Uptown & Downtown Book Review – A Trip through Old Skool NYC Graffiti Art

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Uptown & Downtown, from Schiffer Books, brings to the page what once humiliated politicians, mortified strap hangers, embarrassed tourists, and finally become persecuted by police who counted the artist criminal, of course, we’re talking about NYC Graffiti art.

Curated by Boston’s Alan Bortman, Uptown & Downtown brings together sixteen well known New York City graffiti arts who left their mark on New York City Metropolitan Transit System spanning two decades decorating subway trains and tunnels, creating an art unequaled and clearly the beginnings of a freestyle urban movement that would cross over into hip hop, into the unconventional, into new waves of expression.


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With names, monikers and tags like Ghost, T-KID170, QUIK, KR.ONE, REVOLT, MARK BODE, LSD-OM, BLADE, CRIME79, CES ONE, SHAME125, PADE RTW, PART ONE, STAN153, COPE2, SKEME, each of the artists hidden behind the boldness of the image left behind.

New York Subway graffiti art reflected life in the big apple, of the heat of the imagination, of the vision of summertime girls and voluptuous women, clothed and often not, would decorate the sides of subway cars, a throwback to times less political correct, the vision of those behind the spray can spoke of pleasure of life.

An unflinching rendition of a New York City that few could relate, the afterglow of a graphic time captured now only in movies and memories, what was once New York City, the mean streets, the underground, even those who didn’t make the art were pulled into it creating their own urban stories of cities hidden in unused subway tunnels, of alligators in the subways, of those who lived an alternative lifestyle deep in the belly of beast.

New York Graffiti writers who honed their art painting subway trains in 1970’s New York City, much to the chagrin of the then political leadership who called for their arrest. The sixteen artists covered in this book have brought their art from the canvass of the subway car to the more acceptable New York City Subway Map.

Each of the artist, even to this day, nearly four and five decades later, have a signature in style and presentation that bring back the memories of a once seedy style of Manhattan, the darkened subway tunnel, as the commuter train would arrive, a canvass of colors, of style, of old school throwdowns as one artists would paint his signature while another would match the challenge with a bigger, bolder, sharper image on the next train.

This throw down artist challenge became so great that it became the catalyst for its demise. Graffiti became outlawed in the effort to clean-up New York and with it a piece of culture, a seedy, gritty, life that drove many harsh graphic stark realistic unflinching

The art, bloated oversized letters, punctuated with nudes, soft porn in a city where the neon lights of a then Times Square sex industry seemed to liquify and run into the grates, like steam escaping the mean streets, a condensation of colors hidden from others drip onto the speeding trains creating an instant collage of splatter, of art, of graffiti.

Billed as a “dynamic piece book or sketchbook, this collection is an exclusive sampling the painters signatures strokes and tags in a portable form. In fact, many of the artists featured here a have used subway map art as a springboard from the fleeting genre of train-tagging ti the sturdier platform of the international gallery scene.


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Alan Bortman, the curator of DirtyPilot.com, an urban and art and graffiti art store featuring well-known and underground artists, In May of 2007 DirtyPilot launched its first show, Since then they have hosted over 150 solo and groups shows. Specializing in Old Skool NYC Graffiti, with clients in over 40 countries, DirtyPilot has sold thousands of works of art and has quickly become the largest venue to purchase NYC graffiti worldwide.

"Where would graffiti, urban and street art, be today, if not for those guys in NYC painting the trains in the 1970s and '80s?!," Bortman said.

Uptown & Downtown, 127 pages of sketches, a collection of days past, of street art no longer on the sides of the subway train or tunnel decoration, but now of the map, stamping the indelible mark once again for the world to see.

Uptown & Downtown is available at finer bookstores and through https://www.schifferbooks.com/.

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