Off Script: TOPER
Documenting the best graffiti handstyles from NYC and around the world
Photos: Ray Mock
The key to developing your own style as a graffiti writer is lots and lots of practice, but some heads make it look easy. TOPER is a New York City graffiti original with the history and style to match. He grew up in multiple boroughs and came up alongside some of the most respected writers and crews active, so it is no surprise that his graffiti is as technically proficient and inventive as any in the city. His tag, which he usually starts with a characteristic lower case “t,” is instantly recognizable by its natural flow and effortless proportions. TOPER was recently part of the GHORT show and is also one of the artists whose work will be featured in the upcoming “12 Days of Christmas” sale organized by the fine folks from Classick NYC.
How did you get into graffiti and who were some of your influences?
I grew up in Bensonhurst, Brooklyn. I started noticing graffiti in ’89, ’90, seeing it on trains, on the insides. It was all over the neighborhood; everybody from the neighborhood wrote. The streets were always destroyed back then and the train stations were a big place to paint, the tracks and whatnot. When I first started I was probably 9 or 10 years old. My first tag was BOMB. I used to draw a bomb in the middle of it. Then I wrote TOP. MUTZ AA started calling me TOPER, and it stuck.
Early on I noticed TEZ 3D, MUTZ AA, FATE TDF, JIS, IE, DCEE, FIB, CASIO, FRITZ, FRAY and CERN, along with other writers. My influences also include SCOPE COMA, DEXA DFT, RIBS GAK and MS ACC. RUSH ACC, he was definitely a big inspiration.
In the beginning I really didn’t have a mentor. I’d known TEZ 3D, I went to school with his brother. When I met MUTZ I got influenced by him, later on in the game. I actually learned a lot while I was in Brooklyn from a friend of mine who wrote JEKS140 who also introduced me to CLEVE KHT from Uptown. They showed me a little more style. Eventually I met SCOPE CK crew—then it was COMA crew—and we started influencing each other and I learned more about painting straight letters and pieces from him.
My styles developed with SCOPE, it was always a Brooklyn style. Brooklyn’s throw-ups and handstyles are a lot different from the other boroughs. I feel Brooklyn is on its own level when it comes to that. I have respect for all the boroughs and all the boroughs have different styles and throw-ups and everything, but Brooklyn is where it’s at.
I was always into throw-ups more than piecing. And then I met RIME MSK, and he basically was a piecer, always innovating styles, having fun with letters, pushing the envelope and not caring, just experimenting with different letters and styles. He definitely showed me a lot and taught me a lot when it comes to that.
How has your handstyle changed over the years?
Just by fucking around and playing with different ideas and getting influenced by other people. Being part of my environment, the people I surrounded myself with. I fed off a lot of people. People fed off me as well. And that’s healthy for the game, that’s how everything develops. It doesn’t just start from one thing and stays that way, it keeps going. My letters are always going to change the more I progress. I try not to stay stuck with the same style, I just keep trying to have fun, flipping it different ways depending on how I’m feeling. You’re moving with the times and it’s always good to embrace new ideas.
I really don’t spend a lot of time in the books. I always draw and do pieces here and there, but I’m not really a person to sit down and do a lot of books because to be honest with you I really have no patience. I just try to get stuff done quickly.
Do you have any favorite markers or other tools?
White Pentels, black Pilot markers and Marsh ink or Garvey ink. Those were kind of hard to get in the later ‘90s. Garvey is a price marking ink that was used in supermarkets to tag food on the stickers. We would make mops out of them with erasers from school that we would steel. But my first ink was actually Griffin shoe dye. That was my favorite. I used to make mops with that.
Growing up, everybody always went with Krylon, because Krylon was the paint. But then they switched over from paper labels to metal cans and whatnot. My favorite paint of all time has to be American Accents. They came out with all the dope colors like Raspberry, Indian Spice, Grape, Autumn Gold—that was a good one!—and Leafy Green. That was my favorite paint. At that time, it was the thickest paint that was out besides Rusto, and they had doper colors. There was another paint I used that was really slept on, it was called Rollerkoat, which has been discontinued. Those were the flat blacks; those were the best, in my opinion.
Nowadays I use whatever, but my favorite paint is Montana. My favorite cap is always going to be a New York fat cap, straight up and down.
What’s the best part about bombing with tags for you?
Having fun, doing something cool and seeing it rock.
What does it take to become a good bomber?
Styles, location, secrecy and not being scared. Keep making yourself get better. Don’t let it go, keep with it. For me, it was always painting with the best, always painting with my boy DG NWC. Rest in peace!