Friday night, two graffiti artists entered the Jerome Yard in the Bronx and painted a subway car. Again.
They were VEW and CETE, the same duo responsible for the “Spy vs Spy” graffiti on the R and others. This time, they bombed a B train. VEW put up his crew “GI” and CETE painted his name. There was the “Little Man” in the center, the painter character from the Pink Panther.
On Sunday afternoon, ANIMAL headed up to the yard to see the train firsthand (without trespassing, because that would be illegal).
The public rarely gets to see these trains. The authorities characterize this kind of act as vandalism, but when you see the work in person, it quickly becomes apparent — like it or not, this is art. It may be unsanctioned art, but art nonetheless. Vandalism is smashing windows and damaging the train. Technically speaking, this train could still run.
But the MTA would never allow it, as the sight of the bombed train going from the Bronx through Manhattan to its above-ground tracks in Brooklyn would only encourage more writers who want to see their work traveling the city, like in the old days. This is precisely why, for decades, the MTA has had a vigilant policy of taking painted trains out of service, driving this breed of graffiti into near extinction.
By 1989, their press release gloated of “A Shining Achievement: 100% Graffiti-Free.”
According to VEW and CETE who, for obvious reasons, won’t give their names or ages, the piece took about 30 minutes and five cans of spray paint. “This is organized crime and we always have to be a step ahead,” VEW told ANIMAL. “There’s nothing hard about it. You just do your homework and execute.”
Out of all the graffiti antics, painting on trains is one that raises ire of the Vandal Squad whose plain-clothed officers stake out train yards, graffiti art shows and even retailers that sell spray paint. Train bombing is a surefire way to make it onto their wanted list.
“Keeping vandalized trains out of service is an important way the MTA has restored the subway system after decades of decay and disorder,” MTA spokesperson Adam Lisberg told ANIMAL today. “That’s why vandalizing trains is a loser’s game — the scrub is no joke, and neither is Bronx Central Booking.”
For VEW and CETE, subway graffiti is the foundation of the outlaw art form. They cite DONDI, GHOST, KET, SENTO, COPE2, HOW & NOSM, and Tats Cru as some of the people that inspired them. VEW specified, “Those guys are the true meaning of what a graffiti writer is.”
“This is where it started,” VEW explained. “It’s where it belongs. It’s the highest level a true writer can reach — what toys can only dream about.”
“I’m following the OG blueprint,” CETE boasted. And he’s not doing it to mount a gallery show. “Graff started on trains first. Streets are overrated with hippy street art. It’s not about fame or money. I’m keeping graff raw and rugged, no watered down shit you see today.”
Both artists are fully aware of the risks.
“I work online through public WiFi and change phones literally every month,” VEW explained. “All my friends think I’m crazy and I do not have one piece of self-incriminating evidence in my house whatsoever. All my digital photos are tucked away in a external hard drive in a family members friend’s house and nothing’s ever on my person… The risk is part of the game. There’s nothing safe about this culture. It’s always worth it, if you’re passionate about it.”
“Why you call it a risk?” CETE chided. “I live this. Freedom is free like my expression on trains.” I asked them why they haven’t painted a whole car yet. CETE replied, “Saving the best for last.”