NYC Graffiti Artists Hit Subway Train With Spy vs. Spy Theme

January 27, 2014 | Bucky Turco

It was done by CETE and VEW, two graffiti artists born and raised in New York City. ANIMAL got in contact with the outlaws over email, via a trusted source.

For obvious legal reasons, they didn’t give us their real names or ages, but were more than happy to discuss their creative exploits. After all, spray painting a subway train or “making graffiti” is a crime that carries potential felony charges, when coupled with “criminal mischief” and “criminal trespass.”

It’s also a guaranteed way to get on the authorities’ most wanted list. The MTA’s Eagle Team patrols the yards, while the NYPD’s Vandal Squad monitors the streets. Virtually everyone in the graffiti scene regards both anti-graffiti squads by their latter designation, and doesn’t differentiate between the two.

The writers told ANIMAL that they spray painted the R train in December, and unlike their European counterparts, they didn’t wait for the cover of snow to get up. CETE and VEW said it took about 11 cans and around one hour to paint the train panels. They took turns looking out for each other, but they weren’t in a rush. “We were in the yard for like two hours, chilling,” said CETE.

“As writers we are like spies,” VEW commented about their Spy vs. Spy comic strip motif. “We gather and analyze information. We are observant and we execute. In and out. We get the job done. And always aware of the other spies (Vandal Squad) that are out to get us. It just seemed like the perfect theme.”

CETE had a more philosophical take on their collaboration. “That’s how me and VEW is,” he said. “He’s positive, I’m negative, with the same ambition.” Their yin and yang-like perspectives permeated the conversation.

“No, I’m not scared,” said CETE about the threat of getting arrested. “I know what I’m getting into.”

 “Yes [I’m] very afraid,” VEW disagreed. “No one wants to get caught. But you have to realize and understand that what we do comes with consequences, so you just got to be on point for as long as you do this, and if you do get caught, you can’t get mad.”

It’s not often that the public gets to see graffiti on New York City subway cars. Ever since the MTA instituted a strict policy of removing spray-painted trains from service over two decades ago, it has become an increasingly rare phenomenon. When it does happen — even if only in photos — it’s viewed in almost mythic proportions.

“I don’t care how clever or how beautiful or artistic it is,” said MTA spokesperson Adam Lisberg. “People expect the subway trains to be clean and free of graffiti and that’s why we don’t allow a train to run.”

According to the Daily News, there have been nine hits on trains in layups — places where trains are temporarily parked since the new year rang in. So far, there has only been one train yard infiltration, which ANIMAL exclusively reported on Friday.

The hardcore writers who still paint trains do so for varying reasons. For VEW, it’s fundamental to the art form. “I paint trains because it’s the very essence of graffiti,” he said. “And for any real graffiti writer, the thought of hitting a train is inevitable. And it just feels so right. Even if it runs or doesn’t. That feeling can’t be bought or emulated.”

CETE agrees. It’s a way to differentiate himself from all the other noise out there. “To me, the streets are so overrated,” he said. Anybody can do that with all these toys wannabe street artists. It’s all fucked up now. But can you say you hit trains? I don’t think so.”

CETE is uncompromising when it comes to street art. “Kill yourself, if you’re doing street art. It’s not graf. I don’t get it.” VEW isn’t as critical. “I dig it. It’s cool. It serves a purpose,” he said. “I’m a lover of all types of art.”

Regarding the cliché art or vandalism question, CETE explained that it’s all perception: “It depends how you put it,” he said. “Society calls it vandalism. We call it art. At the end of the day, it all turns to shit.” (Photos: CETE)