I started painting in the late 90’s and it’s easy to forget how much graffiti has changed since then. My friends and I didn’t have internet access and much of graffiti folklore was passed on through stories and rumours. In London, there were one or two places where you could paint without fear of prosecution, ‘The Pit’ at Ladbroke Grove was one, however, it was a common occurrence at the pit for writers to be shaken down and robbed by locals. I remember a close encounter with a firework that was shot directly at us from the flats above!
Then we heard about The Phun Phactory in New York. A gigantic hall of fame where artists from all over the world would go to paint, with no hassle from anyone. A friend came back with photos after visiting as a tourist (remember no digital cameras back then, he had to get his snaps developed!) and we were just blown away, the myth was real.
By the time I finally managed to make the pilgrimage to the birthplace of graffiti, the mecca, NYC in 2008, the Phun Phactory had been taken over by ‘Meres’ and re-named 5pointz. He called it 5pointz to represent the artists of all 5 boroughs of New York. Normally you had to apply to paint at 5ptz, but luckily we knew ‘Demmer’ a well-respected artist who made our introduction. This meant that we were given the guided tour of the entire site and could choose where we wanted to paint (a rare honour). We walked around the site for over an hour, checking the pieces of famous artists that had visited. It was an incredible experience. Amazing enough to just be there, but to be given access to areas that few people ever got to see was very special.
We were allowed onto the rooftop, and watching the 7 train roll by, it felt like we were in a movie. I’ll always be grateful to Meres and his team for making us feel so welcome. These guys were on site day after day for years, making sure nobody painted where they shouldn’t and that the artwork quality was high. They survived off of small donations from tourists and it was a labour of love. I was heartbroken to see what had happened in 2013 as the walls were whitewashed in the dead of night, it was graffiti in reverse. All that history was gone and not even pleas from Banksy could stop ‘progress’. The hall of fame and it’s 20-year legacy was raised to the ground.