REMO and KECH, to name a few, we had a lot of older brothers back then. We’d come from some house party and were taking paint tags on a roll-down gate and these dudes were like “What the fuck are you doing there? If you want to write out here that’s fine, but we need to look you out. You’re two little white boys.” We said, “Word, thank you,” but their warning had the opposite effect on us. We decided that now we’re gonna do the biggest fill-ins we can do in the hoodest neighborhoods in all of NYC. That’s what we did for a few years. We were like, let’s break these people’s necks. You know what I mean? You’re driving by in a car and twisting your necks to see what we did.
I don’t think any of it was about fame per se. I’m not gonna lie, it’s not like it doesn’t affect graffiti writers. If anyone tells you it doesn’t, they’re lying to you. But it wasn’t the main motivation. We came up with this plan, we’re gonna do a bunch of fill-ins in the worst neighborhoods in NYC and connect the dots. We didn’t have a car or anything. I had to “borrow” a car from somebody and steal a shopping cart full of spraypaint every other day and hopefully not get arrested and hopefully that person has their car back in the morning when they need to go to work.
We literally had a map and started with the worst neighborhoods. Brownsville, in Brooklyn. East New York. I’ve had guns put to my head in both of those neighborhoods. They didn’t like a couple little white boys writing graffiti in the neighborhood, and I don’t blame them. The Bronx as a whole was never safe.
Occasionally we ran into other writers. I could pull some people’s cards now and it would be entertaining. We were hitting the streets at least five out of seven nights a week, all night until the sun came up or we ran out of paint. A lot more people were writing a lot more graffiti back then. I’d pass a roof and notice this shit wasn’t there earlier today, and come to find out these people were ducking down and hiding from us. A couple of times I accidentally ran up on fools I was friends with and they didn’t realize it. They hopped the fence and were out.
Initially we were just traveling around NYC and doing as many neighborhoods as we could. We checked neighborhoods off on the map. I started meeting people from other towns and I started traveling. First domestically, Philly, Baltimore, DC, Boston, then Oakland, San Francisco, Detroit; I spent a lot of time in all those cities. That became the focal point of a lot of my graffiti and the coolest part, going to these new places, being up and doing as much as I could. Getting arrested in other countries and having fun doing so.
Take Philly. Philly is very insulated from the rest of the graffiti culture, it’s its own thing and I love it for that. You have to master these particular handstyles from these particular neighborhoods and it’s mainly based on tags, I love that. We could go down I-95 and hit each city and put notes on it, because I spent enough time in all of those cities.
My main goal as a graffiti writer was always to be good across the board. Good throw-up, handstyle, straight letter and pieces. Each city had its own style and that was inspirational to me. That’s something the internet completely ruined. It’s the downfall of graffiti. It’s cool that more people get to share things, but you get people from wherever doing styles from somewhere else. It started with 12oz and a couple of websites before that. People started to see other things; I still don’t know if it’s good or bad. I had friends from New Jersey, which had a rich graffiti history, its own scene and style, somewhere between New York and Philly. Mainly highways, that shit was fresh. Then the internet happens and you have kids from New Jersey doing Los Angeles styles and shit on New Jersey freeways. It just didn’t make sense to me.
What does it take to become a good bomber?
A time machine. Or the biggest balls in the world. There’s some kids trying these days, and I have respect for them for doing that and honestly I give them more credit, because it’s harder these days. It takes a time machine, a “rental” car, a couple of carts full of rustoleum and a whole lot of heart. Probably not a girlfriend. I see people trying, but I don’t even know if you can do that anymore. The dynamic has changed quite a bit.
I’d like to thank my Paradise Plus family and everyone that supports us. All my friends I didn’t mention, all my crews I didn’t mention, everyone who looked out for me in my life, everyone that didn’t look out for me, my lawyer, and all my ex-girlfriends. Rest in peace all my dead friends. Rest in peace graffiti.