This article is the second installment of a four-part series — “Married to the Game” — that takes the reader on a journey, recounting the stories of Bronx graffiti artists as told by a Bronx graffiti artist who grew up in the game.
The art world knows him as BG 183 but I know him as Big Bro. He’s one of the founding members of the Bronx-based Tats Cru, Inc. along with Brim, Bio and Nicer. They’ve been producing works for a wide range of clients from small neighborhood businesses to large commissions from corporations like Sony and Coca-Cola. You can check Wikipedia to learn more but they are solely responsible for the Big Pun wall in the Bronx.
BG taught me about loyalty and how to take care of your family, but what has always hit me about him was his focus. A hurricane could rip through Garrison Avenue and if the wind did pick him up, he still would be painting, trying to finish his canvas. Whenever I get discouraged, I think about the blood, sweat and tears that my Big Bro pours into everything he does, and I push on.
Here’s what BG 183 had to share about how he started and where he’s going.
Richard Rodriguez: I’ve known you a long time. You taught me how to shave. How did you start? I never asked.
BG 183: Yo, it was my big sister that got me started. I would be watching her drawing all the time, and I wanted to try it too!
RR: How old were you?
BG183: (laughing) I was like four (years old) and she was nine and I was amazed at what she was doing with a pencil and then I just walk away and I grab a pencil and a piece of paper from somewhere and I start drawing, and then like a few seconds later, she says, ‘Oh, you like to draw’ and I look back, and she’s smiling and then, she was teaching me how to draw. And later my parents would always buy me art supplies.
RR: What inspired you to start painting in the streets, and when did you start?
BG183: In graffiti, I started in the early 1980s and I would go home and just practice my art. I am big on practice and I wasn’t really accepted, at first, as a writer.
RR: But you learned.
BG183: I did. I practiced because graffiti was all around me. Those bright colors, I love those bold colors. I started practicing and bombing by myself. No one wanted to go up with me.
RR: But you’re so nice.
BG183: That’s because I practiced my tag, the real element of it all. And then after hitting up stacks of paper, I began bombing on public surfaces. I was about 16 at the time. I wanted fame!
RR: Do you remember where it all started, for you?
BG183: Sure. Bombing the inside of James Monroe High School and hitting the trains riding back and forth from school. Getting chased while painting trains and dealing with other crews.
RR: Let’s roll it to today. How much time do you push aside for your art?
BG183: 100%. I’m either doing commissions or working on my own body of work.
RR: Because …?
BG183: Because … I love it. I want to be the best.
RR: Do you like working solo or with the crew (Tats Cru)?
BG183: Both, and working with the fellows always keeps my skills on a high level.
RR: Facts. Why do you think graffiti, as an art form, is more respected outside of the U.S.?
BG183: Graffiti was born in New York and there’s a huge respect (outside of the U.S.) for anything from here.
RR: I think I know this answer but indulge me. Did you go to art school?
BG183: No. None. I took some art classes in high school. That’s where I meet Bio.
RR: You and Bio go way back. So, what’s next? Where do you want your art to go?
BG183: I want to focus on creating — to show in galleries and museums.
The next installment of “Married to the Game” will feature graffiti artist Bio. For the series’ first installment click here.