TRAP and the True Art of Graffiti

June 11, 2014 | Marina Galperina

“I don’t even think it’s a crime,” TRAP tells ANIMAL, walking through his home-borough of Queens. He is confident, casual, as if he isn’t about to catch a tag on the underside of the bridge in broad daylight. Since 1979, he’s been spray painting New York City streets, evolving his unique handstyle and perfecting his masterful color blends. (Watch the video of TRAP in action above.)

Some graffiti writers espouse a fuck-the-system motif, but that’s not what motivates the forty-something artist. “I’m still a street walker, a street bomber, but I like doing artistic work.” TRAP thinks the general public has a misconception that writers are just criminals. “They think we’re all bad guys running around scribbling shit,” he says. TRAP respects his craft, and is respected.

He’s two people. That casual man, utterly nondescript in public crowds as he makes his way to a spot. Then, there’s TRAP in painting mode. His eyes sharpen, his movements are fast and precise. At the abandoned Bowery station, TRAP pulls out two cans from one of his three backpacks packed stuffed with spray paint. He fills with one hand, while shaking up the second can with the other, then switches. He fills with both cans at the same time, the colors flowing into another. “I can blend anything,” he says. “You can give me any two colors and I can make them look good together.”

After forty five minutes, he’s done, standing in front of the polished piece. The TRAP pops off the wall with the vibrant, multi-directional gradients, the heavy drop shadow. It’s solid, timeless.

TRAP is passionate about the quality of his work and his roots as a writer and artist. He cites EASY, JOZ, JA, QUIK, COPE, EWOK, JICK, the TPA crew and a host of other storied writers as influences. He explains how the “T” in TRAP has changed over the years — from leaning, to lean, to sharp with pointed corners with the IF symbol up top, shouting out TRAP’s crew — Insane Fanatics aka as Ikonik Figure aka Index Finger aka In Front, etc…

“I used to draw superheroes,” TRAP says. “I love letters.” He’s always been inspired by comic books, especially the onomatopoeia in fight scenes — “Kapow!” “Blam!”

According to the new-old police commissioner Bill Bratton, graffiti is a gateway crime, a sentiment TRAP disagrees with vehemently. “I’ve heard many stories how graf saved lives and helped people stay away from other crimes,” he says. “This was the case for me. I’ve always been doing other dirt, but I feel if graf didn’t take a hold of me, I probably would’ve gravitated into other things.” Think reverse broken windows theory.

Although he can be found on Instagram, TRAP hasn’t been swayed by the internet’s influence on graffiti. “It made a lot of people lazy and created way too many shit talkers,” he says. “Fame has to be earned. Not by showing photos on your social media… These days if you repeatedly post the few things you’ve done, people think you’re a king. The streets don’t lie. You see and have been what I’ve been doing for over 30 years. Long gone are the days where you actually pound the pavement, climb on a roof, walk tracks and had to battle a few to get respect. Oh how I miss the ol’ days. But there’s no bitterness. I’m not one of these ol’ timer’s complaining how it used to be.”

He isn’t impressed by the street activity around him, but he’s not too bothered by it either.

“Nowadays there’s so many different types of street art,” TRAP says. “Most of it horrible, but I still never want to tell someone how to paint a picture. As long as no wack shit is next to mine you really won’t hear too much outta me… Depending on the neighborhood, street art would get a pass, if it was well done. Hardcore cats might have laughed at the fact is wasn’t all spray, but if it looked good, nobody could really beef.”

After decades of honing his craft, it wasn’t until he badly injured his ankle from falling off a ladder about five years ago that TRAP considered selling his work. “Sitting on my ass for three months gave me an opportunity to reflect on my life and what direction I was going. My art has always been behind the scenes, no one knew who I was but crew and I loved it that way,” he reminisces. He doesn’t remember who he sold his first canvas too, but he remembers the price: $300.

“Besides canvas I also paint on wood,” TRAP says. “I have shirts, prints and different refurbished items that come up from time to time.” Recently, TRAP did a co-brand with Aardvark, a company that makes portable vaporizers. TRAP happens to be a weed enthusiast, and plans on dropping more cannabis-related projects in the future.

“It’s a different rush,” TRAP says, comparing his studio work to the street. “Both are great when planned and or just spur of the moment. Being in the game so long, I had a hard time doing the same thing. I think it’s important to switch up, evolve as an artist but as also an individual. It gets boring. I’ve always tried to stretch our creativity but keeping it authentic.”

(Photos and video: Aymann Ismail/ANIMALNewYork)