Off Script: FADE
Documenting the best graffiti handstyles from NYC and around the world
For all of its outlaw glory, there are enough rules and conventions of style and etiquette in graffiti to make Emily Post blush, and for good reasons. But every now and then, someone needs to stir the pot, not give a fuck and remind us that graffiti is not just about fame, but also about freedom, fun and friendship. FADE AA’s “bugged out” style does not neatly conform to the graffiti rule book, but his uncompromising attitude is New York through and through, and indeed very few writers active today have bombed the city for as long and as consistently as he has. At the same time, FADE does trace the roots of his style to quintessential New York elements and influences, which he picked up from some of the city’s most notorious artists over the years.
ODIN (RIP) in front of his piece.
How did you get into graffiti and who were some of your influences?
I never wanted to be a writer as a kid. I never saw it that way. There was graff everywhere in New York. I didn’t particularly give a fuck about it. I thought it was nice, the colors looked good, but I just saw it as part of the environment. I didn’t even really understand that people did it. I didn’t set out to write graff, and that’s why my style was always bugged out when I was younger, and still is. I wasn’t looking at one line of trains or one writer or one style, I was just into bugging out, having fun and painting.
I met this dude ODIN (RIP). He was like a brother to me. He said, “Yo, we can write on this tree! Check it out.” We had knives. We were kids, you know? Very young, nine or ten years old. It started as, we can do this instead of being in a fight. It was a continuation of me being an angry youth. I didn’t see it as art. I wasn’t trying to be on some BMT lines, on some crew’s dick. We didn’t give a shit. It was just pure vandalism, it didn’t have a place, purpose, rhyme or reason. I wouldn’t even say it was toy shit, it was punk shit. It was coming from a hardcore, growing-up-in-New-York mentality. It was a good time.
I always wrote FADE. That’s because I used to do crazy shit. I used to cut dicks into the backs of people’s heads. I tricked them; they would get a haircut at my house and I charged them twenty bucks. I did the sides really dope and then I carved a dick in the backs of their heads. They didn’t know. In school the next day they heard: “That’s a crazy fade you’ve got!” They found out eventually that there’s a dick on the back of their head and they got pissed as fuck at me. I didn’t do nothing about it. I was a dysfunctional youth.
I was always good at coloring and blending and fading, and that seemed like the name. And I was into morbid things in life. I wasn’t a depressed guy, I was just more into the harder, roughneck way of living. The word “fade” to me meant “disappear.”
I didn’t grow up on a million writers either. I grew up on handball courts with dudes who aren’t here anymore who got shot in the head. I was a wild kid. They’d say, “that’s my boy, the artist dude, we’ve got his back.” My friends were on a whole twenty-times tip. Graff saved my life. I would definitely not be here doing this interview; I would have been running with them, getting shot in the head.
I was totally outside the box for a long time. I had a crazy job that wasn’t 100% good and I would paint after work. I bombed pretty hood spots and other writers saw it. I had a lot of beef when I was a kid, because I didn’t care and I didn’t understand. After all that got worked out into real-life people—”Oh, you’re FADE!”—whatever happened, whatever fights happened, whatever peace came out of it, eventually everyone started to know who I was.
In high school I linked up with the CTO guys. ND was a good dude, he used to get up a lot. VERS was always a good dude to me, and TEO and LERN—I would write with them a little bit, but I wasn’t from their area. But it was ODIN who really put me on. I also crossed paths with REN 3D. He died also. The first REN. I don’t like to say “original.” You’re original when you take the fucking name and you run with it and you have balls enough to fight whoever says it’s their name. This dude CRAM who does the pieces, we just got him down with AA crew. There were a lot of people. Who stands out to me is who stayed as a friend.
There was a period where I stopped for a few years, I got caught up in a lot of trouble. I think I stopped for three years. These dudes knocked on my door, SAG and KOME. I don’t really know how it started, to be honest with you. They were just basically saying: “You need to bomb.” They pushed me to come back out, around ’95, ’96.
