Off Script: STAK
Documenting the best graffiti handstyles from NYC and around the world
Photos: Ray Mock
STAK FUA TFP comes from an era in New York’s graffiti history when passing down what you knew about the aesthetics and logistics of getting up to the next generation was a proud tradition. It was how New York’s boroughs and even individual neighborhoods bred their own recognizable styles. Over past installments of Off Script, we heard NEMZ credit SKUF and other YKK writers from that generation with some of his education, and we heard from SKUF how he was influenced by STAK, who in turn has credited writers like CASE2 as an inspiration. In an age of instant gratification, plain straight-letter tags and almost indistinguishable bubble fill-ins, it’s great to see this particular lineage of styles live on in New York.
How did you develop your handstyle and who were some of your influences?
I got into it about 1979. I really started writing in 1981, that’s when I picked up the bug. I wanted a name and I wanted to get up. Everybody did it. Somebody would pull out a marker, “Let me get a tag!” When we were playing skelly on the street and train went by, people didn’t yell “Car!” to stop playing, they yelled “Train!” and everybody would look at the train. Even if they didn’t write graffiti they wanted to see what was being done. I was born into it, it was part of growing up in New York.
I started out in Brooklyn and then in my teenage years I came to the Lower East Side and then further up into Manhattan and the Bronx. I’ve been pretty much in all the boroughs. There were a lot of names. Some names you saw everywhere, some names you just saw in certain sections. I didn’t sit still, so I saw a lot of different things. You just picked things up.
I remember when I was a kid I used to see this name and it was a really big fat cap and he wrote DEGREES. He wrote with a guy BLACK DICE. They were real fancy-looking letters. I don’t know if I looked up to it, because he wasn’t really up a lot, but they were old signatures when I was first coming up and that kinda inspired me. I only saw a couple of them, but they were really big, retarded fat cap tags in the 70s.
I didn’t really have a mentor until I got to about 14 or 15. I met more established writers and they schooled me to certain things. I met this dude SMERK. He had problems with his family, so he was in group homes. He came to a group home in my neighborhood. I met him on the avenue while going to get Chinese food and we started talking and bullshitting. Eventually we started painting together. He took me to the Hall of Fame for the first time, he took me to Henry Chalfant’s studio and he took me to Forbidden Planet, where you could get all the Mark Bode comic books.
He was more established, he wrote with WEB and a couple of other dudes. I wrote something else at the time and he gave me the name STAK. I didn’t even think I was gonna write STAK. I did one piece, I did another piece and just kept going. That was maybe ‘83, ‘84. Before that I was just doing throw-ups and tags. Then I figured, this guy’s pretty good, he’s got some skills. We did some stuff together and I thought, I like this. I can go to the train yard and bomb, but if you bomb the same place again, you’re seeing the same shit. I figured, let me do something nice, and I kept going.
I always wrote. No matter what, I had something to write with. I did what I wanted to do, whether it was motion bombing or going to the yards, I was always outside. You’re here, there, everywhere, leaving your mark. I don’t think I ever really stopped; I just slowed down a little bit over the years. Sometimes there’s shit in life you gotta do. Nowadays I don’t try to make graffiti a priority, it’s just part of what I do. It can go on the back-burner; I’ve done enough graffiti.
How has your handstyle changed over the years?
It hasn’t really changed that much. Little bars and this and that, but it’s basically the same. The things that I saw when I was coming up, that’s what I thought graff was supposed to be.
I was a little more fancy when I started writing STAK. I’m gonna do these pieces, so I’m gonna have a really fancy handstyle. I remember going to the yards with my friends and they left me in the dust while I was sitting there doing my fancy handstyle. I was fifteen cars away. I took what I had already and connected it all, so it would flow quicker. That’s pretty much how my handwriting came about. I was just trying to be faster to catch up to my friends because they weren’t going to wait for me.
