There are few names from the early days of graffiti as widely revered as SEEN. A Bronx native, SEEN began writing in 1973 and became an internationally recognized king of the underground art form, inspiring generations of writers who followed.
In particular, SEEN was known for his massive, whole car pieces that included his name and often colorful comic book characters or superheroes. Working primarily on New York’s ‘6’ subway line, SEEN was also active on the 2 and the 5 trains up until the end of the subway art era.
New York of the time – rough environment, intense competition and unparalleled creativity
People today rarely grasp just how difficult it was to become a top graffiti writer during this time period. The talent and dedication required was extraordinary.
At the very least, writing graffiti was illegal, and artists constantly risked arrest, beatings and electrocution, in addition to attacks by rivals just going about their work.
The physical task of completing a piece brought a whole other series of challenges. Painting a whole car required working while sandwiched between trains with only four feet of space, sometimes neccesitating painting while hanging out a window, not to mention sneaking in a massive amount of paint and having to work quickly without being discovered.
Just to enter the train yards was a Mission Impossible type scenario, with a constantly changing series of threats and security measures designed to keep them out. At one point in his war against graffiti, Mayor Ed Koch even proposed using wild wolves!
Despite all their work, New York City’s subways were only a temporary canvas, lasting anywhere from few hours to a few weeks before they were repainted or ‘buffed’.
Although writers of the time were heavily influenced by pop culture of the period, there were no instructional books, no videos, and no Internet to show them how to proceed. They were constantly originating and pioneering lettering styles as well as developing new techniques and tools to hone their craft.
Today’s graffiti writers and so called “street artists” have a heritage of 40 years to draw on and have it incredibly easy by comparison.
Any graffiti artist these days who claims a similar outsider status is a total fraud. (And unfortunately here in Hong Kong there have been a few French imposters doing just that, putting on exhibitions of mediocre, derivative graffiti and claiming to be persecuted underground artists.)
Relevant and influential for over 30 years!
As an artist, SEEN has been widely recognized for over thirty years. His work, and that of his United Artists crew was immortalized in the bible of graffiti, Henry Chalfant and Martha Cooper’s book, Subway Art, as well as featured in the influential graffiti documentary, Style Wars in 1983.
SEEN’s art, once captured in a medium that could be shared and spread beyond New York City, made it around the world, and the trains he painted in the Bronx became highly influential in shaping the art form. To this day, people still learn from SEEN’s work from three decades ago!
As graffiti made the jump to galleries in the 80’s, SEEN was exhibited alongside other emerging artists such as Keith Haring and Jean-Michel Basquiat.
There are only a handful of early graffiti artists whose names command a similar level of respect. Over the years, Hong Kong has had hosted people such as Futura and recently HAZE, but never someone as well known for their trains.
The artist himself will be attending the opening of Post No Bills at the Opera Gallery on the 17th.
SEEN – Post No Bills
September 17th, 2013
Opening from 6:30 to 8:30pm
52 Wyndham Street
Central, Hong Kong
Post No Bills closes on October 15th, 2013
RSVP to [email protected]