I was also doing all sorts of crazy shit with DG at his house at that time. When you went to DG’s house, you would meet GIZ, then you’d meet DESA, then you’d hang out with CS, and then CHINO would be tagging your book. DG introduced everybody to everybody. I don’t even understand how I met the dude. I think it was through street life . We started drawing, drinking, getting fucked up, bombing and everybody met everybody there. Cats like PREZ and TOPER, who I didn’t see in a while, and then I see him at DG’s. Or cats I didn’t like. Everybody wanted to hang out with DG, and I was one of the original dudes in Staten chillin’ at his house. He was a great guy, he showed me a lot of style.
I started doing my own thing. I was involved in hip hop, I did some shit with Black Moon and all these dudes, and I would get writers a wall and a show. That’s how I met MUTZ and pretty much everybody. They wanted to hang up their art and asked me “What percent are you going to take?” I said, “no percent, bring people, bro!” I don’t want your twenty bucks, your hundred bucks, I’m not going to take money out of your mouth for selling your art. That was at Remote Lounge, before it was Bowery Boogie, but I did shows all through New York, in Brooklyn, Staten Island, every borough. WF go involved in that, JUST was behind those shows.
I painted with many people—PREZ, BOND, BD, STAYHIGH, TOPER, TRACY, DR, TEOR, REN, TE0, CH, GOAL, NEZM, JUST, TYKE, 9VOLT, OUCH, TEZE, COL, FN, TECK BS, GIZ, NEP, JOEY, ALSKI, EKG, CRASHFLOOR and KRES, and bombed with TRES, MUTZ, PEPE, DG, CAP, ELF, ORO, CS, RY, BURB, ICE, ODIN, KROOK and EXIT.
DG opened the floodgates, as far as “this is art.” Then I started looking at the AOK dudes a little more closely, because they were sitting there, and the RIS dudes, because he got thrown down eventually. I liked the crazy color shit, like ZIM. And I liked KET. They were in the books in front of me and I’d seen them on the walls my whole life, and I became friends with them in one way or another. Their style, to me, was something that I was doing without trying to do. Bugged out, not caring too much. Don’t give a fuck, punch the rat in the mouth. That’s the point of graff to me. They had that mentality. DG definitely did.
How has your handstyle changed over the years?
If you want to be a good graffiti writer, you gotta have a good handstyle, you gotta have it up a lot and you gotta practice it every day. Tagging is art, it’s calligraphy on a wall. It takes time to master how to not get caught, how to keep putting it up in strategic spots, how to keep your name going, how to have fun with it and how to use different tools. If it’s too crazy and you can’t read it, you’re just making marks.
No matter how bugged out the FADE handstyle can get, or how simple it can get, whatever version of FADE you get, the handstyle traces back to a specific New York 1980s flow. When I started in ’88, ’89, I was doing highways and some trains as well. You’re working with Krylon, and it was so quick. Boom, boom, boom! You weren’t going back to look at it, it wasn’t on the internet. The tags were more floaty, they didn’t have as much drip to them. I didn’t do the R back then, the FADERs.
I felt that everybody wrote like that, to be honest. Everyone in high school. Everybody that you knew, even if you didn’t know them. Everyone had a tag and in the ’80s, early ’90s, they all had that script-funk-connect, with the circle at the end, or an arrow. When people see the FADE tag, they get hyped, because I’m talking about their era. It’s still present. I just got some more funk in there, and more style, and the lines are way cleaner. The tag happens in two seconds. Boom! it’s done. Over time it’s gotten better, but I still preserved my surroundings in New York. I couldn’t say what writer. In my head I have these names, and I won’t even say who it is, names that I saw that are not present in graff anymore. And that’s what inspired me. All these different handstyles with that New York funk, a Brooklyn, Lower Manhattan, Staten kinda circular connected tag style, and that’s what I represent.
Do you have any favorite markers, spraypaint or other tools?