There were certain things I liked, so I kept it that way. I didn’t go along with the trends. Because every year there’s a new trend that comes out and everyone jumps on it. I know graffiti evolves, but with the handstyle I didn’t evolve with it. I stopped when I thought it was good enough. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.
Do you have any favorite markers or other tools?
I like writing with a mini wide and when I was writing on the subways I really liked a Magnum. I used to pull out the tip and put an eraser in there, I would be real good with that. It was easy to go to school and get an eraser, get ink and make a big marker. Those are my favorite writing tools. I just liked making a mess.
I usually had markers, because I didn’t fuck them up. I never let anyone write with my markers. Dudes would be like, “Yo let me get a tag!” But if you’re a writer and you ain’t got a marker, what the fuck good are you? You don’t even got a writing utensil? You don’t write!
I use whatever comes my way, but for spraypaint, Rustoleum, that’s pretty much it. Rustoleum, and I throw fat caps on it. I don’t use all those fancy caps. Fat, skinny, this will work for that, that one doesn’t work for this; I don’t have the time to figure all that shit out. I know Rustoleum works, I got Kitchen Magic caps with orange middles, those work, and that’s pretty much all I ever used.
There’s something in the game that you will never hear at all today. It’s called paint control. Because now you can hold the top down for half an hour and it won’t even drip. Dudes ain’t really got skills. I’ve been to places where people were like, “I left my caps at home, so I can’t paint.” That shit doesn’t work, it’s a lot of bullshit.
What’s the best part about bombing with tags for you?
I used to like seeing my name all drippy. Bold. Nice flooded mop tags, all drippy, all the way down to the seats, you know what I’m saying? That was fun. It was about the experience of going to the train yard, sneaking in, being with your friends, having a good time and doing mischievous shit at night that you could get away with. Most kids are always trying to get away with something.
I’m not 17 anymore. I like doing throw-ups but I’m not going to get all worked up about it anymore. When I was 17, if you went over my throw-up, I thought that was the end of the world. Now I’m like, whatever. I’ve got more paint. I don’t think anything I’ve ever done lasted for more than a couple of years. Everything is temporary. Try to get as much as you can while you can.
There were definitely writers that influenced me that I thought were better than others. Not everybody had a cool throw-up. Some people had wack throw-ups. Luckily where I grew up there were a lot of guys with good throw-ups. I’ve ran into writers I remember from years ago from the Bronx, and they told me they didn’t like my throw-ups. “I like round throw-ups.” Ok. Everyone has their own things. What I put into my throw-up were the things that influenced me.
[We also asked STAK to recount how SKUF got his name:] Actually the name SKUF, it was SMERK’s name. I hadn’t seen SMERK for a long time. He used to write SCUF. SKUF was writing something else and I told him he should rock with this. He was like, “I like how you rock your Ks, so I’m gonna change it up and put a K.” So then he started writing SKUF. It’s good that I passed on a tradition, because that’s something that is lacking in New York City graffiti. The internet was the downfall of graffiti, because now everyone gets everything for free, without paying dues. Before the internet you could tell: Bronx guys, Brooklyn guys; you could tell by their flow. Now some guy from wherever is sitting by his computer and takes a little bit of this and a little bit of that and puts it all together. It’s a mash-up of styles and it’s kind of wack now that you can’t really decipher what’s what anymore.
What does it take to become a good bomber?
Time. That’s it. Anything’s possible, you just gotta put the work in. That’s pretty much what graff is about: Time. Putting the work in. There’s a lot of guys that lick stamps, as we used to say years ago about guys who sent shit to magazines. They would do one piece and get fifteen copies of it and they sent it to every magazine. Time. You gotta put the work in. That’s the only thing that I can say that makes a good writer.
For me, every day waking up in the morning, that was it. I was always on a different adventure every day. There really wasn’t one thing. Every day I was doing something different or I was in a different part of the city. All aspects of New York rolled into one, that’s what made me who I am.