This article is the third 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.
It’s crazy how graffiti writers have become a part of pop culture. An unusual turn of events since New York City created an entire police force, a Vandal Squad, to stop “vandalism” — as they call it.
We call it art, always have and always will. In the ‘70s, the writers hit New York and the subway trains like it was their religion. A hungry cat (police) chasing clever mice (writers) and [Mayor] Rudy Guiliani’s zero-tolerance of the ’90s pretty much cleaned up the city streets and subways.
But yet … the writers still left a colorful marker, their stories still speaking in places — seen and unseen — if only you knew the language of the streets, you would understand the potency of the story and the storyteller. I’ll give you a hint. A few stories are about wars and past glory. Beef won and static still standing and honoring the fallen, those that have crossed over — we honor them always, seen and unseen — all over this city.
We all have heroes. One of mine is Bio and there’s no denying the impact that Bronx-born Bio (Wilfredo Feliciano), the founding member of Tats Cru (“The Mural Kings”), has made on this art form. He’s been called one of the best stylists or letter masters in the graffiti movement worldwide, and is known for his numerous styles of letters, complex and wild styles, and use of color.
Bio’s like my step-brother. He taught me to be aware of my surroundings and to let my creativity speak for me. I call him the beast of the east because you can give him any color and he can make it look good. Seriously, it doesn’t matter how dull the color is, he will pull through and make it look like gold.
No doubt, you’ve seen him featured in movies, music videos and documentaries throughout his 30-year career. Known for his ability to collaborate, he’s worked with top graffiti artists in the world from the past to the present day. He’s lectured at various universities in the U.S. including MIT and was part of the Smithsonian Institute’s 35th annual Folklife Festival in Washington D.C., where Tats Cru was chosen to represent New York City muralists.
Here’s what Bio had to share about art, the Bronx, and how to stay happy.
RICHARD RODRIGUEZ: You started in the early ’80s at the height of the New York City subway graffiti movement.
RR: Why do you do, what you do?
Bio: Because I enjoy it. I enjoy painting. I’ve enjoyed it my entire life and I am fortunate enough to be able to do it as a career.
RR: Who influenced you growing up in the graffiti game?
Bio: Who influenced me? My influence comes from a lot of earlier graffiti artists who did the subways. Guys like Lee (Puerto Rican artist Lee Quiñones), Dondi, Seen, Crash (John “Crash” Matos) and Daze (Chris “Daze” Ellis). These are the guys that I grew up watching on the subways. Those are the graffiti influences, that for me, were the stars of the subways.
RR: Word. So, what’s next for you, Bio?
Bio: I think I will be branching out to more gallery work. Doing more exhibitions of showing my work and I will still continue to work with Tats Cru.
The next installment of “Married to the Game” will feature graffiti artist Bio. For the series’ last installment click here.