Whatever is free. That’s it. I really like the freedom of experimenting on site. A lot of pre-planning with style and color, that’s great for a job. That’s great for a profession. This is a lifestyle, so don’t plan too much, man. You gotta have fun with it! I like to find surprises in the way that the paint works out. Some people might see that as not traditional. Okay. I don’t care. I don’t have any favorite shit. I like the Rustos you can get at a Home Depot in your pants. Whoever wants to sponsor me, that’s my favorite can. Give me some free shit, bro! I gotta rack shit to get up. Whoever wants to sponsor me, send me some free shit! Else I’m just going to steal it anyway.
What’s the best part about bombing with tags for you?
I don’t like to follow rules. I like to have a good time. Not go out and “bomb for twenty hours and do forty bags of coke.” No, man. We’re gonna go fucking get up, we’re gonna rack, we’re gonna meet some girls, we’re gonna have a nice time. We’re bombing every night, till we die! I’m still rocking DG, ODIN, REN, WAE, POKE and ORO. You bomb with me, you’re my boy, you got my back, I’ll bomb your name for life.
I like to write on whatever spot that looks like it should have a big, nice tag on it. I like to find a spot that isn’t going to be in the picture with twenty other dudes all up in my shit. If I’m gonna write on a spot, I want it to be with someone who is my boy, so it stands out. Don’t get me wrong, I’ll hit anything. There really is no real motive to it. I’m gonna do what the fuck I want to do when I want to do it, that’s the point of graffiti.
I got down with AA through MUTZ, back in ’98, ’99. We didn’t like each other the first time we met. In ’80s and ’90s graff, no one liked each other when you first met. Or you really hit it off, and then you had a fall-out. I love that dude. MUTZ is a man of his word.
One time, we were doing fill-ins on the highway and he would clean up my stuff. He’d be fixing the F. I turned around and I said, “What the fuck are you doing that for?” We were about to argue on the BQE. Eight o’clock fill-ins. He said, “Yo, I want it to look tight!” I sprayed some red shit in his fill-in. “What’s that?” I told him, “I want it to look funky!”
You see MUTZ’s shit now, all the squiggly crazy shit in his style, and you see how the FADE shit got cleaned up. That was the ultimate partnership; we are a tag team. He might not be bombing now, but he’s doing mad art, and pieces. I got his back and vice versa.
To me graff is about the test of time. Who’s still tagging? The art of tagging isn’t about doing it for five years and stopping. It’s about tagging every motherfucking day. I saw graffiti as a vehicle to not getting shot in the head and then I saw graffiti as a vehicle to having a good time and now, as I look back, that’s how I met my best friends, the truest.
If you are going to write with me, we are going to have to be down to fight that night if anything gets out of control. Not on purpose, but if some dude’s got a camera, I’m gonna be the guy that grabs the camera, hanging inside the dude’s car, punching him in the face. I’m not gonna get arrested and go to jail because some dude wants to make a $500 reward. I’m not looking to throw up some tags and then go to Central Booking for 18 hours because we’re too retarded to stand up for ourselves. I’m not saying be dick and go and hurt people. A lot of writers get caught so quick. If you ‘re gonna go out and go bombing and write on shit, add that into the equation.
What does it take to become a good bomber?
Have balls! You gotta be able to fight! Take care of your mental well-being. Have other things you’re interested in. If all you do is bomb, you play yourself out. Meet some good people, like I did. It’s good to meet some writers from your generation or the generation before you to tell you some shit. You don’t want to be going over dead people’s tags with your fill-ins. I put up some nice fill-ins in the past where I went over a tag that I should’ve left. And I learned that from my friends. Don’t go over dope tags from the ’70s or ’80s!
Graff is about creating your own spots! Creating your own spots and longevity. Graffiti is really a raw tool to create styles and a crazy world and have adventures, but be you, not a jock toy rat thief or a famous naked girl, a famous fucking pussy rat. Just be some infamous, on-your-own, DIY fun shit, because that’s what it’s supposed to be. It’s for people who should have a presence in the world, but are economically challenged or in a situation that isn’t great. People who don’t have the tools to open a company, to be a model, to be an actor, but they want to say something. They have the balls and the heart, but it’s just not gonna happen for them, because that’s the way the world is. Graffiti is for them, it’s for us.